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Carriers share lessons from Sandy


AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless say that 99% of their cell sites impacted by Hurricane Sandy are back up and running, thanks to crews who worked round-the-clock and planners who were ready for the storm well in advance.

“The principle lesson is that you have to prepare, prepare, prepare and marshall all your resources well in advance so that once a storm has passed you can move into place,” said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. “We had equipment staged about a week before the storm.”

Carriers deployed mobile cell sites like the Verizon Wireless cell-on-wheels pictured here. COWs are temporary mobile cell sites that connect up to landline networks. Also used were cells-on-light-trucks that use microwave communications and can tow a mobile generator to supply power; and generators-on-trucks, which supply power to the temporary cell sites. All of these were needed during the past week, as well as industrial strength pumps that were used to remove floodwaters from cell sites.

New York City has been one of the most challenging areas in which to restore coverage, but AT&T says it now has almost 97% of its New York cell sites back up, and that even crowded Manhattan is almost fully restored. AT&T said its network-sharing agreement with T-Mobile USA is still in place in New York and New Jersey, so customers of both GSM service providers have an even better chance of getting service.

The speedy restoration of service is a testament to the planning and foresight on the part of the carriers, especially with respect to the availability of generators and the determination to get them to the sites. Shortly after Sandy hit, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski warned that some sites that were still operating would go down once their generators ran out of battery as they were unreachable. That may have happened at a few sites, but overall the availability of service seems to have climbed steadily since the storm. And the work continues.

“We need to restore sites that are not yet operational and we will,” said AT&T’s Siegel. “We’re not going to rest until this is done.”

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