How Did Mobile Networks Fare During Sandy?
November 1, 2012

Mobile Networks Slowly Coming Back Up In The Aftermath Of Sandy

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Superstorm Sandy battered a very wide area of the Eastern US earlier this week, flooding the coastal areas and dumping heavy snow in the Virginias. Now, as a result of all the heavy rains and flooding, some communications systems, such as cable Internet systems and cell phone networks, have taken a heavy beating.

While many networks remain down, these communications providers are working hard to restore their systems. According to the FCC, the percentage of downed networks has improved “by a few percentage points” as of Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the FCC had reported that some 25% of the networks in the area had been brought down by superstorm Sandy.

Mobile broadband and cable Internet providers are faring just as well, with the FCC claiming these services are unavailable for nearly 20% of the homes in the area.

“The crisis is not over,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday in a statement. “Over all, the condition of our communications networks is improving, but serious outages remain, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and other hard-hit areas.”

Though they´re working hard to bring their services back to full strength, says Genachowski, neither the FCC nor the networks would comment on when they expected to restore full service.

Part of the problem affecting these networks are the high winds and flooding associated with this storm. In a conference call, FCC public safety and Homeland Security Bureau chief David Teretsky blamed the flooding and power outages for impeding the process.

"But that's improving, which is helping with service restoration,” said Teretsky.

In order to help support their crippled networks, wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon have been trucking in power generators to support their downed cell sites. They´ve also been using COWS (or cell towers on wheels) to support areas of low service and restore service to affected areas. Teretsky also mentioned AT&T and T-Mobile have struck a deal which allows each other´s customers to roam on one another´s networks. This deal should extend the amount of coverage these customers will find.

Verizon has said they´re busy pumping flood water from their facilities, but noted most of their critical equipment, such as voice switches and routers, were located on high floors in tall buildings and were not affected by the floods. The same could not be said of their power equipment, such as generators and fuel pumps.

According to a Verizon spokesperson, 94% of their cell sites are active, and are they working hard to restore service in the New York area.

"In these locations, Verizon has been able to reroute and restore critical services at several key facilities that were affected by the historic flooding and subsequent power outages on Monday night," the company said in a statement.

Before the storm hit, service providers assured their customers they´d be doing all they could to sustain service for as long as they could and to restore it quickly should it fail.

Based on the manner in which citizens and emergency officials began using Twitter as a secondary way to communicate with one another, it´s safe to say the mobile networks held up fairly well during this storm, all things considered.

In addition to contacting friends and loved ones and sharing pictures of affected areas, some began to use Twitter to get help from the New York Fire Department or The Red Cross.