Use WiFi Telephony Where Possible

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-08-29 Print this article Print

Sprint Nextel reports that there was some loss of service, mostly due to loss of commercial power, but the company has already dispatched teams with generators and repair teams to bring the network fully on line. Sprint maintains a fleet of COWs and COLTs, so those are probably included in the mix of repair teams.

Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile have also established charging facilities for customers at their stores where they're providing free phone service and Internet access to anyone-not just their own customers. Verizon Wireless reports that the vast majority of their company stores on the East Coast are open to help customers.

So with all this going on, why is it that you still can't use your cell phone? The basic answer is capacity. Even though you may see an indication of a strong signal on your phone, that doesn't help much if the cell site you're trying to reach is already loaded to capacity. You can keep trying, but even if you do get connected, there's a good chance that you'll get dumped when someone with a higher priority needs the site.

The wireless companies all recommend that you use Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging if at all possible. SMS requires very little bandwidth. Delivery isn't time-sensitive, so chances are that your message will get through, even if it takes a few minutes. You might also try using a landline phone. While their circuits can also be overloaded, you don't also have to contend with the problem of an overloaded cell site. T-Mobile recommends that you try WiFi calling if your phone is equipped for that. Then your call goes outside of the normal wireless network and travels instead on the Internet.

The bottom line is that if you're in an area that's still suffering the effects of the hurricane, reliable cell phone service may be a few days away. The first responders need the access more than you do, and that's why they get first dibs. Incidentally, if you need to get a message out that involves an emergency, health and welfare, or personal safety, and you know or can find a ham radio operator, they will be able to get your message out.

You can probably find a ham radio operator in your neighborhood, but most shelters, emergency operating centers and many hospitals or fire stations will be staffed by amateur radio operators who are members of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) who are trained to handle emergency communications.

The amateur radio folks can't help you with your business needs, but they can save your life. That's probably more important. In the meantime, be patient. Your cell phone will work in a couple of days. 


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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