AT&T, T-Mobile Join Forces in Wake of Hurricane Sandy Outages

AT&T and T-Mobile, as part of their restoration efforts following Hurricane Sandy, signed an agreement allowing subscribers to roam across both networks in areas with limited service.

Hurricane Sandy's powers have been revealed to include the ability to transform rivals into allies. Most recently this included the teaming up of AT&T and T-Mobile for the greater good of their customers.

The nation's second- and fourth-largest carriers, respectively, have signed an agreement enabling subscribers to roam across both networks in areas heavily impacted by Sandy.

"AT&T and T-Mobile customers will be able to place calls just as they normally would, but their calls will be carried by whichever network is most operational in their area," the carriers said in a joint Oct. 31 statement. "This will be seamless for AT&T and T-Mobile customers with no change to their current rate plans or service agreements, even if the phone indicates the device is attached to the other carrier's network."

The storm reached the shores of New Jersey and New York Oct. 29 and left behind it swaths of fallen trees, flooded neighborhoods and displaced families. The Federal Communications Commission, during an Oct. 30 conference call, said that the storm had disrupted 25 percent of cell towers in 10 states.

In an Oct. 30 statement, AT&T said it was still performing an "on-the-ground assessment" of its network and was deploying personnel and equipment for speedy repairs.

The same day, T-Mobile warned that customers in areas hit hardest by the storm may experience poor service or outages, and Sprint likewise reported being intensely impacted by the storm.

"These impacts are due to loss of commercial power, flooding, loss of cell site backhaul connections, site access and damaging debris. Weather and safety conditions are still dire in some areas, but our technicians are assessing the damage and servicing sites as they become known to us and as the areas are deemed safe to enter," Sprint said in its statement. "Given the ongoing weather conditions, we cannot provide a specific number of impacted customers, but we ask that they remain patient at this time and exercise caution in the aftermath of the recent events."

Verizon Wireless likewise asked subscribers to be patient—and safe.

“We are asking the public to remain focused on staying safe as there may be dangerous conditions such as fallen trees or power lines. Our dedicated employees—from technicians to customer service consultants—run to a crisis and will continue to do what it takes to put customers back in touch," Bob Mudge, president of Verizon’s Consumer and Mass Business division, said in an Oct. 30 statement.

AT&T and T-Mobile both use technology based on GSM and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) standards, enabling them to share voice and data traffic.

As part of AT&T's restoration efforts, some of its teams spent Halloween in Lower Manhattan, setting up Cellular on Wheels (COWs), mobile platforms that have radio base-station equipment on them. The COWs are powered by a portable generator and fed by a microwave link—that serves as the telco connection—that's strung up to the roof of a nearby building. Together, the setups are enabling AT&T to improve service to its—and T-Mobile's—customers in the area, Robert Manzo, AT&T's director of construction and engineering in the Northeast explained in a video posted to the AT&T site.

The challenges, Manzo explained, have been, getting through the city streets with all the debris and finding places to put the microwave antennas and links.

"Generators are coming in from across the country still today," said Manzo, "and we're deploying them where they make sense."