Wireless Networks Almost Back to Pre-Sandy Levels as New Storm Lands

NEWS ANALYSIS: Wireless operators in the Northeast have gone more than the extra mile to provide wireless communications to their customers and to subscribers of other mobile services in the massive job of recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

The nation’s wireless carriers were bracing to respond to damage caused by a new powerful storm that battered the Northeastern U.S. Nov. 7, just as massive repair efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy had restored service to near-normal levels.

By the time Hurricane Sandy has passed by, a quarter of the wireless communications infrastructure in the Northeast region was offline. In a few cases, the cell sites were destroyed. But most of them simply had no power or their backhaul connection was offline. But regardless of the reason, customers had lost all access to wireless or even landline communications, including a way to call for help.

In what is becoming a growing level of cooperation, two major wireless companies agreed to work together. As they did during Hurricane Katrina, AT&T and T-Mobile once again opened their networks to customers from either network without any roaming fees or other complications. Meanwhile, wireless companies threw open the doors of any of their stores that survived to provide charging centers to any customer of any carrier. Most of these stores also provided free phone service to people who need to reach loved ones.

Meanwhile, reconstruction of the network continued. Verizon Wireless had over 96 percent of its wireless sites in the affected area operational by Nov. 2, the end of the week in which Sandy hit. As of Nov., 97 percent of T-Mobile’s network is now operational. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told eWEEK that 98 percent of its network is now operational in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. A Sprint spokesperson told eWEEK that Sprint’s network was 92 percent restored, while Sprint’s data partner Clearwire announced that it has set up distribution of free 4G Internet service at its 94th Street store in Manhattan.

Siegel told eWEEK in an email that AT&T is fortifying its fuel distribution to the more than 3,000 generators in the impacted area, including those running cell sites and other key locations. Meanwhile, the company staged resources to be able to keep providing service and resources in the face of a strong fall storm that brought wind, rain and snow to the hurricane-battered Northeast on Nov. 7.

Siegel said, “AT&T is also taking steps to protect its network and recovery assets deployed in the region, given potential weather changes in the coming days.” Among the steps AT&T is taking are securing the equipment it deployed to prevent further damage, continuing close coordination with emergency officials and first responders, and positioning resources to keep their critical equipment safe and operational.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...