US operators ready hurricanes back-up plans

The hurricane bearing down on the US Gulf Coast could be a test for the country's wireless carriers, which faced criticism and a regulatory push after Hurricane Katrina took out networks, an Associated Press report said.

The report quoted Sprint Nextel spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge-Walsh saying the company's Emergency Response Team, with trucks that can act as cell towers, was 'caravaning down, military-style,' to the Gulf Coast last week.

Verizon Wireless has spent €93.9 million (US$137 million) in the past year on enhancing its network in the Gulf Coast area, including doubling its capacity at regional switching centers to handle a barrage of calls when disaster strikes.

AT&T, the main landline phone company in the region and the country's largest wireless carrier, has also added capacity, among a raft of preparations and upgrades to its Gulf Coast infrastructure over several years.

It has replaced some cables that are vulnerable to flooding with waterproof ones. Optical fiber has replaced copper wiring, which can short out when wet.

Gustav slammed Jamaica on Friday, and forecasters said it could hit the Louisiana coast at the beginning of next week as a major hurricane.

After Katrina, the Federal Communications Commission seized on the power issue, and sought to mandate that almost all cell sites in the US have at least eight hours of backup power in the event main power fails.

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