Verizon’s Palmer: ‘Our network is an absolute beast,’ resilient in wake of hurricanes

Nicola Palmer
Verizon's Nicola Palmer said the resiliency of Verizon’s network is all due to careful planning before disasters strike.

SAN FRANCISCO—While all the U.S. wireless operators have been working overtime to keep up with the damage wreaked by Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, Nicola Palmer, chief network officer at Verizon, said it’s no accident that Verizon’s network is standing up so well through the destruction.

Palmer said during a 5G keynote at Mobile World Congress Americas on Wednesday that she would be shortly heading to Florida to survey the areas affected by Irma, where she said it’s times like this, when so much devastation has occurred, that “our people shine” and stand ready for the tasks at hand.

“Our network is an absolute beast,” she said. “It is so resilient and so layered” that it can withstand an amazing amount of what Mother Nature can dish out. In Florida, 92% of sites reportedly were up line, she said, with reports out by the FCC. “I’m anxious to get down there and get my boots on.”  

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will be in Florida on Monday to jointly inspect the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, meet with recovery operation folks and receive updates about the ongoing efforts to restore communications services. 

Palmer said the resiliency of Verizon’s network is all due to careful planning before disasters strike, and they plan every year. “You don’t make the calls on game day,” she said. It’s about things like architecture, the back-up power strategy, generator penetration and batteries. “We didn’t have a single switch location that lost connectivity or power” because of the architecture and forethought.

“This stuff happens in the off season, the training happens, the preparation happens,” she said.

As for 5G, a lot of Verizon’s strategy is tied to 4G LTE. The operator started work with the 5G Technology Forum early on and produced specs to further advance the cause. It also has a large testbed with end users getting connected to nodes in 11 cities to test various propagation and how millimeter wave responds in different geographic areas.

But perhaps more importantly, she sounded a warning at the beginning of her fireside chat with moderator Brenda Boehm, CSA at industry association TIA: If the industry doesn’t get serious about diversifying, it risks not being able to compete effectively in 5G.

Palmer, who has been active in promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to young women, was asked what’s being done. “Not enough, right? None of us are doing enough,” she said. “It’s a big problem for us, as an industry, as a country, I fully believe. If we don’t get serious about this, I think our industry is not going to be able to compete as effectively as we could” and will be unable to bring the full benefits of next generation technology like 5G into the hands of consumers. Speaking to the community in the room, “you don’t have to be a chief technology officer in order to help. Whether you are writing about our industry, whether you’re are an actual engineer, whether you’re around the periphery, no matter what you do, you can help by encouraging a young child, a young girl, to notice the wonder of science in her everyday world."

Anybody can encourage a middle schooler to pursue math and science before it becomes "uncool," or bring a high schooler into a tech company to discuss what engineers do. 

"There’s something that each and every one of us can do to help the problem and I encourage you all to do that,” she said.