Wireless networks survive Hurricane Irene unscathed, but dangers lurk

The FCC and wireless carriers reported that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, which battered the East Coast over the weekend, did not cause significant damage to wireless networks despite widespread power outages. However, the FCC warned that service outages could still occur as the storm moves out to sea and as battery-powered cell sites possibly flicker out of service.

Wireless carriers said that their networks were hit hard in some states, particularly in North Carolina and Virginia, but that the storm's overall impact was minimal. The FCC said Sunday that 1,400 cell sites were down and several hundred were running on backup power. Over the weekend, 18 percent of cell sites in Virginia were offline, compared with 14 percent in North Carolina, and 11 percent in Maryland.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA made preparations late last week for the storm, and said over the weekend that some cell sites were operating on backup power. The carriers reported higher call volumes but said that service was not impacted as a result.

Despite the fact that wireless carriers appeared to have weathered the worst of the storm, the FCC warned that more disruptions could come. Adm. James Barnett, the chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said in a briefing that the commission expected service outages to get worse as backup power for cell sites runs out.

"It actually could get worse even though the storm has passed, because some of the cell sites working now are working on backup power," Barnett said, according to PC Magazine, warning that outages could occur if carriers cannot re-provision the sites quickly enough. "Just because there's no storm doesn't mean there won't be further [communications] problems," he said.

For more:
- see this PC Magazine article
- see this NYT article
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article (sub. req.)
- see this The Hill article

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