What AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are doing to harden their networks
By some estimates, over 90% of all 911 calls in some areas are made from wireless phones. But the kinds of disasters that can generate those calls can also impact the infrastructure that supports them – meaning, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural or man-made calamities can hobble or destroy the wireless networks we rely on to get help.
So what is the wireless industry – including specifically AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – doing today to make sure their networks remain operational during such crises?
That’s the exact question that regulators at the FCC asked. In their responses last week, industry players provided plenty of vague assurances as well as some facts, figures and anecdotes. Here’s a sampling of what they said:
- Maintains up to 8 hours of backup battery power at all macro sites, and “where possible” designs those sites to support backup power through diesel generators that last between 24-72 hours on a single tank of fuel.
- Holds disaster recovery reviews with all its backhaul providers before every storm season. The company also uses a more resilient fiber ring configuration where possible.
- Recently “significantly increased” its investments in portable cell sites and other such equipment for emergency network operations.
- Committed in 2019 to publish a list of sites out of service on its website, and did so throughout the 2020 hurricane season.
- Said that “in most areas, Verizon customers benefit from overlapping cell site coverage,” though it didn’t provide details.
- Has tools “that allow the network to self optimize under certain conditions to maintain coverage and capacity as best as possible when certain sites become inoperable.”
- Said that all of its network switches, Network Operations Centers (NOCs), data centers, and other key sites “have permanent, on-site backup generators that will keep the network running.”
- Has added “thousands” of generators – both fixed and portable – to keep the power on at select cell sites, though the company didn’t provide details.
- Has implemented a “distributed architecture for interconnection redundancy” using dual fiber connections at switch locations.
- Participates in training and preparation work with agencies including the Department of Homeland Security. “In a few weeks, T-Mobile will participate in a DHS Hurricane Preparedness seminar,” the operator boasted.
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