February 8, 2013

Phone companies prepare for storm power outages

Cell-towers are dependent on electric power from the grid and prolonged power outages can bring down cell service.

Peter Svensson/AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK — Phone companies topped off fuel at cell-tower generators in Northeastern states Friday, preparing for a storm that could bring power outages, and with them, a loss of cell service.

Cell-towers are dependent on electric power from the grid, but many of them have backup batteries, and in some cases generators that can power the antennas independently for longer. Prolonged power outages, such as those after Superstorm Sandy, can bring down cell service in an area.

Verizon Wireless prides itself on having at least eight hours of backup power at all its cell towers, and spokesman Tom Pica said technicians were busy making sure the generators that kick in once batteries are depleted had fuel.

"We also contract with local (fuel) suppliers to ensure regular deliveries if there are extended commercial power issues, as we did during Sandy to positive effect," Pica said.

AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. were making similar preparations, and lining up portable generators to truck out to cell towers with no permanent generators.

"With a storm of this magnitude, we may have some outages. But if service goes down, we'll do all we can to get it back up as fast as possible." said Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T New York.

The companies also have "mobile cell towers" — trucks that can act as replacement antennas in areas where towers go out and prove hard to restore.

Telecommunications landlines are less susceptible to power outages. The lines carry all the power corded phones need to function, and phone companies have massive battery banks and generators to back them up. Cordless phones won't work without power, though. Phone service from cable companies is also dependent on power, but most companies supply backup batteries to power the phones for some hours in an outage. Verizon's "FiOS" fiber-optic landline service is also dependent on power and backup batteries.

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