U.S. cell networks 'assessing' Sandy outages: No fixes soon

The four major U.S. networks have issued statements on Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing recovery efforts to get the East Coast cell service running again. But don't hold your breath for anything soon.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions are struggling to connect to Internet services or access cell services across the U.S. east coast after Hurricane Sandy swept across land, hitting New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York City and Massachusetts, just to name a few.

While storm is not over yet, the major metropolitan areas on the eastern seaboard of the United States have seen the worst of Hurricane Sandy. All that is left is to remain resilient -- something New Yorkers in particular are good at -- and to clean up the damage left behind from one of the worst storms on U.S. soil in living memory.

Three out of the four major U.S. cellular networks -- including Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile USA -- continue to "assess the damage," while AT&T was less forthcoming with reporting any outages.

Here's what the major U.S. networks had to say (emphasis mine):

Verizon said that not only was its cell service struggling, its fiber and home broadband services were also experiencing extreme difficulties, thanks to underground tunnels being flooded by the coastal surge and high tides during Monday's storm. The largest U.S. cellular network by subscribers said in a public statement today at 12:17 a.m. EDT:

The storm surge from Hurricane Sandy has resulted in flooding at several Verizon Central Offices in Lower Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island causing power failures and rendering back-up power systems at these sites inoperable.

While these sites are currently on battery power, the inevitable loss of power requires that all equipment at these sites be powered down to prevent damage. Customers that are served by these central offices will experience a loss of all services including FiOS (voice, internet, video), high speed internet, and telephone services. Some customers may experience intermittent busy signals while attempting to dial 311 service for non-emergency calls. Verizon engineers continue to assess the damage at these locations and we will post updates as additional information is available.

At 12 midday ET today, the largest U.S. cellular carrier noted that Lower Manhattan was "severely impacted" and continues to work to bring its networks up to speed. According to Reuters, most of the network problems stem from the storm knocking down "many poles and power lines/Verizon cables [...] due to heavy winds and falling trees."

AT&T, the U.S.' second largest cellular network, said it is monitoring the situation and is aware of "some issues" in areas impacted directly by the storm. An AT&T spokesperson told ZDNet via email:

As we continue to closely monitor our wireline and wireless networks for service disruptions, we are experiencing some issues in areas heavily impacted by the storm.

We are in the initial stages of performing an on-the-ground assessment of our network for damage and crews will be working around the clock to restore service. We are deploying personnel and equipment as soon as it is safe to do so.  

Sprint, the third largest U.S. networks, said that flooding and damage to its infrastructure are only compounded by a backlog of connections, or data overload, forcing a limited network to process as much as it can. In a prepared statement, a Sprint spokesperson told ZDNet that the company was working on more specifics, but said for now:

Sprint is experiencing service impacts in the states affected by Hurricane Sandy and the concurrent winter weather conditions, particularly in the New York tri-state area, parts of Pennsylvania, and parts of New England. These impacts are due to loss of commercial power, flooding, loss of cell site backhaul connections, site access and damaging debris.

Weather and safety conditions are still dire in some areas, but our technicians are assessing the damage and servicing sites as they become known to us and as the areas are deemed safe to enter.

Given the on-going weather conditions, we cannot provide a specific number of impacted customers, but we ask that they remain patient at this time and exercise caution in the aftermath of the recent events.

T-Mobile USA, the smallest of all the major U.S. networks, did not say where most of the firm's infrastructure was most affected, but left a statement on its website. (T-Mobile USA was contacted by ZDNet but did not reply at the time of publication. If we hear back, we'll update the piece.)

Severe high winds and weather conditions continue to affect many areas. Due to the impacts of Sandy, T-Mobile customers may be experiencing service disruptions or an inability to access service in some areas, especially those that were hardest hit by the storm.

T-Mobile rapid response engineering teams (ERT) are assessing the situation and we are moving as quickly as possible.

Image credit: NASA.

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