Irene: Mobile holds up; fixed has problems

Posted on August 29, 2011  /  0 Comments

Irene was far from our areas of interest, but not far from the newspapers we read. Looks like mobile networks performed well; while fixed had trouble.

Wireless phone networks held up well against Hurricane Irene despite widespread losses of power.

Many people who lost electricity were able to communicate using e-mail and social networks, thanks to battery-powered mobile devices.

As cleanup crews and homeowners began to assess the scope of the damage on Sunday, wireless phone companies were reporting that the storm’s effect on their networks was minimal and that most customers did not experience cellular disruptions, despite the high winds and ferocious rains. The providers said the full extent might not be known until after the storm moved offshore.

The Federal Communications Commission, which activated the Disaster Information Reporting System, an online tool that helps the agency gather information and assess the breadth of damage to the communications networks, is still gauging the extent of the disruptions. It said Sunday that no 9-1-1 center was without service and that it had received no reports of public safety communications disruptions.

Late Sunday afternoon, Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the F.C.C., said that a handful of radio sites and thousands of wirelines went down during the storm, leaving 132,000 landline subscribers without service.

But the heart of the story is about whether not handsets/terminal devices work when power has failed. The distinguishing feature is the ability of mobile devices to work off batteries (which can be charged off cars if all else fails). While the old plain old telephones were independent of the grid, the devices used today are not.

What at first could appear paradoxical — Twitter and Facebook users posting that they had lost power — was feasible thanks to smartphones, laptop computers and tablets. In the days leading up to the hurricane’s arrival, advice to charge all portable devices became almost as commonplace as old standbys like making sure flashlights had batteries and bottled water was in supply.

Indeed, many people who lost power and access to news on television could view news over the Internet on battery-powered computers or cellphones. People with mobile battery chargers in their cars could recharge.

The rise of mobile devices turns the conventional wisdom about landline telephones on its head. For decades, the landline phone was trusted to be more reliable than the electricity grid because the phone network’s dedicated power supply often survived blackouts.

Full report.

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