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US carriers up disaster recovery efforts

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US carriers up disaster recovery efforts

Large wireless carriers in the US stepped up disaster recovery efforts over the weekend as a rare derecho storm stomped through the Mid-Atlantic, and millions of cell calls and data downloads strained their capacity, TusconCitizen.com reports.

Many regional cell sites were still without power on Monday, and customers complained of spotty or non-existent coverage.

Industry executives and analysts say wireless networks, with cell sites designed to cover as much as five to 10 miles, often struggle during heavy call volumes. But they also say a series of disaster recovery measures the carriers put in place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 helped mitigate disruptions during the weekend.

“There has been a lot of effort to beef up and back up power,” says Phil Marshall, a mobile network analyst at Tolaga Research.

Managing network capacity in disasters and large events has always been critical to carriers' operations, Detroit Free Press notes.

But the industry's investment in such efforts has ratcheted up in recent years, along with its greater ambition to install faster data networks and attract more customers using smartphones, Marshall says.

Cell connections can be disrupted by malfunctioning equipment in any of the components in the network. The storm damaged some cell towers, cut off power at tower sites and destroyed connections between the towers and the nearby "switch" facilities that route calls.

With electricity out for much of the Washington, DC, region, most recovery efforts involved delivering backup power to cell sites, WLTX writes.

In recent years, Verizon Wireless has installed generators at most cell towers, on top of backup batteries at all sites that can last up to eight hours, says Mike Haberman, VP of network engineering.

In the last year, Verizon installed 1 300 generators nationwide. About 450 sites were running on generators as of late Monday.

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