In the wake of Hurricane Ida’s path of destruction, power restoration to some areas of storm-ravaged southeast Louisiana could take weeks, hampering the efforts of the FCC and wireless providers to fully restore emergency and consumer cellular service.
The second-most damaging storm in Louisiana history — after Katrina, and the strongest storm ever to hit the state — the Category 4 Hurricane Ida caused widespread mobile wireless and fiber disruptions when it slammed into southeast Louisiana, knocking out most of the New Orleans metro area’s power and disabling much of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile’s wireless services.
At the height of Hurricane Ida’s flooding and wind damage on Aug. 30, the day after hurricane winds made landfall, AT&T said that 60 percent of its network in Louisiana was working. T-Mobile said that around 70 percent of its network was in operation in Alabama and Louisiana on Aug.30, but did not disclose the specific effect on the latter state. Verizon did not disclose the peak effect of the storm on its network, but by Sept. 2, said that “90 percent of Verizon cell sites that were in the path of the storm are in service.”
By Sept. 3, an AT&T press release said that it had restored most services, and was “operating at more than 94 percent of normal.” The company added, “We now have a total of 23 on-air mobile cell site solutions supporting customers and first responders.” AT&T also said, “Despite commercial power outages, all of our wireline centers remain in service as we continue to place and refuel generators.”
Similarly, a T-Mobile prepared statement said that “some sites that were previously impacted in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were restored overnight as our crews have worked tirelessly to deploy large numbers of generators and rapidly power them up again.”
Around a quarter of cellular sites in southeast Louisiana remained offline by Sept. 2, though more than half of the towers initially knocked out had been repaired, according to a report from the FCC. About 700 of the affected area’s 2,759 cellular sites were still down. The affected area includes Acadiana and southeast Louisiana.
On Aug. 30, more than half of the cellular sites were down. About 61 percent of the remaining offline towers were without power, according to the FCC, and a little more than a quarter had sustained damage to their network that transports communications to and from the site. About 15 percent of sites had physical damage from the storm.
Another FCC report showed that as of 11 a.m. Aug. 31, 52 percent of 2,759 cellular sites across 31 Louisiana parishes were offline as a result of the hurricane. The majority of the downed towers — nearly 65 percent — were offline due to a lack of power, a problem that could persist for weeks in some parts of the state. In some cases, cell sites are down due to multiple issues, such as power outages, damage to the network or damage to the site itself.
On Sept. 3, the FCC took a series of actions to extend deadlines and waive rules to assist consumers, licensees and communications providers in Louisiana and Mississippi affected by Hurricane Ida. “The FCC is working around the clock in coordination with government partners and industry to support the restoration of vital communications services after the destruction of Hurricane Ida,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said on Sept 3.
“We’re extending deadlines for our universal service and other relief programs, including the Emergency Connectivity Fund and Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, to better assist consumers and providers in affected areas,” Rosenworcel said. “We are also extending filing deadlines for Form 477 broadband data reports, and extending filing and regulatory deadlines for wireless and public safety licensees in affected areas. Meanwhile, we will continue to support recovery efforts and monitor the effects of the storm nationwide. We offer our deep condolences to those who lost family members or whose homes and property were destroyed in this devastating hurricane.”
On Sept. 3, AT&T reported: “Our wireless network in Louisiana currently operating at more than 98 percent of normal. We continue to maintain and refuel more than 200 generators currently providing power to equipment there. Our wireless network in both Alabama and Mississippi are operating normally. More than 70 crews are continuing to work across Louisiana to keep our customers, their families and first responders connected”
AT&T also reported that it had deployed its FirstNet Communications Vehicle to a heavily affected area in Louisiana to provide an extra level of support. In addition to providing LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity, this CV offers an air-conditioned command space for first responder personnel and is equipped with multiple monitors, charging stations, a television and a large exterior screen and speakers that can be used for briefings, according to AT&T.
The AT&T report also said, “In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, we are also preparing to launch FirstNet One, an aerostat blimp that functions as an LTE tower in the sky to support first responders and the extended public safety community in the area. FirstNet One will launch in Raceland, an area that includes a major hospital, a main roadway corridor to the Grand Isle community and is serving as a staging area for mutual-aid support. So far, public safety — spanning federal, state and local agencies — have made nearly 60 FirstNet emergency support requests for Ida.”
Meanwhile, the Verizon Response Team arrived in Southeastern Louisiana on Aug. 30 to deliver Verizon Frontline technology to first responders conducting search and rescue and disaster response operations in some of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Ida.
The Response Team was pre-positioned just outside of the expected storm track, enabling a rapid response effort when conditions permitted and allowing the team to quickly distribute mission-critical communication technology to federal, state and local government and public safety agencies operating in storm-damaged areas of Louisiana.
According to Verizon, collaborating with emergency management officials across affected regions of the state, the Verizon Response Team has deployed a wide range of Verizon Frontline technology, including satellite pico-cells on trailers (SPOTs), network extenders, routers, mobile hotspots and phones to provide critical voice and data service to public safety professionals dealing with the devastation left in the wake of the powerful Category 4 storm.
Verizon said the Verizon Response Team is expected to remain on scene as long as needed to assist public safety agencies as it continues to conduct search and rescue operations and deal with widespread power outages, flooding and catastrophic storm damage. The Verizon Response Team provides on-demand, emergency assistance during crisis situations to government agencies, emergency responders, nonprofits and communities on a continuous basis.
Verizon Response team members provide Verizon Frontline technology including portable cell sites, Wi-Fi hotspots, free charging stations and other devices and solutions that enable communications and/or boost network performance.
By Sept. 6, most cellular service had been restored throughout Louisiana. However, there was still limited ability to transmit live out of the hardest-hit areas in southeast Louisiana, including parts of New Orleans and Houma, due to a lack of cell towers. Verizon is giving customers in hurricane ravaged areas unlimited data through Sept 10; AT&T through Sept 14.
Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.
Cradlepoint, a provider of cloud-delivered LTE and 5G wireless network edge solutions, has expanded its AT&T 5G for Enterprise solutions with the certification of its outdoor W4005 wideband adapter for ultra-high-speed connectivity for millimeter-wave (high-band) connections on the AT&T 5G+ network.
Model W4005 joins the portfolio of 5G for Enterprise solutions for branch and mobile use announced in May 2021. The AT&T 5G+ network is expected to cover parts of over 40 cities and 40 venues by the end of this year. It provides super-fast speeds, reliability and heightened security whether using for work, streaming an education class online or providing fiber-fast primary or failover wide-area network (WAN) connectivity at critical branch sites.
According to Cradlepoint, the new AT&T 5G+ certification cements the Cradlepoint-AT&T combined network offerings as a comprehensive portfolio of 5G solutions in the United States that bring the benefits of 5G+ to the business-critical uses — all while helping to meet IT organizations’ stringent security and management requirements. The solution combines Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service and Cellular Intelligence in a second-generation, ruggedized outdoor unit engineered to receive super-fast, millimeter-wave 5G signals.
With certification of model W4005, Cradlepoint said it now provides ways to connect 5G for enterprises – from the nationwide coverage of AT&T 5G to the high-capacity and super-fast speeds of AT&T 5G+.
“The AT&T 5G and 5G+ networks have the ability to meet a broad range of customer use cases, from nationwide coverage to super-fast local connectivity,” said William Stovall, vice president of mobility and internet of things at AT&T. “Whatever 5G means to a business and virtually wherever they want to take advantage of it, AT&T and Cradlepoint have enterprise-class solutions that can support it today.”
Marc Bresniker, senior vice president of product management at Cradlepoint, said that 5G is the catalyst to ushering in a fast and agile wireless WAN that will help transform how enterprise and government organizations generate revenue, streamline operations and serve customers. “Cradlepoint is committed to delivering the most complete, enterprise-class and IT-centric 5G solutions in the market,” he said. “We are demonstrating this commitment today with certification of our millimeter-wave W4005 wideband adapter on the AT&T 5G+ network.”
AT&T was found to be the fastest carrier on a 4G network, but the rise of 5G technology has made T-Mobile the overall winner with the fastest network in the United States, according to PCMag’s 12th annual “Fast Mobile Networks” test published last week.
T-Mobile, the test found, has average speeds of 162.3Mbps, compared to averages of 98.2Mbps and 93.7Mbps for AT&T and Verizon, respectively. Verizon led the way in terms of maximum download speeds, with 2216.7Mbps, compared to T-Mobile at 1134.4Mbps and AT&T at 1090.9Mbps.
“T-Mobile has filled in most of the urban and suburban areas of the Triangle and Charlotte with its new 5G network, while AT&T and Verizon are largely waiting for some new airwaves which become available next year,” said Sascha Segan, lead analyst, mobile for PCMag who wrote the report.
The difference among the results comes down to T-Mobile’s adoption of mid-band 5G. “It’s mid-band spectrum, which T-Mobile calls “ultra-capacity” 5G,” said Segan. The mid-band spectrum, ultra-capacity 5G airwaves, acquired in the acquisition of Sprint “let T-Mobile’s network give consistent results between 150Mbps and 500Mbps of download speed,” Segan said. That’s why T-Mobile received high marks in many of the 30 major metropolitan areas and six rural areas where data was gathered to conduct the analysis, he said.
T-Mobile president Neville Ray shared that the carrier’s 5G infrastructure is accessible to some 165 million people, as of July, when Ray wrote a blog post highlighting that metric, and noting that the company anticipates 200 million people could have access to its 5G networks by the end of the year.
That ultimately pushed the carrier past its two competitors, Verizon and AT&T, in the tests conducted by PCMag this year. Verizon invested in mmWave 5G technology in 2017, said Segan. Meanwhile, T-Mobile made a different choice, which was the acquisition of Sprint and the subsequent upgrading of what Segan called a “massive cache of largely unused mid-band airwaves,” converting those into 5G infrastructure.
General Motors and AT&T will bring 5G cellular connectivity to millions of GM vehicles coming off the assembly line over the next decade in the United States, according to a statement from AT&T. It said GM and AT&T are working together to set the benchmark for automotive connectivity with a fifth-generation cellular network architecture to meet the needs of an all-electric and autonomous future.
According to the wireless carrier, GM and AT&T are collaborating to build a high-performance 5G core network that delivers a new standard. Network enhancements will include improved roadway-centric coverage; faster music and video downloads with higher quality; faster, more reliable, and secure over-the-air software updates; and faster navigation, mapping, and voice services.
“5G connectivity will first be available in select model year 2024 vehicles,” the statement reads. “Additionally, through GM’s fifth-generation network, current 4G LTE-equipped model year 2019 and newer vehicles will experience faster connectivity speeds and many of the same performance benefits of future 5G-equipped vehicles. Current Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac owners in the United States with 4G LTE-capable model year 2019 and newer vehicles will easily migrate to the new network infrastructure once available.”
AT&T said that the rollout is part of GM and AT&T’s broad strategy to launch the world’s largest fleet of 5G-enabled vehicles and the culmination of a two-year collaboration, including test-driving connected vehicles in GM’s 5G proving grounds in Milford, Michigan.
The wireless carrier, citing drive test data, said that it has the most reliable 5G network in the United States, covering more than 250 million people. It said that from 2016 to 2020, AT&T invested more than $110 billion in wireless and wireline networks, including capital investments and acquisitions of wireless spectrum and operations.
The statement from AT&T said that GM offers OnStar and connected services to more than 16 million customers in the United States and Canada. Since the launch of 4G LTE in 2014, GM owners have used more than 171 million gigabytes of data across its brands, which is equivalent to nearly 5.7 billion hours of music streamed or more than 716 million hours of streaming video, AT&T said.
“To support GM’s rapid innovation and delivery of next generation connected vehicle solutions, AT&T and Microsoft are bringing together the speed and reliability of AT&T’s 5G network with Microsoft’s scalable and secure cloud services,” the statement said. “The 4G LTE and 5G network improvements will be foundational for the future of GM’s growing over-the-air update strategy, an element of the automaker’s overall innovation and growth plan. With more advanced features, robust software and faster download speeds, more data is accessible to provide a more convenient customer experience. GM’s fifth-generation network will also provide a strong foundation as the company advances its technology, such as Super Cruise and its Vehicle Intelligence Platform.”
Santiago Chamorro, GM’s vice president of Global Connected Services, said that the automaker, together with AT&T, has brought what he called unprecedented experiences to the daily commute, family road trips and everything in between.
“As an in-vehicle connectivity leader, this rollout demonstrates our commitment to growth through software-enabled services and reimagining every customer touchpoint by enabling faster connectivity speeds to power in-vehicle voice-enabled services, navigation, and apps that our customers have grown to love,” Chamorro said.
Gregory Wieboldt, senior vice president of global business and industry solutions at AT&T, said that by connecting millions of GM vehicles to its nationwide 5G network, the wireless carrier will improve the customer experience for existing services while laying the groundwork for the next wave of innovation, including autonomous driving.
“We now connect more vehicles than any other carrier and GM has played a critical role in our success,” Wieboldt said.
AT&T and GM have been working together since launching in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotpots in 2014, adding WarnerMedia’s library of streaming premium content in 2020 and enabling connectivity features in millions of GM vehicles in use, the wireless carrier said.
“When launched, GM will provide access for its strategic partners to connect over AT&T’s 5G network, raising the bar for the interoperability and scale necessary to deliver future mobility services, such as e-commerce, smart city and vehicle-to-electric grid,” the statement reads.
Shortages of fiber-optic cable, semiconductor chips and skilled labor threaten to hinder this year’s booming rollout of broadband and wireless networks — all while 5G infrastructure construction is thriving and the Biden administration is poised to allocate $65 billion for broadband deployment.
The most serious, longest-standing deficiencies are the chip shortage that affect the telecom supply chain and a scarcity of trained workers for building the new networks. Global semiconductor shortages have been disrupting plans for much of the tech industry and automakers. The broadband industry, in particular, is being slowed by the shortages in chips and other components — a trend that could further extend to wireless infrastructure builders.
Meanwhile, the recently realized fiber shortage is as seen as a shorter-term, but imminently more severe problem. AT&T had plans to wire 3 million homes this year, but last week said it would only be able to complete 2.5 million. The company warned that shortages are likely to affect other companies that purchase fiber. According to Shirley Bloomfield, chief executive officer of NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association, internet service providers are waiting as long as 71 weeks for new fiber to be delivered. Bruce Forey of Broadmax Group, a fiber broadband development consulting firm, said that semiconductor chips, electronic capacitors, resistors and even plastic polymers also are increasingly scarce.
The largest fiber buyer in the country, AT&T expects to catch up with its original fiber-construction estimates starting next year, largely because of the company’s “preferred place in the supply chain” and set prices. AT&T said it believes it will be able to reach its target customers of 30 million customer locations by 2025.
Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), also is optimistic about the supply of fiber. “The majority of the fiber being deployed in the U.S. is made in the U.S.,” he said. “Corning, OFS and Prysmian all manufacture optical fiber in the United States and will have sufficient capacity to meet demand and these domestic suppliers are further expanding capacity.”
Bolton continued: “The $65 billion broadband infrastructure investment provides strong visibility to the long-term capex investment cycle that will enable our fiber manufacturers to increase capacity to meet demand. The infrastructure bill has passed the Senate and is working its way through the House. At best, this funding will begin flowing in 2023. The fiber industry will continue to ramp in 2021 and 2022 with the significant announced broadband investment from private capital, already appropriated federal funding (RDOF, Re-Connect, ARPA, etc.) and state funding (i.e., $6 billion California budget surplus).”
However, in the short term, smaller internet providers are also already feeling the pinch of the fiber shortage. The National Rural Broadband Association said that providers can’t get 30 percent to 40 percent of the needed equipment to install broadband — especially fiber. Meanwhile, the Rural Wireless Association is more concerned that a shortage of semiconductor chips and fiber-optic cable could have a big effect on the timing associated with its members’ ability to replace Huawei and ZTE gear in their networks, as mandated by the Secure Networks Act of 2019.
“The chip shortage is more challenging than the fiber supply given the number of industries competing for chips, such as the auto industry,” said FBA’s Bolton. “We believe that long lead times can be managed with long-range forecast visibility and strong supply chain management.”
A spokesperson for the Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPA) told eDigest, “Chip shortage has not been something I’m hearing about from our members, though equipment shortages generally, through tariff issues and COVID, have been a struggle for some.
“However,” the WISPA spokesperson continued, “The labor shortage is huge — finding, attracting and keeping good labor has always been difficult, especially for small companies operating in rural markets. The current labor crunch has only exacerbated that. WISPs are finding ways to get around it — through comprehensive benefits packages, signing bonuses, higher pay, training and apprenticeship programs, etc., but it will remain an ongoing challenge even after the current crunch subsides. Though Congress’ billions for new broadband deployment will bring new labor into the market, until that new supply occurs, there will be labor issues in the short term.”
As far as the fiber shortage is concerned, WISPA’s spokesperson also said the organization believes the shortage is temporary and the market will get what it needs. “We see delays now, even for AT&T,” he said. “For the small guy, I hear of up to a year or more to get ordered fiber delivered. Congress’ broadband deployment money will increase that wait until supply responds. But supply will eventually respond. The numbers are simply too big for this not to occur, notwithstanding the past experience of the dot-com bubble.”
As far as how the fiber shortage how might bolster wireless construction, the WISPA spokesperson said, “I think that companies are already seeing the advantage of FWA [fixed wireless access] in quickly, cost-effectively and robustly connecting consumers to the internet. The very largest companies see it as a viable tool to bring evolutionary broadband to their hungry customers. WISPs have known this for years. Sure, fiber is great; many WISPs are hybrid providers and have significant fiber assets in their networks. But the shortage did not bring the FWA model to the fore. It stands on its own as a tremendous, evolutionary solution to get people online.”
Meanwhile, Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: the National Association of Tower Erectors, said, “There are a myriad of supply chain issues right now and it appears the fiber shortage is part of that issue. AT&T certainly called attention to that fact last week.”
Delivering the keynote address at the South Wireless Summit, held in Nashville on June 28, Schlekeway warned that wireless contracting was becoming untenable. Schlekeway said he believes that, although the shortage of skilled workers is a major problem, the largest problem for NATE members is downward pricing pressure from carriers and others at the top of the chain, which is making wireless contracting unprofitable. “Customers at the top of the chain have shifted all responsibility for the safety and vetting of contractors to third parties with an ever-rising bar,” he said.
“One remedy involves finding more skilled workers,” Schlekeway said at the summit. “U.S. operators want to expand their 5G networks, but a shortage of skilled tower workers — particularly workers demanding higher pay — could hinder that expansion.” Schlekeway said that NATE is working with technical colleges and community colleges to train people for these types of trades. But he noted that even the help of these institutions won’t solve the problem overnight.
Gary Bolton also sees the skilled worker shortage as his association’s largest challenge. “FBA is launching a nationwide Optical Technician training program nationwide to community colleges, high schools and with veterans,” he said. This training is recognized with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, with FBA as a national sponsor, and includes 144 hours of classroom and hands-on training and 2,000 hours of apprenticeship.”
Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.