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.
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.
Verizon allows developers and businesses to build and deploy applications at the edge of its wireless network in Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. The company highlighted these cities as new locations where it made available its service, Verizon 5G Edge, a real-time cloud computing platform offered together with AWS Wavelength to bring AWS compute and storage services to the edge of Verizon’s wireless network. Since the launch of Verizon 5G Edge in August 2020, companies have offered 5G mobile edge computing (MEC) via Wavelength Zones in 13 of the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas for a variety of applications such as machine learning, internet of things (IoT), and video and game streaming, according to Verizon. As Verizon described it, the combination of 5G Edge and AWS Wavelength minimizes the latency and network hops required to connect from an application hosted on AWS to the end user’s device.
“Many innovators are already testing their solutions at the edge of Verizon’s 5G network with AWS Wavelength including Aetho, the makers of Beame,” a statement from Verizon reads. “Aetho is working with Morehouse College to create a 3D, fully interactive, online version of the campus so prospective students can tour the campus with an experience that feels like it’s in-person without traveling to the school. Beame provides augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) communication and collaboration to deliver meaningful engagements through photorealistic 3D avatars.”
According to Verizon, using 5G Edge with AWS Wavelength, Beame is enabling Morehouse College, an HBCU, to offer students and prospects a high-fidelity co-presence experience with super-low latency. Using Beame’s application on their smartphones or AR headsets, students and prospects can be teleported into an XR experience and interact with Morehouse ambassadors and admissions staff in near-real time, the statement reads.
“With 5G and MEC, we saw material performance improvements in retaining nearly instantaneous co-presence, which really helps bring the XR experience to life,” said Harrison Lee, chief executive officer of Aetho.
José Mallabo, vice president for marketing and communications, and chief marketing officer at Morehouse College, said that by using augmented reality and other extended reality platforms to extend the college’s integration of education and technologies into the admissions process, the college continues to reimagine the student experience from prospect through graduation. “Building a widely accessible interactive engagement on the 5G Edge spatial computing platform is an evolution of Morehouse’s historic traditions as a trailblazer and innovator in higher education,” he said.
Wireless communications carrier Verizon will spend $8.3 billion with Ericsson for 5G wireless communications network products. The five-year contract includes C-band, low-band and millimeter-wave (mmWave) massive multiple-input multiple output (MIMO) antennas, and cloud radio access network equpment and software, according to information disclosed by Ericsson.
The products will be used to enhance and expand Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband coverage, network performance and user experience, a statement from Ericsson reads.
The purchase, described as a partnerhip by Niklas Heuveldop, president and head of Ericsson North America, will bring the benefits of 5G to U.S. consumers, enterprises and the public sector. He said that Ericsson’s cloud RAN and street macro would add depth and versatility to 5G network rollouts across the United States.
“With this new agreement, we will be able to continue driving innovation and widespread adoption of 5G,” said Kyle Malady, chief technology officer at Verizon.
According to Ericsson, in 2020, Verizon was the first communications service provider to receive a commercial 5G mmWave street macro base station from Ericsson’s factory in Lewisville, Texas.
Although Ericsson scored a large piece of business with the Verizon contract, the manufacturer lost ground with equipment sales in China. Ericsson reported a material loss of market share in China as the Chinese government responded in kind to the Swedish government’s ban on the purchase of Chinese 5G wireless communications equipment. Börje Ekholm, Ericsson’s president and CEO, speaking during a July 16 earnings call, said that the loss of market share would delay the company in reaching its earnings target for 2022. Second-quarter sales in China fell by $290 million. Asked whether he expected Ericsson would recoup that money, Ekholm said, “No, it’s not coming back,” as reported by Reuters.
The value of shares in Ericsson stock fell by 8 percent on July 16 in response to its report of the loss of business in China and despite the news of its sale of equipment to Verizon.
Dewey Beach’s Alex Pires is taking on Verizon in a class-action lawsuit filed June 21 seeking to remove five 5G poles on the beach and prevent the telecom giant from installing any more.
The lawsuit filed in Delaware Court of Chancery asks the court to expedite proceedings and issue a temporary restraining order against Verizon to stop it from erecting cell towers on sand dunes or the beach east of Route 1, and to take down the five already put up.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for our society when billion-dollar companies walk all over small towns like Dewey,” Pires said, who is joined on the complaint by his wife Diane Cooley, also an attorney, and Dewey Beach resident John Snow. “The least we can do is put up a fight.”
And fight they will.
The experienced litigator, who made a name for himself by suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over discriminatory practices against Black farmers, and Cooley live on Dickinson Avenue less than a block away from a cell tower placed on Rodney Avenue; Snow lives on Bellevue Street about three blocks from the Rodney tower.
Three poles were installed without permits being obtained from Dewey Beach, while two other installations did not follow proper permitting requirements, the lawsuit states.
“Due process means everyone has to follow the law. Everyone has to apply for building permits,” Pires said. “Verizon should have applied for five permits and followed the rules. Instead, they cheated and applied for only two, and those two applications were incomplete and misleading.”
According to the lawsuit, Verizon could install up to eight more cell towers on the sand dunes.
Dewey officials have publicly denounced the poles, and have tried to regulate wireless facilities since 2020. In March, commissioners unanimously voted to amend the town’s agreement with the Delaware Department of Transportation, taking DelDOT out of the town’s permitting process except for rights of way on and adjacent to Routes 1 and 1A. Commissioners voted June 11 to hire a consultant to assist with wireless facilities and 5G pole placement application review.
The push for cell tower installations in the beach town has been years in the making, as cellphone giants have been marketing phones with 5G capability, creating a buzz for their products while promising better cellphone service. In 2017, Gov. John Carney passed his Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act, which authorized wireless providers to install poles on state rights-of-way to increase connectivity.
Route 1 Option
The lawsuit points to two cell tower permits along Route 1 as proof that Verizon could install its structures away from the beach.
“Instead of pursuing a cooperative process in which Verizon worked with the public and Dewey Beach to find more appropriate, less obstructive settings for the cell towers, Verizon chose to pressure the town employees and create obstructions on precious natural landscape that negatively affect Dewey Beach residents,” the lawsuit states.
Building permits were signed under duress over the objection of Dewey Beach’s acting town manager and mayor, the suit states.
Pires likens Dewey’s fight against Verizon to that of David and Goliath.
“Verizon has 132,000 employees and assets of $316 billion. Dewey Beach has 341 residents, 32 employees and no assets other than an old building, some equipment/cars and a rainy-day fund,” the suit states.
In Dewey Beach’s 100 years of existence, the suit states, it has never placed a permanent pole or structure on the beach. “The cell towers are eyesores, highly visible structures placed on an otherwise natural setting – one which residents of Dewey Beach expect to be preserved in accordance with the natural surroundings,” the suit states. “Moreover, the cell towers disrupt the enjoyment renters and visitors, who are paying for the enjoyment of unobstructed ocean views, expect when they vacation in Dewey Beach.”
Pires said Verizon should not be allowed to operate above the law, and neither should the state or any of its departments. “The state doesn’t own anything. The people who live in Delaware own the beaches,” he said.
No More Beach Towers
In an effort to prevent more beachfront cell towers being installed, the lawsuit asks the court for an injunction to prevent Verizon from erecting cell towers on Dewey Beach’s oceanside sand dunes. The suit also asks the court to make Verizon remove all the cell towers it has erected on the beach, and asks the court to expedite its decision on the matter.
“I think we, the residents, should win. I hope we win. But big corporations never admit their wrong. It’s going to be a battle. So my expectations are modest,” Pires said. “We may lose our lawsuit, but Verizon is going to get a bloody nose during the fight. Maybe more.”
Melissa Steele is a reporter with the Cape Gazette. Republished with permission from the Cape Gazette.