RealTime IT News

Cellular Networks Still Recovering from Blackout

The power outage that left New York and other Northeast cities in the dark on Thursday also put a major strain on wireless networks.

While some carriers are reporting "normal" service on Friday morning, others, including Cingular Wireless, are still experiencing problems. The company said that 700 cell sites in New York City and Long Island are still down, though more than 800 impacted sites have already been restored.

The situation in the Midwest remains dire, with more than 75 percent of Cingular's sites out of operation in Detroit and Bloomfield, Mich. About 25 percent of its sites in Cleveland, Ohio, are down. Cingular said that systems running on generators have enough fuel to last for a few days.

Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cell phone operator, said that service this morning is normal, with the exception of a few areas in New York City, Detroit and Cleveland. The carrier said all of its switches (the computers that direct calls) stayed in service during the blackout.

However, due to the high call volume -- Verizon said it handled more than four times a normal day's volume on its network yesterday in power-affected areas -- not all calls went through on the first try.

"The worst that people ran into was a fast busy signal," said spokesman John Johnson.

Sprint PCS spokesman Dan Wilinsky said that Sprint network facilities were "returning to normal" this morning, and that the carrier's long distance and cell phone switches "survived unscathed."

He said Sprint had blocked a percentage of calls in an effort to keep emergency communications open, which he said is standard procedure in a "mass calling event." He would not say what percentage of calls were blocked.

For many New Yorkers, the blackout brought back memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the cellular networks could not cope with the volume of calls from people frantically trying to reach loved ones.

"It was very reminiscent of 9/11," said Jennifer Ludwigson, a commercial real estate associate at MetLife. She said she was unable to make or receive calls with her AT&T Wireless phone until around 8:30 p.m. EDT Thursday.