Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Can you hear me now? FCC likely to get an earful from cellular power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For many – if not most – people, communication issues and law are a complete mystery. They just want their #*@^$%! cell phones to work. That’s all.

But here’s a thumbnail sketch of why your service sucks, no matter your cell phone carrier.

In the beginning of cellular, it was once called “wireless” – it still is by insiders – and there was the “A” carrier, and the “B” carrier. The “A” carrier was the wireless carrier, while the “B” carrier was the wireless carrier for the landline company, which in most cases was BellSouth, which was gobbled up by AT&T.

The two carriers operated on different frequencies, but within the same bandwidth.

Then, cellular grew. It grew so much it needed more bandwidth. So, the FCC allocated more airwave “space” for cellular frequencies.

That was where the problems all began.

The Federal Communication Commission has regulatory purview and authority over all communications in the United States. And instead of telling the carriers that they had to adopt a common standard, they allowed each and every carrier to different technology and standards to build their networks.

Some built networks along major highways, such as Interstates. Others, concentrated on small local areas, while yet others adopted strategies that focused upon large markets like major cities. And yet none of them collaborated, and each one did their own thing.

The landline telephone in your house has one standard. Not several. As well, the routing it uses – that is, the wires that carry the signal – are invisibly routed to the end users. So, if a wire is knocked down, or damaged by digging, the signal is re-routed through another node – all which is invisible to the end users – and the call continues. That is called “redundancy,” and there are at least two back-ups to such system, which is called “dual redundancy.”

That is NOT SO with wireless.

If a signal from a cellular telephone to a cellular tower is broken, there is no recourse. The call is dropped/disconnected. And often times, once that call is dropped, neither the caller, nor the party being called can reach each other – even if one party is using a landline phone. (We’ve all gone through “cellular dead zones,” right?)

However, IF the FCC had mandated that all cellular carriers adopt a unified standard of signal transmission, they could’ve also required those same carriers to share cellular tower space. As it is now, competing cellular companies DO NOT share tower space with each other – which is why it’s possible to see cellular towers nearby, but not have any quality signal (if any) in many cases. The reason why, is that it’s not the tower for the cellular carrier you use. Too bad, eh?

Truth be told, the United States is at least 15 years or more behind the rest of the world when it comes to cellular communications. For example, in South Korea, the people in that nation have nationwide WiFi and have been watching teevee on their cellular phones for quite some time. Not so in the United States.

Why?

I refer the reader to the previous remark.

F.C.C. Details Storm-Related Cellphone Problems

October 31, 2012
The New York Times

By EDWARD WYATT and BRIAN X. CHEN

WASHINGTON — For all of the modern communications that keep people connected, cellphones rely on an age-old technology that has repeatedly demonstrated its own instability during emergencies — electricity.

Power systems failures throughout the Northeast have been the main culprits in the shutdown of more than 20 percent of the cell tower sites in 10 states, causing millions of lost calls on Wednesday, government and industry officials said.

Slow progress was made in restoring some services. Federal Communications Commission officials said that the percentage of cell tower sites not working in the storm-damaged areas declined “by a few percentage points” as of Wednesday morning, down from about 25 percent on Tuesday.

Wired broadband and cable television systems remained out of service for “well under 20 percent” of homes in hurricane-affected areas, the F.C.C. said, down from 25 percent on Tuesday.

But widespread power outages as well as wind damage and submerged equipment continue to affect users of wireless and wired communications services.

“The crisis is not over,” Julius Genachowski, chairman of the F.C.C., said Wednesday. “Over all, the condition of our communications networks is improving, but serious outages remain, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and other hard-hit areas.”

The commission will “continue to expect the unexpected,” Mr. Genachowski said, and neither the F.C.C. nor mobile phone companies were able to say how long it would take to restore full service.

Verizon Wireless said Wednesday that 6 percent of its cell sites remained down in storm-affected areas, although all of its switching and data centers “are functioning normally.” T-Mobile issued a statement saying that roughly 20 percent of its network in New York City was out of service, as was up to 10 percent of its network in Washington.

Sprint and AT&T declined to specify the status of their systems on Wednesday. All of the companies said they were working to assess and repair the damage.

To help maintain service AT&T and T-Mobile said on Wednesday that in the affected areas of New York and New Jersey, their customers would be able to use the networks of both companies, decreasing the likelihood of failed calls.

In a statement, T-Mobile USA said that when customers of both AT&T and T-Mobile place calls, the calls would be carried by whichever network is available in the area. Both networks use similar technologies, so switching between them will be seamless, and there will not be an additional charge, the company said.

Officials also said that 911 services were restored in the few areas where it was interrupted during the storm. David Turetsky, chief of the F.C.C.’s public safety and homeland security bureau, said calls to 911 “are able to be received everywhere at 911 centers.”

Some of the incoming calls are being rerouted to other service centers and “a limited number” of centers are receiving calls without knowing where the caller is located, Mr. Turetsky said, which means that public safety officials have to rely on the caller to provide accurate information about where the emergency is.

F.C.C. officials declined to identify where the affected 911 centers were located, or which phone companies were responsible for servicing them.

Customers of wireless phone companies have come to expect service to either be unavailable or jammed during emergencies, a situation that has repeated itself since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and through numerous natural disasters.

But industry officials say that while mobile phone networks are designed to handle very high call volumes, no system can handle infinite traffic, just as freeways are jammed at rush hour.

“Every time we bring more spectrum to market, our growth in usage seems to outpace it,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president for regulatory affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry trade group.

Edward Wyatt reported from Washington, and Brian X. Chen from New York.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/technology/fcc-details-cellphone-problems.html?pagewanted=print

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