Tower Climbers, a Vital Part of Carriers’ Louisiana Network Restoration

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There was a glimmer of hope in power restoration early Wednesday when powerco Entergy said its crews had turned “power on for some customers in Eastern New Orleans,” the Associated Press reported. Entergy said in a statement that reconnecting all of New Orleans “will still take time, given the significant damage” to the city’s power grid from Hurricane Ida. Entergy is prioritizing restoring power to “critical infrastructure” such as first responders, hospitals and nursing homes.

The major wired and wireless carriers continue their post-hurricane network restoration efforts in Louisiana. Here are their efforts to communicate with customers. 

AT&T: Late Tuesday evening, AT&T said in the 48 hours since Ida made landfall, its wireless network in Louisiana was operating at “more than 90 percent of normal.” The telecom said it has 16 mobile satellite cell towers on-air with additional assets on the way to aid in the recovery efforts. The wireless network in Alabama and Mississippi is operating normally. 

Verizon: The carrier said yesterday its network teams continue to make “strong progress” in Louisiana communications restoration efforts, especially in the hardest hit areas of LaPlace, Port Sulphur, Thibodaux, the Southern coastline of Lake Pontchartrain, Hammond, St. Helena Parish, and Houma. Verizon engineers were able to restore partial service to many of those areas Tuesday night, according to the company.  

“Despite flooding, downed power lines and debris blocking access to many locations, our teams have completed over 100 site surveys, some completed with airboats. As site surveys are completed, our engineers are identifying power outages, broken fiber lines (which carry data from the cell site to the switch and core locations of the network), and numerous antennas that are broken or misdirected as a result of hurricane force winds.” The company said its engineers were activating recovery plans to address each of these issues.  

Written simply, to break down the complexities of telecom for a consumer audience, Verizon explained it has teams of tower climbers and repair crews to fix the damage to antennas to optimize coverage and capacity at its cell sites. Crews are also repairing fiber connections. Engineering teams are deploying satellite links and temporary microwave connections to bring cell sites back online until permanent fiber repairs can be made. Refueling for permanent and temporary generators will continue until commercial power is back. 

Verizon crews deployed a dozen mobile assets such as temporary, satellite-connected cell sites to assist emergency operations centers, fire departments, search and rescue, FEMA and others in LaFourche Parish, St. Charles Parish, Jefferson Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish. Deployments continue as it works to provide coverage to the hardest hit areas where cell sites are still off air and where rescue and recovery teams are at work.

In lieu of physical command centers, Verizon’s virtual command center in Louisiana is activated (in accordance with recommended social distancing policies) and employees are using additional Personal Protective Equipment as they engage in recovery efforts.

The Verizon Response Team is in contact with federal, state and local emergency management teams and are coordinating communication needs and efforts with them.

T-Mobile: On Tuesday night, the latest update available, T-Mobile said the majority of its network in the Southeast “continues to function normally.” Some sites that were previously impacted in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were restored “as our crews have worked tirelessly to deploy large numbers of generators and rapidly power them up again.” 

Some sites in the hardest hit areas of Southeast Louisiana remained offline, noted T-Mobile. It said many of those areas “continue to have coverage from adjacent sites and our engineering teams are continuing to make their way to those impacted sites with generators and other emergency equipment.” T-Mobile, too, found the going tough due to debris, road closures, and other obstructions.  

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief 

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