The US government says that, in the future, cellular networks should function in the wake of a disaster -- regardless of the state of the power grid -- after Hurricane Sandy ripped through parts of the Northeast last October.
The recommendation is part of a wide-ranging report put together by a task-force assembled by the Obama administration after the major storm. The team says that coastal communities should expect more big storms in the future, thanks to climate change and rising seas, and that everything from housing stock to broadband networks should be built with that in mind.
Specifically, the report calls for networks to be hardened so that they don't fall down so soon after being hit by a power outage. After Sandy, safety experts noted that many commercial cell sites only had a few hours of battery back-up and went off-air soon after the storm even if they weren't damaged by the storm.
The report has this to say about cellular resilience:
DOE [Department of Energy] and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA, part of DOC), should work with FCC to promote a programmatic approach to ensure that cellular towers (antennas), data centers, and other critical communications infrastructure are able to function regardless of the status of the electrical grid. In addition, encouraging stored power (i.e., batteries) for consumer level broadband equipment, through funding or other means, will improve impacted individuals' ability to seek information, help with recovery needs, communicate with family members, and even work from home when transportation or business facilities are significantly compromised.
The report also calls for "Federal and State cooperation to improve electric grid policies and standards." This would include implementing smart grids and micro grids for smarter power distribution in the event of an emergency.
The 69 recommendations in the report, however, are non-binding. The cellular power suggestion calls for a "pragmatic" approach but doesn't give any guideline on timelines.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did call for a mandated eight-hour battery backup on commercial cell sites. Some carriers -- Verizon Wireless , for instance -- claim to have implemented that on their sites. Others, however, said that the requirement was too costly and fought it to extinction in court.
- Sandy: The Case for Better Cell Site Backup?
- Can Wireless Networks Be More Consistently Reliable?
- Verizon Swaps Sandy-Ravaged Copper for Fiber
- 4G Kills the Copper Plant
- Operators Slog Ahead in New York & New Jersey
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading