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--Restoration of electricity to help wireless coverage
--Power crucial as generators, fuel become limited
--Cell site network connections may still be issue for some areas
By Thomas Gryta
Although mass wireless outages continue, the expected restoration of power to some areas of the New York region in coming days should give a boost to cellular carriers as they scramble to provide service.
Power isn't always the sole reason for a service disruption, but it is crucial to the operation of a cellular network, which is a collection of individual sites that connect wireless devices to a core, wired network.
Con Edison hopes to have power restored to most of Manhattan by midnight on Friday and said Thursday that the "vast majority" of customers will have power by next weekend. The New Jersey power companies also expect to have service back to the majority of their customers by next weekend.
"It's a big deal because even though every site has a power backup, usually battery or gas generator, nothing lasts forever," Gartner analyst Phillip Redman said. He estimates that carriers usually plan for backup power to last three to five days.
While generators can last longer if there is fuel available, it isn't always easy to get generators to sites in urban area were regulations and space can pose challenges. Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTE.XE DTEGY) T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) have said that efforts to get mobile generators to sites in Manhattan have been complicated by regulations covering noise and fire risks posed by the machines.
As Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and the Federal Communications Commission have warned, access to fuel for generators that are in place is becoming a growing issue, something that power restoration would help ease.
As the lights come on for some, many in New York and New Jersey will likely remain without power and could struggle to find cellular service. AT&T Inc. (T) continues to have widespread outages in the region, according to reports from customers.
Power will help the situation, but some sites are also down because they have no connection to the core network or because switching centers aren't functioning. In other areas, including parts of New Jersey, the carriers said that aren't yet sure of the situation for their equipment.
Sprint spokesman John Taylor said the network performance will improve as power is restored to the region, but the degree of improvement is difficult to gauge because carriers may find there are other problems at the sites when power is flowing. Those could include problems connecting to the main network or having antennas that need repositioning.
"Even with power coming on, I think service will be intermittent for the next week in the N.J. and N.Y. metro areas," Mr. Redman said.
The carriers report that service is getting better. Verizon Wireless said Friday that 97.2% of its cell sites in the impacted area of Hurricane Sandy working, a figure that has crept up from 94% shortly after the storm.
"Our coverage in most areas is approaching pre-storm status," the company said in a statement. It said areas such as Lower Manhattan have "good" coverage but it hasn't yet returned to normal.
AT&T Inc. said that 80% of its wireless network in New York City was functioning as of Thursday afternoon. The company has signed a roaming agreement with T-Mobile in New York and New Jersey.
T-Mobile said its network is about 85% operational in New York City, including about 80% in Staten Island.
Sprint, which has said it is dependent on the landline connections of other carriers, has about 75% of its network working in New York.
In New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Sprint's network is more than 80% operational, while it exceeds 90% in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Write to Thomas Gryta at firstname.lastname@example.org
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