PENSACOLA, Fla. – Cellphone service providers are working feverishly over the holiday weekend to make sure those affected by Hurricane Dorian maintain service during the storm.
Keeping contact with family and first responders proved challenging during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and again when Hurricane Michael ripped through northwest Florida in 2018. That was the case for the most trusted of carriers like Verizon and AT&T, which says it has increased its network capabilities in a major way over the past two years.
“Since Hurricane Irma, we have improved the resiliency of our network throughout Florida by moving fiber underground, and increasing the number of fixed generators and installing additional backup infrastructure at cell sites,” said AT&T media relations manager Kelly Starling in an email Friday.
Are providers waiving charges and fees?
Service providers are working to minimize the damage on your next bill, despite a likely increase in usage as Dorian looms.
Starling says AT&T plans to waive overage charges on mobile services and give unlimited talk, text and data for AT&T wireless and AT&T prepaid customers in affected areas in Florida from Sept. 2-8.
Verizon announced on Twitter Friday that its consumers – both prepaid and postpaid – and small business customers in the path of Dorian will receive unlimited calling, texting and data between Sept. 2-9.
Verizon retail stores remain open to assist customers and provide free phone charging to those in the community, and the Verizon Response team is available 24/7 to coordinate with first responders.
Hurricane Dorian: What we know about the dangerous storm
Sprint announced that it will continue to provide its customers unlimited plans that come with unlimited data, call and text benefits.
T-Mobile reiterated when hurricane season began that customers on Magenta, T-Mobile One or Simple Choice plans already have unlimited talk, text and data. Metro by T-Mobile customers also have unlimited talk and text on all plans.
Will my cellphone work during Dorian?
From backup batteries and generators at cell towers to drones and trucks on standby, major service providers have rolled out their plans to prevent widespread outages.
AT&T Network Disaster Recovery team announced on its website that it will stage portable mobile cellular sites along the southeast coast for quick deployment if needed.
These sites provide temporary network and wireless coverage to locations where coverage is minimal, or in this week’s case, compromised by Dorian.
“Connectivity is crucial during a disaster – for those affected as well as the first responders answering the call for help,” Starling said Friday. “Our Network Disaster Recovery equipment, which includes our Cell on Wheels and Flying Cell on Wheels, help us deliver reliable connections where they are needed most.”
Some of AT&T Network Disaster Recovery assets include new flex-tech trailers and a bolstered Flying COW (Cells on Wheels) drone fleet that supports cellular coverage for disaster recovery and FirstNet emergency response. In addition, AT&T has roughly 40 COWs and COLTs (Cell on Light Trucks) ready to assist near the storm’s projected path.
Service speed during the storm is another crucial concern that Starling says AT&T has worked to address through enhanced core trailers.
“To keep pace with traffic demands on our core backbone, we’ve invested in capacity and speed upgrades to our network core IP trailers,” she said. “Each trailer can support large volumes of data traversing at high speeds and can scale up to a capacity of over 38 terabits per second. Available capacity is crucial during times of disaster.”
Verizon announced that ahead of Dorian, it has stocked its cell sites and network facilities with batteries and generators so that in the event of a power outage, Verizon can continue to run its network.
Verizon South Area Communications Representative Kate Jay said the company has made a major investment in a new fleet satellite-equipped portable cell sites.
“I can tell you that these satellite assets – along with dedicated satellite links – will help us provide connectivity should we experience damage to our fiber/microwave back haul (critical connectivity between our cell sites and network switching centers),” Jay said in an email Friday.
AT&T says it has topped off fuel generators, tested high-capacity back-up batteries at cell sites and protected physical facilities against flooding and is closely monitoring and preparing for Hurricane Dorian as it moved electronics essential to network operations above expected flood levels.
What to know if carriers do lose power or cellphones are damaged during Dorian
Several Verizon Wireless stores throughout central Florida are providing the following services until Sept. 8:
- Free charging stations in stores for those without power.
- Free one-time water damage services to dry out phones or other small devices with potential water damage.
- Discounts on portable power supplies.
- Starling said AT&T will provide similar services once the storm has passed.
“We have charging stations that we deploy to areas most in need once the storm has past,” Starling said. “If customers have a water-damaged wireless phone due to the storm, they should contact us, and we’ll be happy to work with them on a case-by-case basis.”
T-Mobile’s website says it will also provide “a range of recovery equipment and supplies on hand including generators, network recovery equipment and community response trucks, should they be needed in the aftermath of the storm.”