Cell site backup power systems were put to the test late in June as a freak series of thunderstorms with hurricane-like winds, known as a derecho, caused 22 deaths and knocked out power to millions in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as to hundreds of cell sites across the region. A state of emergency was declared in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., as power companies worked to restore electricity.
T-Mobile, which lost power to one fourth of its cell sites in the area, deployed generators and thousands of gallons of fuel. Angry residents reported cellular outages, July 2, on the Sprint Nextel system across the Washington, D.C., metro area, with one frustrated user coining the term “cell-mageddon.”
“T-Mobile began deploying generators to cell sites without power on Friday evening, June 29. T-Mobile also dispatched additional personnel from surrounding markets over the weekend to restore service to areas hardest hit by the storm,” a T-Mobile spokesman said in a email. “Additional mobile generators were deployed Sunday to the greater Washington D.C area alone. By Tuesday evening, July 3, the T-Mobile network was operating at normal or near-normal levels in all areas affected.”
Ever since the Katrina debacle, the government has pressured the wireless industry hard to keep cell sites on the air after natural disasters, proposing to mandate backup power at one point. Verizon installed 1,300 generators nationwide in the last year and had more than 450 sites running on generators because of the storm. AT&T said it has doubled the number of generators in the field to 10,000 in the last three years.