Disaster planning and diversification of wireless service?

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Disaster planning and diversification of wireless service?

Postby texasdiver » Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:24 pm

I expect my family is not uncommon in that we have three separate connections to the internet (cable modem for the house), cell phone family plan for the phones, and also an iPad.

It just so happens that both our cell phone network and our iPad are on AT&T mainly because we got both before apple diversified service options by including Verizon. Now I've been reading about how cell towers were down or overloaded throughout the NE in the wake of Sandy and it occurs to me that one element of disaster planning might be to diversify cell coverage. This doesn't really make financial sense when one is using a family plan for cell phones, but the iPads and other tablets generally have independent contracts.\

Consequently, next time I go to buy a new tablet or renew a cell phone contract I'm going to make sure that I'm getting service from both AT&T and Verizon so that my internet service is diversified. Probably stick with AT&T for the cell phones because we have grandfathered unlimited data plans but make certain that the next tablet is Verizon. Since both AT&T is GSM service and Verizon is CDMA they don't share towers or networks and a network outage in one system shouldn't necessarily affect the other. That isn't necessarily the case with two GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile.

Anyone else thinking along these lines? It isn't necessarily just for disaster planning, but if we ever had to grab our stuff and go it will be nice knowing that I have access to two separate and independent wireless networks.
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby Mudpuppy » Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:37 pm

It doesn't matter which carrier you are with, cell towers have a limited capacity for backup power in the event of a power outage because it's too expensive to install generators at as many towers as the average cell provider operates. It's much cheaper for the landline telcos to install generators at their facilities because they have far, far fewer facilities per square mile than there are cell towers. This is because the range of a wired connection is much greater than the range of a wireless signal at the frequencies currently used for cell phones in the USA.

If there is a disaster that interrupts power, both the AT&T and Verizon towers will likely go down within 3-6 hours when the battery backups are depleted. If you are in a major metropolitan area, it might be worth it for one or both cell providers to bring in portable generators for their most heavily used towers. Also keep in mind that the towers usually uplink to the landline telcos (although some towers do use satellite/wide-area telcos for uplinks) via connections such as fiber optic trunks and if the upstream telco is without power, it doesn't matter if the tower has power or not, you're not going anywhere.

This plan would only help in the rare event of a service outage. Usually service outages are short-lived and related to some sort of upgrade being performed. The longest outage we had locally was half a day when third-party construction damaged a tower and they had to bring in a portable tower from a neighboring city. I'm not sure if the price of a second provider is justified for avoiding the one or two service outages that might happen each year.
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby texasdiver » Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:42 am

That makes sense I guess if we are talking about power outages and not just network overloads. If the storm is big enough to take one network down it will probably take all of them down.

I guess I still like the idea of having my phone and iPad on different networks for travel, especially car trips where we might be finding holes in one network's service. It doesn't cost any more since the iPad cellular service is independent of the phone contract.
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby linuxuser » Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:57 am

My recent experience during Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy arrived 8pm Monday.
Verizon wireless: worked with no downtime that I knew of even though I did shut off the phone for several hours each day to conserve battery
T-mobile 4G smarthphone: lost service until the nearby AT&T tower came back on Thursday so I was able to do call roaming but not data roaming on ATT
T-mobile wireless (not smartphone): lost service until power came back
Verizon landline: did not work most of Wednesday
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby sscritic » Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:59 am

Who is your landline with? Right after the Northridge earthquake, the issue was overload - don't call me, I'll call you.

I might have had to wait two minutes for a dial tone, but I got one.
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby Epsilon Delta » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:06 pm

If your biggest worry is "does my wireless Internet work?", you have not experienced a disaster. If you're worried about communications in a disaster get a ham license and radio.
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby Mudpuppy » Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:04 pm

texasdiver wrote:That makes sense I guess if we are talking about power outages and not just network overloads. If the storm is big enough to take one network down it will probably take all of them down.

I guess I still like the idea of having my phone and iPad on different networks for travel, especially car trips where we might be finding holes in one network's service. It doesn't cost any more since the iPad cellular service is independent of the phone contract.

Network overloads and holes in service are not "disaster planning", but rather provider reliability metrics. IMHO, disaster planning is for storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters that might deprive one of technology for some period of time. Of course, having a secondary provider will protect one against network overloads or holes in service, provided the second provider is truly an independent provider (different infrastructure). I missed your intent given the title of the post.
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Re: Disaster planning and diversification of wireless servic

Postby paulsiu » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:46 pm

In the event of emergency, consider sending a text message instead of calling. SMS message are low resources and are queued. One can also get cell phones on different networks using pay as you go with a small number of minutes, but if one network is swamped, so will all of the others.

What about using CB?

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