AT&T and T-Mobile strike temporary roaming deal

The two companies will allow customers in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to roam on each other's networks.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
The Hudson River on Monday afternoon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as Hurricane Sandy approached. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

Relief is coming for wireless customers who have suffered with poor service in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

AT&T and T-Mobile USA today announced that they entered into an agreement to enable roaming on their networks to customers of both companies in areas most affected by the hurricane and where capacity is available from one carrier or the other.

AT&T and T-Mobile customers will be able to place calls just as they do normally. But the calls will be carried over whichever network is up and running in their area. The roaming will be seamless to customers of both wireless companies. There will be no roaming charges or fees associated with these calls. And subscribers' current service agreements will stay in place.

This temporary roaming arrangement is possible because T-Mobile and AT&T both use the same network technology based on GSM and UMTS standards, which allows for this sharing of voice and data traffic. But keep in mind that AT&T 4G LTE services will not be able to roam onto T-Mobile since T-Mobile does not yet support LTE technology.

This should help some AT&T customers in places such as New York City, where power has been out below 39th Street in Manhattan since Monday evening. Parts of Brooklyn and Queens have also been affected by power outages and poor cell phone coverage. While T-Mobile customers have also experienced spotty services in lower Manhattan, the bulk of the complaints seem to be coming from AT&T customers.

AT&T's traditional 3G wireless network had a spotty record in parts of New York City prior to the big storm. AT&T iPhone and other smartphone users have complained for years about slow data service and dropped calls throughout New York City. The company has been working to improve its network there. And recently it launched its 4G LTE service, which has started to alleviate some congestion. Still, with the storm knocking out some AT&T cell sites, it has only increased the strain on an already overtaxed network.