NYC mayor: AT&T satellite 'hot spots' on the way

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says AT&T's CEO has promised "satellite trucks" to help boost capacity and offer cell phone charging for those affected by Superstorm Sandy.

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
3 min read
AT&T works to restore service in Manhattan following outages from Hurricane Sandy. AT&T

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says help from AT&T is on the way for wireless customers stranded without cell service following Superstorm Sandy.

During a press conference today, the mayor said that he had met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who promised that AT&T would be getting service back to normal for the millions of AT&T wireless customers in New York City who have been affected by the hurricane that hit in full force Monday evening.

Specifically, Bloomberg said that AT&T will be bringing in trucks that will have satellite connections to provide Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity for customers in the immediate area. The trucks will also be equipped with charging stations so that hundreds of thousands of people without power will be able to charge their phones and other gadgets.

AT&T has not yet confirmed or provided additional information on the trucks expected to be deployed in New York City. CNET will update this story with more information on the technology and the trucks as we get new information from AT&T.

Wireless service has been problematic for many New Yorkers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The hardest hit areas are places where commercial power is unavailable.

All four major wireless carriers have confirmed that they are having issues. Although Verizon Wireless claims that its service has been working well for most of its customers in affected areas, it has acknowledged that customers in lower Manhattan in particular may be experiencing some issues. The company says that 94 percent of its cell sites were been operational as of early Tuesday.

AT&T wireless customers in downtown Manhattan find the one spot in their neighborhood with a cell phone signal. CNET/Dan Ackerman

AT&T, which has had a spotty record for service in New York City since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, hasn't released specific information about its cell sites. But anecdotally it does seem that AT&T customers in the city have been hit particularly hard. The company announced yesterday that it has signed a roaming agreement with T-Mobile, which uses the same GSM/UMTS technology. This will allow AT&T and T-Mobile customers to roam onto each other's cellular networks when available. This may help alleviate capacity issues in certain areas of the city.

A major factor in these outages is the fact that there is no commercial power available for hundreds of thousands of customers in New York City. Even though the power company, Consolidated Edison, has managed to restore power to some, there are still at least 400,000 New Yorkers without power, the mayor said Thursday.

Wireless companies have blamed the failure of their service on lack of power. Even though some cell sites have backup batteries and generators, many do not have enough power to last several days. Some of the cell sites may have also been affected by power outages that affected infrastructure equipment housed in lower Manhattan. Verizon Communications, which has central offices and other critical infrastructure in this area, said that backup power was impaired due to flooding in some of its locations. But the company has now restored power and the critical infrastructure equipment was not damaged.

CNET will provide more information on this as it becomes available.