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Puerto Rico’s telecoms unveil readiness plans for hurricane season

Carriers have bolstered their networks with backup batteries and generators to cover any outages.

As this year’s hurricane season officially starts June 1, Puerto Rico’s telecommunications sector representatives unveiled their preparedness plans to face storms, looking to maintain wireless and fixed services running during and after impact.

In separate statements, Claro Puerto Rico, Liberty Puerto Rico and T-Mobile Puerto Rico confirmed the status of their networks and the measures they have taken to prevent service blackouts or outages like those experienced in the wake of Hurricane María in 2017.

Some of the challenges telecom companies face include power outages, voltage fluctuations that damage equipment, poles and cables affected by collapses or cuts, fiber breakdowns and fuel shortages.

Enrique Ortiz de Montellano, president of Claro — Puerto Rico’s main telecom services provider — explained during a news conference that prior events prompted proactive actions, including burying fiber-optic rings to ensure connectivity and delivery of services.

The company has invested nearly $222 million in implementing a new fiber optic network, which connects 99% of antennas or cell sites, significantly reducing risks of failure due to hurricanes.

About 92% of Claro’s main fiber rings are underground, providing greater resilience. These rings comprise 11 circuits connecting 26 central offices via redundant fiber paths across the island, totaling more than 604,034 feet of new underground fiber, he explained.

“The fiber rings carry the services from the central offices to the different towns and areas, and from there the cables go to each home,” he said. “Last time, there was still something left on poles, but those rings were already buried. So, there may be some disconnection, but they are minor in specific places.”

To date, Claro has installed more than 19,000 kilometers of new fiber optics in Puerto Rico, with more than 60% of this infrastructure buried, ensuring customers have internet access during a power outage, he said.

The carrier has also invested $19 million in fuel costs to operate generators since 2017. Additionally, nearly $20 million has been allocated to strengthen power systems and modernize generators, along with $8.5 million for their maintenance.

The contingency plan includes more than 800 generators distributed throughout the island: 253 for central offices and remote sites, and 500 for cell sites. Also, multiple diesel tanks with up to 117,000 gallons have been installed to ensure power supply to central offices and remote equipment, he added.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service has predicted a highly active hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, with an 85% chance of an above-normal season, a 10% chance of a near-normal season and a 5% chance of a below-normal season. NOAA forecasts 17 to 25 total named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher).

Liberty and T-Mobile share their plans
Eduardo Díaz-Corona, general manager of Liberty Puerto Rico, said the company’s business continuity and disaster recovery plan “is updated, tested and exercised regularly in collaboration with our parent company, Liberty Latin America.”

“As part of that plan, we have made pre-established agreements with suppliers and contractors to get quicker access to materials and labor if we need it. In addition, we have emergency management committees across the business and close coordination efforts with government agencies to ensure operational continuity,” he added.

He said the provider has “practically doubled our ring’s infrastructure for added redundancy and continue burying our fiber in strategic locations to protect our network. By leveraging both networks, we now have an even more robust infrastructure to mitigate natural disasters and other emergencies.”

The company’s fixed network has generators in 100% of the central sites, while all cell sites have battery backup and 93% of the cell sites have fixed generators.

“The remaining cell sites have access to portable generators for backup. Moreover, for greater resiliency, 89% of the total core network fiber is underground,” Díaz-Corona explained.

He said while “it is not feasible to install generators” at the thousands of distribution points on poles and sidewalks, “we continue to invest in our power supplies, which are the heart of our network. To date, we have many power supplies connected to an alternate source of energy throughout the island.”

Liberty has more than 1,800 new batteries backing up its network. From 2023 to date, it has replaced 1,430 power supplies with new batteries, for a total of 4,290 replaced batteries, extending service availability throughout many areas across the island.

Since last year’s hurricane season, T-Mobile has continued to harden its network with permanent backup power solutions like generators and batteries to help ensure that when disasters strike, key sites and overlapping coverage keep customers connected.

“In times of crisis, T-Mobile is ready to show up for our customers and our communities and take action to help in recovery where it is most needed,” said Jon Freier, consumer group president at T-Mobile. “Our teams will be on the ground, ready to offer our hands and hearts in times of need and ensure that we’re there to support as best we can through the toughest of challenges.”

Telecom services prioritized
Wanda Pérez, president of the Puerto Rican Telecommunications Alliance (APT, in Spanish), said to get networks back up and running, “it’s vital that we have the collaboration of government authorities and energy and fuel service providers, to ensure that, if our operations are interrupted due to the lack of these resources, companies in the industry are prioritized so that, in turn, they can restore their services to citizens in the shortest time.”

She also stressed that post-storm clean-up brigades avoid cutting fiber optic cables that have fallen, “since this delays the recovery period of the networks considerably and can even affect communications workers and other customers.”

Looking to promote coordinated work, the APT has made itself available to participate in multisector work teams with entities such as the Puerto Rico Business Emergency Operations Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as to work in the Emergency Operations Center (COE, in Spanish).

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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