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Hurricane María

Wireless co’s are 82% to 95% back online, but still fighting vandalism

Wireless carriers have thousands of people on the ground working to restore services. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Puerto Rico’s wireless telecom providers have restored between 82 percent and 95 percent of services to sites ravaged by Hurricane María in September, but a full restoration will hinge on controlling vandalism, copper theft and restored energy service, executives confirmed to this media outlet.

Following is a breakdown of the work being done by each of the carriers in Puerto Rico:

As of this weekend, AT&T crews continued deploying additional temporary cell sites and continued permanent restoration work on damaged sites, so nearly 90 percent of the population in Puerto Rico and 96 percent of the population in the U.S. Virgin Islands are connected again, said José Juan Dávila, vice president of AT&T Puerto Rico and USVI.

“Our ongoing restoration efforts and mobile cell site deployments in Puerto Rico continue to support more than 15.2 million calls and 7.5 million texts a day on our network,” he said.

In the wake of the storm, AT&T has assigned more than 1,000 employees to restoration efforts both stateside and on-the-ground in Puerto Rico/USVI.

To back that effort, the carrier has 45 portable satellite units and temporary assets deployed throughout Puerto Rico.

“We continue to support Coamo Sur/Juana Díaz, Piñones, Maunabo, Quebradillas, San Lorenzo, Guayama and Adjuntas with portable cell sites,” he said. “We continue to use portable satellite units at the base of clusters of cell towers in Guayama, Patillas, Arroyo, Yauco, Cabo Rojo, San Sebastián, Barceloneta, Cidra, Florida, Humacao Norte, Aibonito, Utuado, Ciales, Lares, Cayey, Maricao, Morovis and Villalba.”

The carrier has six charging stations deployed throughout Puerto Rico.

Dávila also said the carrier will “continue to work around the clock and are making steady progress restoring service to affected sites in Puerto Rico. However, our teams continue to face challenges such as travel conditions, lack of commercial power, third-party fiber cuts and fiber cuts with the intent to steal copper.”

Claro Puerto Rico
The carrier confirmed that it has had radio bases in place for several weeks at all of the 78 municipalities. Furthermore, its AMX-1 submarine cable has been connecting the island to the world uninterruptedly, while all of its central offices are also operational.

It has a team of more than 1,500 people working on restoration efforts, including network engineers, technicians, project managers, mechanics, and drivers, the company confirmed.

Claro also confirmed it has enough equipment and materials in place to handle restoration efforts, and it has also made “extraordinary purchases of materials associated with building the fixed and wireless network,” the carrier stated.

While the company stated it is close to completing its recovery post-María, it admitted the industry is facing two significant obstacles: A lack of energy at the majority of the central offices that continue running on power generators and vandalism and fiber optic cuts, especially in rural areas.

As of Sunday, 91 percent of its clients have been able to connect to T-Mobile’s network.

“A team of more than 1,100 experts keep working 24/7 to reestablish service island-wide and we have sufficient materials and equipment to continue our deployment,” said T-Mobile Puerto Rico General Manager Jorge Martel.

“Currently we are concentrating the network’s reestablishment in the central and eastern areas, two of the most damaged regions affected by the hurricane. Last weekend, we expanded coverage in Utuado, San Sebastián, Coamo, Santa Isabel, while reinforcing Fajardo, Luquillo and Río Grande. This week we are working in Adjuntas and Lares,” he said.

The wireless executive said customers are noticing improvements in service quality and T-Mobile’s wireless internet consumption has reached the same levels as it has prior to the storm.

“We are building a stronger, more robust network,” he said, adding T-Mobile Puerto Rico expects to have voice and text coverage restored to all 78 municipalities by year’s end. “We will focus our first quarter efforts on optimization and improvement of the network.”

Sprint/Open Mobile
The carriers, which are finalizing a joint venture combining both infrastructures, confirmed that 82 percent of its cell sites have been restored and are in service.

Neville Cruz, chief technology officer for parent company P.R. Wireless said the restoration work has been in the hands of a team of engineers, technicians and inspectors, among others. Local and out-of-town contractors have also joined the effort, working to re-establish wireless services in Puerto Rico and the USVI.

“We have all of the equipment and materials necessary to continue our work and focus on restoring communications for all of our customers in both markets,” he said.

Finally, he said re-establishing 100 percent of the P.R. Wireless network is tied to the restoration of electric power service on the island.

“Given those restoration projections, which are not expected to reach the majority of the island until next year, the industry’s expectation is that the networks will be between 90 percent and 95 percent back online at the end of December,” Cruz said.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 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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