Carriers scramble to restore Gulf Coast mobile phone coverage

Cellular carriers scrambled last weekend to restore service to Gulf Coast states battered by Hurricane Katrina. The major providers deployed mobile cell sites and hundreds of generators, but New Orleans still has little cell phone coverage.

As of yesterday, Verizon Wireless had one operational cell site at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Miss., the base of operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Biloxi area.

Verizon also deployed mobile cellular gear to provide coverage at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and FEMAs relief distribution center in Gulfport, Miss. The company said it has nearly 20 mobile units ready for deployment to help increase wireless coverage in the hardest hit areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, once state and federal emergency officials give the go-ahead.

Also as of yesterday, Sprint Nextel had restored 75 percent of service in Gulf Coast areas hit by the storm, according to company officials.

New Orleans, meanwhile, continued to be a challenge. Flooding, power and safety concerns are hampering service restoration for all telecommunications providers, Sprint Nextel said.

Cingular Wireless said yesterday that some calls are going through in New Orleans and surrounding areas, including Hammond and Houma, La., but at reduced levels. Cingular said restoring service in New Orleans is its top priority. The company is using microwave and satellite connections to restore service in parts of the city, and is re-rerouting calls outside of New Orleans as needed.

Cingular said service in Mobile, Ala., and Jackson, Miss., is fully restored, and the majority of coverage capacity has been re-established in and around Biloxi. The company also continues to make substantial progress in restoring service in the Mississippi cities of Meridian, Hattiesburg and Gulfport. Customers can send and receive calls in those cities, but at reduced levels.

Cingular has deployed more than 500 generators, 240,000 gallons of fuel and more than 30 mobile cellular units to the Gulf Coast to restore service.

T-Mobile USA reported that as of Friday, it had restored more than 50 percent of its coverage in the greater New Orleans area, but downtown New Orleans was still experiencing limited service

T-Mobile said its New Orleans switching facility, which serves the city and Baton Rouge, La., remained operational during the storm and its aftermath, but keeping it running required the company to airlift supplies, diesel fuel and technicians to the facility.

The company said that more than 80 percent of its coverage in Mobile and 40 percent of its coverage in the Mississippi Gulf Coast area was operational as of Friday.

T-Mobile, like the other carriers, said it has dispatched hundreds of generators to the Gulf Coast.

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