How AT&T Gets Your iPhone or U-verse Back Online After Disaster


3303980840_401e3609ef1Three or four times a year since 1993, AT&T (s T) has been simulating a network-crushing catastrophe and subsequently sending a portion of its $500 million worth of disaster recovery equipment out into the field to practice bringing its wired and wireless networks back online. Such a simulation is currently under way in Houston. I wasn’t able to attend, but thanks to AT&T’s Flickr stream, it’s possible to see how a carrier can get its network back online (my favorites are of the poor guys in the hazmat suits setting up equipment — note the duct tape around their boots).

The entire process can take up to 162 hours to complete (53 hours in the case of AT&T losing its central office in the World Trade Center on 9-11), and involves sending trailers filled with telco gear from DSLAMS at the edge to NEC optical amplifiers for restoring the Internet backbone, hooking them together with network capability and power, and connecting it all back into the metro fiber ring. Support trailers carrying generators, tools and even ready-to-eat meals are also deployed. Since I love any sort of gear crammed into a container, I really wish I could have seen it.

photo courtesy of AT&T via Flickr



As awe inspiring as this massive technical rollout is, I just have to pause and ask a question regarding Cameron’s statement: A nuclear detonation has an EMP range of over 800 miles (see operation Starfish Prime) so no matter how deep your bunker your iPhone is probably fried anyways, not to mention if you’re deep enough to protect yourself from the radiation your AT&T reception is probably going to be shoddy at best anyways.

Joshua G

@ Cameron Barrett

Well said.

Bottom line: in the event of a disaster, communications are paramount right after food and shelter.

Cameron Barrett

“It’s not like if a nuclear attack had occurred I’d be frustrated my iPhone wasn’t working.”

On the contrary. In the event of a nuclear strike, most people who know better will park themselves in as secure of a location as they can find, for as long as possible, to avoid the radioactivity and nuclear fallout. For most people this means a basement or room with thick walls and few windows. Imagine yourself in this room for a week or more. How frustrated will you be the first day your iPhone does not work? The second day? The third day? In this scenario, your iPhone may be your *only* connection to the outside world, its news and the state of things. You will be ecstatic that AT&T has their sh*t together and gets its network back up and running ASAP.

Clarence Diamond

Given that the iPhone represents about 1% U.S. market penetration, that does raise a question of editors drinking their own Kool-Aid when equating the two.


The headline of this article really represents what I dislike about our tech trend whoring. We equate all of AT&T with the iPhone, as if all of digital music was just the iPod.


I understand the need for first responders needing a communication system, but if it takes nearly a week to get the network up why send people into a hazardous area to set restore the network? It’s not like if a nuclear attack had occurred I’d be frustrated my iPhone wasn’t working.

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