For a week, it seemed no one could communicate out of the city of New Orleans. This week, on the communications front at least, things are looking up.
Verizon Wireless, for example, said this weekend it had completely restored service in Baton Rouge, La.; Pensacola, Fla.; and Jackson, Miss. Things are improving in Mobile, Ala. and Biloxi, Miss., and even in New Orleans. They’re using Cell on Wheels (COWs) in some areas where antennas don’t have power, and installing generators for others.
Likewise, T-Mobile had restored service in downtown New Orleans by installing a generator at a high-capacity cellular tower site (on top of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Astor on Canal Street). Cingular fully restored service in Mobile and Jackson, and has crews in New Orleans. Sprint Nextel also is working on services in the area.
Nice as this is — especially given that Bell South says 810,000 phone lines are still out in the three Gulf states — restoring cellular connections isn’t necessarily helping everyone. Cell phones and their chargers are useless without power, after all. It might not help first responders at all, either. The citywide 800MHz radio system used by the NOLA police went down when power went out. In fact, the older systems might not be the best way to get New Orleans back in touch.
Intel, for example, plans to deploy as many as 50 Wi-Fi MetroMesh routers from Tropos Networks in downtown New Orleans and near the airport to give free services to workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Intel also is giving the Red Cross 1,500 laptops from partners like Dell and Lenova, plus another 150 access points for permanent shelters to get those computers online.
Sascha Meinrath, the project coordinator of the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN), an open source project for creating free community networks, got the go-ahead this past holiday weekend to head to New Orleans and deploy the CUWiN brand of wireless. Teams from various locations are going to converge in Rayville, Louisiana to start work, but already are being told that food, water, and gasoline are in short supply. All are traveling by car, as flights are limited and expensive.