Commercial Wireless networks have grown rapidly in their first 25 years.  Today, more than 150 wireless companies compete to offer services in the United States.  They serve over 270 Million customers, delivering more than 2.2 trillion wireless minutes of use and sending over 800 billion text messages each year.Wireless diagram

The U.S. wireless industry leads the world in affordability, efficiency and competition. The Carriers networks are constantly evolving to provide ever broadening arrays of data and voice services while driving down prices for consumers.

Wireless diagramMost Wireless networks operate on a system of cells that reuse a set of radio frequencies to connect the customers to cell towers. The cell towers are in turn connected to each other, a mobile switching office and the rest of the world. Many of these connections are made via landline data circuits.

For a quick overview of how commercial wireless systems work, see How Wireless Works.

Securing Wireless Infrastructure

The communications sector works hard to safeguard wireless communications for the nation.  The National program for protecting wireless assets is outlined in parts of the Communication Sector Specific Plan.

The wireless industry also participates in the National Communications Systems Wireless Priority Services (WPS).  WPS provides critical personnel with the capability to place calls when wireless networks are overloaded in the wake of a disaster.

Wireless carriers invest billions expanding and updating network equipment, including features that make these networks more resistant to attacks.  They maintain an extensive inventory of portable generators and fleets of mobile temporary sites for deployment after disasters.  Members train their personnel for disasters and participate in regular disaster exercises internal to their own operations and in conjunction with Federal Agencies.

Wireless carriers regularly evaluate the resiliency and redundancy of critical elements in their networks.  Critical equipment will be interconnected with redundant circuits. Key cell sites will be hardened augmented with banks of backup batteries, on-site generators and expanded fuel capacity.

The Engineers that design, upgrade, and maintain wireless infrastructure helped develop and follow the applicable Best Practices developed by Network Reliability and Interoperability Council (NRIC).

During disasters like hurricanes, Wireless carriers preposition semi-trailer loads of supplies to support tent cities for assessment teams and restoration crews outside of the impact zone. As soon as it is safe to enter the area and authorities grant access, they conduct a preliminary assessment of their sites, prioritize their restoration tasks get to work.

Carriers first work to re-establish coverage where it has been lost.  This can frequently be done by returning a handful of key sites to service.  Their next priority will be to restore capacity where needed.  Sometimes, cell sites will “yo-yo”, coming in and out of service as the land line circuits and commercial power needed to support that site stumble.  Carriers work closely with other utilities, matching their restoration efforts with one another.  The Wireless Carriers’ most critical needs during natural disasters like ice storms and hurricanes are for access (getting their crews through security checkpoints), security, and fuel.

Wireless carriers will also prepare for planned events like the Super Bowl, Inauguration, etc.

Finally, CTIA, the Wireless Association, provides a certification program to promote Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery.  To become and remain certified, carriers:

  • Periodically conduct a thorough risk evaluation, identifying appropriate controls and safeguards
  • Complete an business impact analysis, determining their recovery priorities and timeline objectives
  • Develop business continuity strategies
  • Develop procedures to support these strategies, establishing emergency operations Centers and escalation protocols
  • Regularly educate employees on these processes and procedures
  • Conduct and participate in drills and exercises to test their training
  • Integrate lessons learned from real disasters and drills into their enterprise
  • Regularly review results and progress with Senior management

Wireless Involvement in the CSCC

Four of the largest carriers in the Wireless sector are founding members of the Communications Sector Coordinating council – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.  Alcatel-Lucent, Intrado, Level 3, Motorola, and Nortel are important equipment and service providers to the industry and actively participate in the Communications Sector Coordinating Council.