Representatives from the telecommunications company said they have installed new equipment and assets in Bay County in recent months, diversifying its capabilities to better withstand even another Category 5 hurricane like Michael.
(TNS) — Telecommunications company Verizon has installed new equipment in Bay County to harden its network for hurricane season that starts on Saturday.
Verizon officials say the improvements will help the company maintain cell phone services during and after a hurricane or at least shorten network restoration times. Verizon developed the upgrades from lessons it learned after Hurricane Michael, which knocked the company's services out for a week.
Jhonathan Montenegro, senior manager of network assurance for Verizon, said the company had installed new equipment and assets in the county in recent months, diversifying its capabilities to better withstand even another Category 5 hurricane like Michael.
"Our number one priority is to get the system remaining online after a storm," Montenegro said. "But this will at least allow us to be back online a lot faster than we were previously."
Communication was practically nonexistent in the county in the days after the hurricane, with most power poles, cell and radio towers knocked out of commission. Verizon took the brunt of complaints after the storm, given that it serves an estimated 80% of the county. Verizon, which serves many first responders along with residents in the area, didn't restore its system until about a week after the storm hit.
Part of the problem with Michael was that nearly all of Verizon's fiber was above ground, making it vulnerable to debris and high winds, Montenegro said.
"To get past that, we're burying most of our core network under the ground," Montenegro said.
Verizon has also added more wireless capabilities with satellite technology.
"We've created a microwave network ... we've put some fiber out at some cell sites and bounce a beam off of other sites to create a mini network," Montenegro said.
Montenegro noted that Verizon recently tested the microwave network during President Donald Trump's campaign rally at Panama City Beach earlier this month.
The hurricane taught Verizon to improve connections with city and county officials to better coordinate recovery efforts.
A Federal Communications Commission report released earlier this month shows poor coordination between wireless carriers, power companies and local governments lengthened communication outages after the hurricane.
"A huge lesson we learned was building those relationships even better," Montenegro said.
Along with the improvements, the company has begun its usual hurricane preparations, like ensuring its fuel suppliers and extra personnel are ready to respond to a disaster.
"Before Hurricane Michael, we had people in Orlando ready to do what was needed," Montenegro said. "And once it hit, we had employees and vendors from out of the state coming in."
Meanwhile, Verizon is still moving forward with its $25 million investment to install its latest 5G cell service in the county. Announced in October soon after the hurricane, the service will offer faster, more reliable data download speeds once its starts coming online later this year.
Panama City will be among the first 30 cities in the U.S. to obtain the 5G network, providing download speeds around 1,000 times faster than what the current 4G network can offer.
©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.