Call it Wi-Fi from the sky.
As Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeast, power outages wreaked havoc on telecommunications networks, knocking out wireless service for thousands of cell phone users.
If a future hurricane triggers similar failures, regulators say they have a potential solution. It has the hallmarks of science fiction: floating wireless antennas from balloons or drones.
The Federal Communications Commission is exploring the use of such airborne technology to restore communications after disasters. Beaming 3G or Wi-Fi signals from the sky may be especially useful to emergency responders in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, when repair crews are unable reach damaged equipment because roads and bridges are impassible, experts said.
"It sounds futuristic, but the technology is absolutely there," said Daniel M. Devasirvatham, a chief technology officer at Science Applications International Corp.
This spring, the Federal Communications Commission asked for public comments on the potential for deploying wireless networks via small drones or weather balloons, saying it could "further strengthen and enhance the security and reliability of the nation's communications infrastructure."
"We know this technology can work," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement in May.
Genachowski added it "would have been remarkably useful" after Hurricane Katrina, when dozens of 911 call centers were inoperable and more than 3 million customers lost telephone service.
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