US ATTACK: Networks persist under immense volume

Telecommunication infrastructures were incredibly taxed but for the most part held up during last week's disastrous events, with double the number of voice and wireline calls streaming over local lines, some of which were crippled or compromised by damage.

In the aftermath, however, managers and vendors likely will have to plan for the possibility that such attacks could be directed more deliberately at scattered telecom nerve centers.

"I only wish the people and buildings had fared as well as the networks," said Jeffrey Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst in Atlanta. "If the effort behind the attacks had been put into taking out strategic nodes, we would have had problems cascading through telecom centers."

Vendors have mostly put past damage-control efforts toward routing around a single crippled node. That approach may soon have to change, Kagan concluded, with more emphasis on intelligent routing capabilities that would factor in the loss of more than one site.

Corporate managers will look to their stricken counterparts in New York and Washington and walk through what-if scenarios, suggested Hossein Eslambolchi, CTO of AT&T Corp.

"Customers will probably go back and look at fundamental services such as ATM, frame relay, and IP services and build in a lot more redundancy," Eslambolchi said.

Corporate aftershocks may also include attention to the risks of having networking assets so centralized, according to Eslambolchi. "All it takes is one incident to wipe out a headquarters situated in one location," he said.

Because its telecom services flow from several locations in the Manhattan area, local phone company New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. reported intense but limited damage last week.

Two Verizon offices near the World Trade Center (WTC) took heavy blows, one as WTC's Building 7 toppled and beams hit a nerve center, said Larry Babbio, Verizon's vice chair and president. "From that office, about 200,000 lines were served and the equivalent of about 3 million private lines or circuits go through that office," Babbio said.

Babbio estimated that 20 percent of the New York Stock Exchange's private-line services came through the crippled facility, as did service for many other businesses, most of which were far too damaged to notice the lack of dial tone.

Wireless infrastructures also sustained mostly localized damage but were strained by calling volume. AT&T Wireless Inc. reported losing access to some network sites based near or at the Manhattan office complex. Sprint Corp. also lost network equipment and was forced to reroute calls to other facilities. AT&T suffered no damage to long-distance networks.

Telecom service strained

-- Two Bell central offices were rendered inoperable in New York. The hardest hit housed 200,000 lines and 20 percent of private circuits feeding the New York Stock Exchange.

-- Voice calls streamed at twice the normal daily rates Tuesday: roughly 115 million calls in New York and 35 million in Washington.

-- Directory and operator calls were up 200 percent at times.

-- Wireless network volume increased by as much as 50 percent to 100 percent; Bell deployed seven replacement cell sites.

Source: Verizon

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