More than a day after a massive earthquake and subsequent tidal wave slammed Japan, the country's telecommunications services remain severely disrupted. Mobile phone service across a wide area of eastern Japan is either unavailable or it remains difficult to make connections.
Many calls to phones in the affected region are either directed to voicemail or a recorded message: "This is NTT DoCoMo. Due to the earthquake, the area you are dialling is difficult to reach."
To help alleviate the problems caused by destroyed or damaged cell phone towers, Japan's three major cellular carriers have sent mobile base stations to the region. The base stations connect to the telecom network via satellite and can provide coverage in the immediate surrounding area. Retail outlets of the cellular carriers are providing recharging services.
In Tokyo, cell phone service is significantly more reliable than it was on Friday evening, but sometimes calls don't connect. Internet services appear to have been largely unaffected, although some websites are difficult to reach.
Several WiFi hotspot providers have responded to the quake by offering free access through their networks. Softbank opened up its network, and access points that are part of the "Fon" network were also made free. Another provider, Livedoor, said its network would be free all weekend.
Further disruption could be ahead. Tokyo Electric Power Co says it could be forced to start rolling blackouts across eastern Japan in an attempt to maintain the electricity supply system. The halt of several nuclear power stations has hit the company's ability to generate power.
Demand for electricity is expected to peak at 38 million kilowatts on Saturday evening, but supply is limited to 37 million kilowatts. Cell phone base stations are typically equipped with backup batteries that should ensure a continuation of service.
At least 600 people are reported to have been killed by the earthquake.
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