Will the Solar Eclipse Affect Cell Service?

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Updated: | Originally published:

From New York to Indiana, state officials across the country are warning of potential cell phone outages during the day of the total solar eclipse on April 8, as millions of people flock to the path of totality to witness—and post— the celestial event. 

Cell service can be disrupted when a large number of people overload the system with calls, messages, and other data-sucking activities— a situation that might arise in areas along the path of totality.

“​​A typical overload situation, such as some experience at a major football game, major sporting event or pop concert, is likely to occur in many places where the network is not provisioned for such an unusually large crowd,” Theodore Rappaport, director of NYU Wireless, a multidisciplinary research center focused on the future of wireless communications and applications, says in an email. 

Read More: How to Use Your Smartphone to Take Photos of the Solar Eclipse

Though wireless companies have spent the past few years upgrading their wireless networks, rural areas are still particularly vulnerable to disruptions, Rappaport says, as the grid might not be equipped to handle the sudden influx of tourists. “Imagine a rural cellular system which is usually designed for 1,000 customers. Now, if 10,000 customers show up in the particular rural location, it is likely the much greater customer base will have difficulty accessing bandwidth, and be blocked temporarily until the crowd dissipates,” he says. 

That means “anything more than texting” might be difficult until the congestion eases, he adds. 

Read More: The Eclipse Could Bring $1.5 Billion Into States on the Path of Totality

During the 2017 eclipse, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all dispatched portable towers to boost coverage along the eclipse’s path. This year, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T said they did not anticipate that the eclipse will significantly impact their networks.

“We do not expect any impact from the 2024 solar eclipse on the operation of our network. In areas where people may gather to experience this event, we’re confident the additional capacity we’ve layered into the network over the past few years will accommodate any increases in data usage,” Verizon said in a statement to TIME. 

“T-Mobile has increased investments in network hardening by more than 30% over the past two years to reduce service interruptions during weather, disaster and major tourism events (like the solar eclipse), adding fixed backup generators at critical sites nationwide,” the network said in a statement.

Read More: Why These Passengers Are Flying up to 30 Hours to See Four Minutes of the Eclipse

"The eclipse itself will have no direct operational impact on our wireless network," AT&T said in a statement. "Our network has drastically changed since the last solar eclipse in 2017. Our customers now have the benefit of AT&T 5G which provides unique experiences, faster speeds and capacity to do more of the things our customers like. We expanded our 5G network to reach more than 295 million people in nearly 24,500 cities and towns in the U.S. Our higher-speed mid-band 5G+ spectrum alone covers more than 210 million people. Our bandwidth has increased significantly in the last few years, providing for an improved experience on our network as a result."

Rappaport says disruptions are likely to be “sporadic and temporary,” but if you’re looking to err on the side of caution, consider downloading any important information you might need— like your hotel address or directions, and stay near a Wi-Fi access point if you are depending on coverage.

One of the biggest impacts cell service disruptions could have on eclipse viewers is making them have to wait a little longer to post images of the eclipse on social media. “I expect in high population centers or places where large crowds gather in peak viewing areas, there will be outages,” Rappaport says, “particularly during the five minutes or so where people are immersed in darkness and trying to share the experience over their phone.”

Correction, April 10

The original version of this story mischaracterized AT&T's response to a request for comment. The network did send a statement and the text has been updated to reflect that.

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Write to Simmone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com