Will a total solar eclipse disrupt cell phone service?

(CNN) — As darkness engulfs millions of people during Monday's total solar eclipse, onlookers will hold their mobile phones skyward to capture the moment. But will the networks suffer as mobile phone usage increases?

In both city centers and rural towns, network providers and public officials say they are preparing to significantly increase traffic on mobile phone and Wi-Fi networks as a rush of tourists through the eclipse puts pressure on major online network providers.

The path of the total eclipse – where the moon can be seen completely blocking the face of the sun – will draw thousands of tourists to states across the US from Texas to Maine. Passengers will depend on the network infrastructure of those areas When they use social networks, they can make live broadcasts and video calls to reminisce about their experience.

The eclipse will not affect wireless networks. But the influx of tourists to towns and cities creates an atmosphere similar to a football game or a concert in a packed stadium: the more crowded it is, the harder it is to get a cellular connection.

“Anywhere in the center of the total eclipse path there will be a significant increase in cell phone use, especially during totality and shortly after,” Katie Bilachowski, an astronomy professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, told CNN in an interview. .

Bloomington, which last recorded a total eclipse in 1869, will be in the path of the total eclipse on Monday and will welcome hundreds of thousands of spectators.

“An eclipse is often seen as a shared activity,” said Bilachowski, noting that people take photos and videos and share those images.

A family looks at the giant solar eclipse mirrors at Veterans Memorial Park in Dripping Springs, Texas on April 4, 2024.  Adam Davis/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A family looks at the giant solar eclipse mirrors at Veterans Memorial Park in Dripping Springs, Texas on April 4, 2024. Adam Davis/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Eclipse in mobile phone networks?

AT&T expects network traffic to increase during the total eclipse as people “take out their devices to capture and share content,” according to a company spokesperson.

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During the last total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 2017, AT&T reported that network usage increased by up to 15% around some cell towers in the path of the total eclipse. But still The company, which experienced an outage in February that affected millions of people, says it's ready for this Monday. “The eclipse will not have any direct operational impact on our wireless network,” an AT&T spokesperson wrote in an email.

Other major providers like Verizon and T-Mobile echoed AT&T's optimism in Monday's sky show.

“We do not anticipate any impact from the 2024 solar eclipse on the operation of our network,” Verizon spokesman Chris Cerico told CNN.

Verizon It says it has built up its U.S. infrastructure along the Eclipse route over the past year. Cerico said the wireless carrier has built and activated 19 new cell sites in Niagara and Erie counties in New York. In the path of a total eclipse – from the beginning of 2023.

Observers view a partial solar eclipse in August 2017 at the Top of the Rock Observatory at Rockefeller Center in New York.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Observers view a partial solar eclipse in August 2017 at the Top of the Rock Observatory at Rockefeller Center in New York. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In Northeast Ohio, Verizon has activated a total of 60 new cell sites in six counties. In the Dallas area, Verizon has activated 375 new cell sites.

“We are confident that the additional capacity we have added to the network in recent years will be able to handle any increase in data usage in areas where people gather to watch the event,” Cerico said.

T-Mobile also says it has additional temporary cell sites on standby in areas expected to see heavy tourist traffic. These portable platforms – cells on wheels – are called COWs for short.

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Major mobile carriers are also benefiting from 5G innovation since the last eclipse. AT&T has expanded its 5G network to reach more than 295 million people in 24,500 cities and towns across the United States.

“All 5G rollouts and upgrades have been rolled out to our network since the last solar eclipse spread across the United States in 2017,” Verizon's Cerico said.

Preparations for the eclipse

In New York, which will experience its first total eclipse in nearly a century, state and local governments say they have been coordinating with wireless providers for more than a year to prepare for the event.

“Operators are aware of the expected influx of people to New York for this event and have conducted site audits and evaluated coverage maps,” Department of Defense spokeswoman Heather Kroll said in an email. National and New York State Emergency Services.

However, New York officials They expect a large influx of visitors: perhaps up to 1 in Buffalo million tourists, and between 300,000 and 500,000 are expected in Rochester, according to Groll. This means residents of those areas may experience regular service interruptions.

Michelle Eng and Pichnaieu Chung show off their free solar eclipse glasses at Moynihan Station in New York, April 1.  Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/AP

Michelle Eng and Pichnaeu Chung show off their free solar eclipse glasses after picking them up at Moynihan Station in New York, April 1.
Anthony Behar/Ciba USA/AP

“Visitors and New Yorkers alike should expect limited coverage in areas of large gatherings and plan accordingly,” Kroll wrote in an email.

According to NASA project scientist Lisa Winter, while some cities may experience outages, it all depends on the number of people using a tower and the capacity of the particular area.

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“If many people use the same towers, it can be difficult in a busy area,” Winter explains in an email.

According to Rick Dietz, director of Bloomington's Information and Technology Services Department, the city has coordinated with service providers to deploy portable facilities in low-coverage areas.

Providers indicate that regular calls should continue, but data services may be disrupted or unavailable.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, city officials say they're not concerned about disruptions to cell phone service.

“We know that the state and federal governments have allocated resources primarily to rural areas of the state,” Little Rock spokesman Aaron Sadler said in an email. “The city of Little Rock doesn't have the same coverage concerns and we're hoping there won't be any network issues next week.”

Tips for Eclipse

People who travel To see the eclipse, they need to plan for it and download maps and directions ahead of time to keep them handy in case the connection is bad.

With or without a phone, the most important thing, according to Blachowski, is to enjoy the experience.

“A total solar eclipse is unlike any other experience a human can live through. It connects us deeply not only with nature, but with the universe,” he explains. “We are connected to the sun and the moon and the whole vast universe in a way we don't normally experience. It's a profound moment that we all want to feel and share.”

Misty Tate

"Freelance twitter advocate. Hardcore food nerd. Avid writer. Infuriatingly humble problem solver."

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