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Will a total solar eclipse disrupt cell phone service?

Will a total solar eclipse disrupt cell phone service?

(CNN) — As millions of people fall into darkness during Monday's total solar eclipse, viewers will raise their cell phones to the sky to capture the moment. But could increased mobile phone use cause networks to be affected?

In both city centers and rural towns, network providers and public officials say they are bracing for a significant increase in traffic on mobile and Wi-Fi networks, as the rush of tourists across the eclipse will put pressure on major internet providers.

The path of the total eclipse – where it is possible to see the moon completely blocking the face of the sun – will attract thousands of tourists to states in the United States, from Texas to Maine. Travelers will depend on the network infrastructure in those areas As they use social media, they make live streams and video calls to commemorate their experience.

The eclipse itself does not affect wireless networks. But the influx of tourists into cities and towns creates an atmosphere similar to that of a football match or a concert in a packed stadium: the larger the crowd, the harder it is to get a cellular connection.

“Anywhere in the middle of the path of totality will see a significant increase in cell phone use, especially during and shortly after totality,” Katie Belachowski, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University in Bloomington, said in an interview with CNN. .

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

“The eclipse is often viewed as a shared activity,” Belachowski said, noting that people will take photos and videos and share those images.

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

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

Eclipse on mobile networks?

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

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When the last total solar eclipse passed across the United States in 2017, AT&T reported network usage spikes of up to 15% around certain cell towers in the path of totality. but The company, which experienced an outage affecting millions of people in February, says it is ready for Monday. “The eclipse itself will have no direct operational impact on our wireless network,” an AT&T spokesperson wrote in an email.

Other large providers like Verizon and T-Mobile are echoing AT&T's confidence in Monday's celestial spectacle.

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

Verizon It says it built its US infrastructure along the path of the eclipse last year. Sirico said the wireless carrier has built and activated 19 new cell sites in Niagara and Erie counties in New York – Locations Along the path of totality – from early 2023.

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

Spectators watch 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 activated 60 new cell sites in six counties in the overall path. In the Dallas area, Verizon 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 this event,” Sirico said.

T-Mobile says it is also deploying additional temporary cell sites that will be on standby in areas where a large influx of tourists is expected. These portable sites – cells on wheels – are called COW for short.

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

“All 5G launches and upgrades have been deployed on our network since the last solar eclipse that swept the United States in 2017,” Verizon's Sirico said.

Eclipse preparations

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

“Operators are aware of the influx of people expected to visit New York for this event, and have conducted site audits and evaluated coverage maps,” Heather Grohl, a security department spokeswoman, said in an email. .

However, New York authorities They expect a large influx of visitors: in Buffalo their number may reach 1 million tourists, and between 300,000 and 500,000 are expected to arrive in Rochester, according to Grohl. This means that residents in those areas may experience regular service outages.

Michelle Ng and Bichnayu Chung show off their free solar eclipse glasses after being photographed at Moynihan Station in New York, on April 1.  Anthony Behar/Siba USA/AP

Michelle Ng and Bishniu Chung show off their free solar eclipse glasses after collecting them from Moynihan Station in New York, on April 1.
Anthony Behar/Siba USA/AP

“Visitors and New Yorkers alike should expect coverage to be limited where there are large gatherings and plan accordingly,” Grohl wrote in an email.

While some cities may experience power outages, it all depends on the number of people using the tower and the specific capacity of the area, according to NASA program scientist Lisa Winter.

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“It can be difficult in a crowded area if multiple people are using the same towers,” Winter explains in an email.

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

He said providers indicate regular calls should go ahead, but data services may be strained or unavailable.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, city officials say they are not concerned about cell phone service outages.

“We know that the state and federal governments have allocated resources primarily to rural areas of the state that may have limited access to the cellular network,” Little Rock spokesman Aaron Sadler said in an email. “The City of Little Rock does not have the same coverage concerns and we hope there will be no network issues next week.”

Eclipse tips

People who travel to To see the eclipse, they should plan, downloading maps and directions in advance to have on hand in case of poor connectivity.

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

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