The Solar Eclipse Might Mess With Your Cell Phone Service

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Throughout history, solar eclipses have sparked some pretty spooky stories.

The Vikings of the Dark Ages believed that enormous wolves pursued the sun. Eventually, one of the beasts would catch the celestial plaything, and the Earth would go dark. Ancient Greeks just figured that the gods were upset with them. Back then, the eclipse was a portent of doom.

M. Druckmüller/NASA (via U.S. Department of the Interior)

As we gear up for the Great American Eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, we also have our horror stories. There are no demons or wolves here, though, just the two scariest words in our culture: “No signal.”

Websites from Mic to GeekWire warn eclipse viewers that they might have trouble with their networks as they travel the path of totality. However, the service interruption isn’t what you think.

It’s not the eerie alignment of the sun, the moon, and the Earth that could interrupt your phone calls.

There’s nothing in the blockage of sunlight that should affect the radio-frequency waves constantly zinging back and forth between your phone and the nearest cell tower. If all the other conditions stayed the same, this fancy dip in the dance of the cosmos shouldn’t do anything to your phone service.


The conditions aren’t the same, though. We’re psyched about this eclipse, and by “we,” we mean virtually every single person on United States soil. The last event of this type was in 1991—that may as well be Viking times.


Everyone and his and her posse plans to road-trip to the eclipse’s path of totality (that’s the swath of the country where you’ll see the full eclipse, rather than just a partial coverage of the sun). The eclipse’s route cuts across 14 states, and it’s not just stopping over in the biggest cities.

Most of these places are remote and rural, which means that they probably don’t have great cell service in the first place.

The town of Madras, Oregon illustrates the problem. About 6,500 people live in Madras, AT&T’s Paula Doublin told GeekWire, “But they’re getting ready for God knows how many … 35,000 to 40,000 people, based on some estimates we’ve seen out there.”


The cell towers currently in the area won’t be able to handle the extra traffic. This eclipse will be a communications traffic jam on a historic level. At least it will be unless service providers step up their game along the path of totality—which is exactly what they plan to do.

All the big players in the telecommunications game are preparing for the eclipse like it was the Olympics…if the Olympics occupied a 60–70-mile-wide path across the entire width of the nation.

T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint are all sending fleets of mobile cell towers to cover the extra traffic, reports GeekWire. Verizon’s spokesperson, Heidi Flato, told the site that their existing network is pretty much ready for the communications onslaught.


“That said, due to the very large crowds expected to gather in parts of Oregon, we are planning to deploy a cell on wheels in Bend, and another one near the gates of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds to increase capacity for SolarFest,” Flato said.

If your service provider does the math right, you might be able to tweet, live-stream, and call to your heart’s content during the Great American Eclipse. But if not, you could always, you know, be in the moment and watch a once-in-a-lifetime light show from the cosmos.

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