Consumer Alert: Will you be able to use your cell phone in the midst of eclipse-watching crowds?  We get the answer

Consumer Alert: Are cell services providers ready for eclipse?

Consumer Alert: Are cell services providers ready for eclipse?

This Consumer Alert looks at our upcoming celestial spectacle and your cell service.

You may remember that when 40,000 people packed Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford for the PGA, cell service was crummy at the golf course and the surrounding communities. But I’ve heard from all three major providers, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, and all say they’re ready. And no matter how large the crowd at your city watch party, you should be able to use your phone without interruption. 

That’s important because we expect huge crowds at some of the city’s biggest venues, like Innovative Field, Parcel 5 and High Falls.

But cell service was a mess during the PGA last May.  As 40,000 people packed Oak Hill’s 355 acres of glorious green, they found themselves screaming, “Can you hear me now?” Complicating matters, lots of folks had digital tickets they had to pull up on their phones and they were unable to do that. And neighborhoods around the golf course had cell service interruptions as well.

Attendees indicated the provider that appeared to have the most problems, Verizon. The problems were so bad, the Pittsford town supervisor, Bill Smith, addressed it in a Facebook post. He wrote, “Verizon is aware of the situation and has done what it can to maximize its system’s capacity and bandwidth in the area of the tournament.”

So, of course I asked Verizon if it’s prepared for the eclipse. Christopher Serico, a spokesman for the cell provider, said Verizon has improved capacity in the area, writing, “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 feel confident the additional capacity we have layered into the network over the past few years will accommodate any increases in data usage. Since last May’s PGA event at Oak Hill Country Club, we’ve activated 10 new cell sites and 24 new 5G nodes in the Rochester area, and increased our capacity at no fewer than 127 existing local sites. In addition, customers whose phones are equipped to capitalize on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service will have our best network experience. As requests for supplemental capacity come to us, we’ll continue to assess those needs.”

I also reached out to T-Mobile and a spokesperson sent me the following response: “T-Mobile is preparing for the upcoming solar eclipse by optimizing our network so people in its path and at planned viewing events, including those in Rochester and Western NY, stay connected. We’re actively working with state and local officials, first responders and other organizations in these areas. We encourage customers to visit our newsroom in the coming days for more tips and information about the upcoming event.”

Bryan Rogers, a spokesman and store manager for AT&T, points out that its customers had no problems during the PGA.

“We don’t see any interruption in cell service coming. We have a very large, high-capacity network here in western New York,” said Rogers. “It’s actually somewhere that AT&T has highly invested into because Buffalo is actually the second largest city in the state.”

It’s important to point out that if you’re using data to browse the web or use FaceTime, you’re likely to have the best experience if you’re on the premium 5G plans of any network. If you’re not, consider asking your provider if you can upgrade just for the month of April, then go back to a lower priced plan.