Will the Solar Eclipse Affect Cell Service?

Women look at a partial solar eclipse with sunglasses through a smartphone camera in Ankara, on October 25, 2022. Credit - ADEM ALTAN—AFP/Getty Images

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, neither Verizon or T-Mobile anticipate that the eclipse will significantly impact their networks. (AT&T did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.)

“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

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.”

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