Wireless communication companies say they are gearing up to minimize congestion on social media when crowds converge on the Columbia area for this month’s solar eclipse.
The four major companies – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – are preparing to allow easy sharing of videos, photos, texts, emails and telephone calls during the Aug. 21 event.
Officials at T-Mobile say portable transmission towers will be stationed around the Midlands to boost service. Sprint says it is considering similar plans.
Recent improvements in the networks of AT&T and Verizon should be sufficient to handle the expected surge, officials at those companies said.
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Those steps come after predictions that out-of-towners coming to see the eclipse could double the area’s estimated population of 708,000.
Officials at the South Carolina Emergency Management Division are warning that wireless service may be disrupted because of heavy volume. That sometimes happens at large gatherings such as football games and concerns.
AAA Carolinas also is advising motorists not to rely solely on online travel information such as maps and reports of traffic conditions. “Cell towers could be bogged down and coverage could be spotty in some areas,” the organization said in a statement.
But officials at the four wireless companies say their goal is prevent problems:
▪ AT&T “is working to reinforce its wireless network” and increase capacity across the Midlands that will boost social media connections, company spokeswoman Ann Elsas said.
▪ Sprint said recent upgrades have the company ready to handle high data demands, but an assessment is under way to determine if adding temporary towers is necessary.
▪ T-Mobile’s recent expansion of facilities and its plans for adding mobile transmission units will boost coverage “so that our customers can quickly and easily connect,” the company said in a statement.
▪ Verizon said improvements should allow it to handle extra usage without problems, but teams will monitor demand during the eclipse to deal with “any capacity issues,” company spokeswoman Karen Schulz said.
Local law enforcement officials will rely on time-tested communications to avoid problems that may arise with wireless systems, according to Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
Traditional police radios and a backup network of ham radios promise to be sufficient, he said.
“That equipment will be sufficient to allow officer-to-officer contact and with our (911) dispatchers,” said Capt. Adam Myrick, spokesman for the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.
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AT&T officials suggest these steps to avoid breakdowns on communication networks during high usage:
▪ Limit calls.
▪ Hang up if you receive a busy signal on a wireless telephone or a slow dial tone on a landline telephone. Wait several seconds before trying again.
▪ Text messages may go through quicker than voice calls.