All the main cell phone service providers (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T) reported disturbances to their services after the earthquake hit on Tuesday 23rd August. Despite the fact that no damage actually occurred to the cell phone towers, because the quake was felt all along the east coast it was felt by millions in large cities such as New York, Boston and Washington D.C. leading to a rush of people trying to contact each other to find out about the situation elsewhere, which very quickly began to overwhelm the lines and eventually jammed them.
Even with all the improvements that have been made to the networks and the technology used, huge blasts of usage are still enough to bring the networks to standstill, because of the limitations of how much traffic the towers can handle, CITA (the wireless trade industry association) said after the quakes hit. Customers were also urged during the loss of service, and for any future situations, to send messages and emails to avoid clogging the lines up for vital calls. This message was echoed again by the leading service providers.
As for the future, cell phone companies are aiming to extend the 4G services all over the country and increasing the number of antennas to reduce the impact of high usage periods which may lead to jammed network services being a thing that only happened in the past.
The role of social media is becoming more and more obvious and with stress on the mobile networks still proving to be a problem, services like Facebook and Twitter are options to take over where mobile networks fail. Even during the quake last week people were using Twitter once the cell phone networks fell out of use, with the use extending to the network provider Sprint who informed customers to avoid using their cell phones for calls in anything but emergencies and instead use text messages.
How the situation will be resolved will be seen over the coming months and years, but until it is truly tested again in a real emergency we will not know exactly how effective the methods being used have been.