What to Know

  • Verizon says it is deploying backup plans to keep most of its wireless phone towers working during the planned PG&E power outages

  • Service may be limited in some areas

  • Fully charge your phones while you still have power; keep a charging cable in your car

Mobile phone providers are gearing up to keep wireless service up and running this week, as much of the San Francisco Bay Area will be without power during planned PG&E outages.

NBC Bay Area asked the four largest phone carriers what they’re doing to prepare, and whether customers can count on using their phones.

Verizon spokesperson Jeannine Brew Braggs said the carrier plans to keep its subscribers phones working as much as possible, by using backup power.

“We have generators and backup batteries at the majority of our cell sites (towers), and all of our switch locations (network nerve center) to keep our network up and running if commercial power is lost,” Brew Braggs said in an email. “We are able to refuel our generators to keep them running… This ensures our network can continue serving customers indefinitely until commercial power is restored.”

T-Mobile told NBC Bay Area it has “…permanent generators in key cell sites to ensure they remain in service and other sites are prepared with battery backup. We also have a fleet of temporary generators that our emergency response teams can deploy if needed.”

T-Mobile encouraged customers to keep phones charged ahead of the blackout, but cautioned service may be limited in some areas. It said customers can dial 6-1-1 for help with their accounts.

AT&T and Sprint did not immediately respond to a Tuesday afternoon request for comment and information.

CTIA, the wireless phone industry trade association and lobby, says its members could deploy small, portable phone repeaters in areas where towers aren’t working in an emergency.

“When a disaster takes out commercial power, portable generators can bring cell sites back online,” CTIA said on its website. “Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs) are portable network facilities capable of providing extra coverage and boosting capacity. Cell Repeaters on Wheels (CROWs) are used to boost weak signals. Remote Mobility Sites are small, portable cell sites in a ‘suitcase’ that provide voice and data in remote locations.”

Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission urged wireless telecom companies to provide back-up power sources for mobile phone service towers, so phones will still work in the event of a disaster.

“Requiring more robust backup battery power and generators will decrease wireless service outages and shorten their duration,” the CPUC Public Advocates Office said in May, adding that both federal and state regulators have considered such requirements, “then effectively backed away.”

Phone users should think about battery backups, too. You’ll want to fully charge your phones before you go to bed Tuesday night, and make sure you have charging cables in your car.

Landline customers may not be immune to loss of phone service. While older copper wire phone lines traditionally worked when the power was out, many modern landlines use technology that requires a separate, dedicated power source.

Comcast provides landline services around the Bay Area. Spokesperson Joan Hammel said some customers may not be able to use their landline phones.

“Comcast services require commercial power to operate, so as PG&E implements its Public Safety Power Outage, our services to residential and business customers may be impacted,” Hammel said. “We will work to restore services when the power is back on and it is safe to do so.”

Hammel added that landline phones that do not require power should continue to work normally, even when the power is out.

(Note: Comcast is the parent company of NBC Bay Area.)

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