Experts Warn of Possible Cell Service Issues During Upcoming Solar Eclipse Due to High Volume of Users

From August 21 to August 25, state officials across the country are warning that cell phone service may be disrupted during the total solar eclipse on April 8, as millions of people flock to the path of totality to witness—and post about—the astronomical event.

Cell service can be disrupted when a large number of people overload the system with calls, messages, and other data-heavy activities—a situation that could arise in areas along the eclipse’s path.

“A typical overload situation, like some experience at a major sporting event or concert, may occur in many viewing locations where the network infrastructure is not prepared for such an unusually large crowd,” Theodore Rappaport, director of NYU Wireless, a multidisciplinary research center focused on future wireless communications and applications, says in an email.

Though wireless companies have upgraded their networks in recent years, rural areas remain especially vulnerable to disruptions, as the infrastructure may not be equipped to handle the sudden influx of visitors. “Imagine a rural cellular system usually designed for 1,000 customers. Now, if 10,000 customers show up in that rural location, they are likely to have difficulty accessing bandwidth and be temporarily blocked until the crowd dissipates,” he says.

That means “anything more than texting” could be difficult until congestion lessens, he adds.

During the 2017 eclipse, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all dispatched crews 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.

Rappaport says disruptions are likely to be “sporadic and temporary,” but if you want to be cautious, consider downloading any important information you may 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 prime 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.”