MADRAS, OR -- Anyone who’s tried to make a cell phone call at a large sporting event or concert knows service can be spotty with so many users in one place. At least one carrier is temporarily increasing capacity in Madras and Mitchell to try and accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people expected for this summer’s eclipse.
AT&T Network Engineer Tara Jansen says the company will deploy a Cell On Wheels, known as a “COW,” at the Oregon SolarFest in Madras and in Mitchell, "To have additional coverage and capacity for a specific area where there’s going to be a large concentration of our customers. So, it’s a way that we can deploy something temporary to help alleviate network congestion and allow our customers to stay connected during these large events." She tells KBND News, “The SolarFest event is planned with an expected attendance of upwards of 40k throughout the five-day event, so we’re planning for that. Our COW at the SolarFest event is going to increase capacity by 200% in the area.”
A "COW" is already operating in Mitchell, providing service in that well-known dead-zone. Jansen says AT&T plans to leave the system out there as long as possible and is working on a permanent solution for the 115-mile stretch of Highway 26 between Prineville and John Day that has no cell service.
AT&T's upgrades only benefit their customers and Jansen admits the plan isn't fool-proof. "Hopefully [customers] will notice no difference and it’ll be like they’re using their phone any other day. But, if there is a large amount of users in one area, most likely they can experience slower speeds than they would at, let’s say, their house or on a regular day."
U.S. Cellular’s Director of Network Operations, Tim Brown, tells KBND News in a written statement, "We’re aware of the major public interest in visiting central Oregon to view the solar eclipse on August 21. This will certainly bring an influx of visitors to the areas around Madras, Bend and Redmond. Our team is already reviewing our network to ensure we have adequate capacity to handle additional traffic in the area around the time of the eclipse." He went on to say, "We will be implementing upgrades as needed to help ensure an excellent customer experience in the Madras area. At large events such as this, we usually see a spike in text and data usage more than voice, so we are also looking at how we can prioritize services that are most important to our customers."
Local emergency managers say because of the potential for cell networks to overload, standard land-lines are still the most reliable in an emergency.
Eclipse Coverage on KBND is supported in part by Awnings Unlimited. Shade yourself from the sun with Awnings Unlimited at 5541-389-1619 and awningsunlimited.net.