How To Communicate When Cellular Service Is Down

We all should have ways to communicate when cell service is down, but are we really prepared? This is not an article about prepping for a large-scale natural disaster or attack on infrastructure, but rather a guide to common alternatives for minor service disruptions.

The Rise of the Cell Phone

Some of us remember a time before cell phones. You’d call someone on their home phone but got a busy signal; there was no call waiting. Maybe the phone was on the wall in the kitchen and you were tethered to it with a long coil of cord. Others have grown up with a smartphone in their hand from a young age. If you’re in the first group, then you remember the battles between carriers about who has the most coverage. Maps showing their service areas on every brochure and commercial. Some carriers ran ads with tag lines like, “Can you hear me now? … Good.”, that were targeting cell users with poor service areas.

That was the 90s. Now cell phones are everywhere and service coverage is expected everywhere. The days of dropping calls is rare and the networks are stable enough that the majority of Americans no long have land lines. In 2004, about 90% of households had a land line. By 2020, that dropped to around 40%.

With so much reliance on cellular communication, what can you do when that service goes down? Since we aren’t talking about apocalyptic level system failures here, we’ll set some ground rules that you can find somewhere reasonably close to you that has internet service.

Communication Options

If you find yourself without cell service, but still have internet at your home or office, try some of the options below from either your smartphone or computer:

Social Media

Social Media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, LinkedIn, and others host their services in large data centers that are usually geographically redundant. This means a large storm on the east coast won’t take down their service because servers on the west coast will pick up their load. Try reaching out to friends and family by sending them messages or tagging them in a post.

Messaging Services

iMessage, Google Messages, WhatsApp, and other message services work without cell service. There are some drawbacks as all of these messaging apps don’t work together without cell service. iMessage and Google Messages can communicate with each other when cell service is working because they leverage the cell carriers to communicate with SMS/MMS. If you’re on wifi only, you’ll only be able to send/receive messages from others with the same app you use.

Video Chat Services

Facetime, Google Duo, Skype, Teams, Zoom. Ever since March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started, video chat or video conferencing services have skyrocketed. Most individuals would rely on Facetime or Duo to chat with family that was far away. Suddenly thrust into a world where going to the office was a thing of the past, video chat/conferencing services became a must-have for communicating even with people who live near you. For that reason, you probably have 3-4 different options for video calls on your phone/PC today.

Wi-Fi Calling

It’s likely your cell phone supports Wi-Fi calling. This enables your cell phone to send and receive calls over the internet.

Each carrier has their own instructions for Wi-Fi Calling and each phone can be a little different. Here are some links to popular carrier pages on how to enable Wi-Fi calling:

Email

The options listed above are instant. You either get a quick response through messages, or you can see someone face-to-face on a video chat. Email is often the overlooked workhorse of business, but much like these other services, it’s robust and stable. The instant response of a messaging service or video chat isn’t quite there, but when communication is the goal, it will get the job done.

We hope these help you out if you ever find yourself in a situation where cell service is down.

Published on December 11, 2021