4 ways you could still have cell service if the power is out

Here’s a question that came to us during the recent spate of wildfires affecting the west coast.

How is that that I have cell service when there’s no power in my area? How long can I count on it working?

In cases of wildfire in remote areas, it’s common to cut power in order to reduce the risks. Downed power lines that spark can cause fires all by themselves, and that’s the last thing anyone wants. So, often times fire crews will cut power to affected areas even before there are problems. When that happens, you might also lose landline phone service. While traditional landlines rely on their own power source, newer systems are tied into internet systems that don’t work without power at home. There’s usually a small battery backup in the house that can keep a phone system working for a few hours. It still may not work if the actual line to the central office isn’t up and running.

Yet, in all that, you might find that cell service works for you. It doesn’t seem like it would, but sometimes you get lucky. Here are a few reasons that cell service would work when there’s no power anywhere else.

They might not have cut power to the cell site.

Cell towers aren’t always where you think they are. Your phone can reach towers up to 2 miles away in certain circumstances. So the tower simply may not be where you think it is, or you may be reaching a different tower than the one you normally use.

The cell tower may have its own backup.

Cell towers routinely have some sort of battery backup that lets them stay up for a little while. If your cell service works for a few hours then quits, that’s probably the case.

The tower may be up because it needs to be

There’s a system called FirstNet used by first responders. It’s designed to provide firefighters, police officers and others with a clear cell signal in case of emergencies. In order to use FirstNet, you need a special phone and cell towers that have been upgraded to support it. FirstNet continues to roll out throughout the country thanks to AT&T technology. If a cell tower uses FirstNet equipment, it may have a generator or a special power source.

Be safe!

If you’re in an area where there’s no power but there is cell service, and it’s due to an emergency, a fire, or some sort of other natural disaster, use that time to call loved ones, then get out! Take the things that are really important to you and then evacuate. These situations can get worse very quickly and it’s not worth your life, trust me. Follow instructions from law enforcement and in a best case scenario everything will be fine.

When everything is safe again…

Once the current threat is over, head on over to SolidSignal.com for the best in cellular accessories including extra batteries for your phone and cellular signal boosters. You’ll be glad you did!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.