Fires take toll on cellphone service
The Southern California fires wreaked havoc on cellphone service, destroying dozens of antenna towers, causing power outages in other areas and leaving many residents with no other means of communication.
Even where coverage was available, the surging call volume as tens of thousands of evacuees went wireless overwhelmed circuits and blocked calls from getting through.
In San Diego County, authorities Tuesday asked residents to avoid making nonemergency calls on their cellphones, though text messaging was allowed.
The problems varied by carrier.
T-Mobile said it lost 30 cell towers, though an unknown number could come back online after power is restored. Service in Ontario and Riverside was interrupted temporarily, while parts of San Diego were still without coverage late Tuesday, spokesman Peter Dobrow said.
In other areas, calls were going through even with heavy usage, aided by mobile transmission equipment, Dobrow said.
Verizon Wireless said 11 towers were out of commission. Calling volume Monday jumped 70% to 90% above normal levels, enough that some calls didn’t get through, spokesman Ken Muche said. He said he had no traffic estimates for Tuesday.
During earthquakes, Muche said, volume can surge by as much as 600%.
AT&T;'s wireless division reported serious capacity issues, especially in evacuation areas. It provided few details.
Escondido and Rancho Bernardo were among the areas where calls couldn’t get through, spokesman Geoff Mordock said.
Sprint Nextel Corp. said it lost less than 1% of its network to the fires. At its peak, traffic was heavy enough to block about 5% of Nextel calls and 2% of Sprint calls in San Diego County. Sprint moved mobile radios into the area, dropping the rate of blocked calls to about 1% on both systems by Tuesday night.
“No communications network is bulletproof,” said Susan Carothers, a spokeswoman for the state Public Utilities Commission. “Having multiple communications options . . . does not guarantee service availability.”
Staff writer Michelle Quinn contributed to this report.