The cause of Maui’s cell service outage and an estimated time of repair

The cause of Maui's cell service outage and an estimated time of repair.

As the flames on Maui continue to burn out of control, thousands of individuals on the island are unable to use their mobile phone networks, making it impossible for them to contact emergency services or provide loved ones with an update on their situation. It may take many days or even a few weeks to get the networks back up and operating after the outage.


“There is a problem with 9-1-1. There is a disruption in the cell phone service. “There is a problem with the phone service,” the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii Sylvia Luke told Wednesday morning.


Although cell towers are sometimes put in danger by high winds, the majority are designed to withstand even the most severe conditions that a Category 5 storm can bring. However, fire makes the situation more complicated.


According to Glenn O’Donnell, vice president of research at Forrester, which is a company that specializes in market research, “When the flames reach too near to cell sites, it is evident that they will burn equipment, antennas, and feedlines.” “In the worst possible scenarios, they will also weaken the towers, which will cause some of them to fall.” Because of the high concentration of particles in the air, smoke, and flames may also reduce the strength of sent signals.


The restoration of mobile networks might take many months if a tower were to fall. According to O’Donnell, however, if carriers were ready and prepared to make restorations using mobile backup units, it could be possible to bring limited service back within a few hours. In the event of an emergency, wireless carriers will often send in GOaTs (Generators on Trailers), COWs (Cells On Wheels), and COLTs (Cells On Light Trucks) to offer backup coverage in the event that cell towers become inoperable.


Cell phone towers are also susceptible to damage from power outages. According to, the natural calamity on Maui has already caused the loss of electricity to at least 14,000 homes and businesses in the region. There are many towers that have backup power generators. However, these generators only have a certain amount of capacity to keep towers operational.



According to Dimitris Mavrakis, a senior researcher at ABI Research, backup technology is often implemented by optical fiber cables or microwave (wireless) connections in cell towers. Nevertheless, these technologies are included within the towers themselves. These connections may, however, suffer “catastrophic failures and leave cells without a connection to the rest of the world” in the event that anything unusual takes place, such as contact with uncontrolled flames.


Even if users are able to gain reception, a surge in the number of calls placed during an emergency situation might cause the system to become overloaded.


“Even cells that have a decent service may face interruptions owing to the vast number of communication occurring all at once,” Mavrakis added. “This is due to the massive volume of communication happening all at once.” “It’s possible that everyone in these locations is simultaneously attempting to get in touch with their loved ones or the authorities, which is overloading the network and leading to the outage. However, this is an easy problem to fix, and network operators may implement extra procedures in order to make them operational as rapidly as possible.


A spokeswoman for T-Mobile said that the business is monitoring the situation and determining how the fire may affect the equipment located in the affected region.


The statement added that once the circumstances are safe, the Emergency Management Team would deploy portable, flexible satellite and microwave solutions that will restore service in the affected regions. “We also have portable generators ready to deploy to places that have lost commercial power, and our Emergency Response Team is working with FEMA and the state of Hawaii to help firemen and other first responders, organizations, and communities in Hawaii,” the company said in a statement.


AT&T is also evaluating the effect on its cellular network, according to a representative who spoke. AT&T will “continue to collaborate closely with local utility providers on restoration efforts,” the spokesperson said. During this time period, the corporation will not apply any overage fees to voice, text, or data use.


Following a request for comment, Verizon did not immediately provide a response.


The potential of satellite network technologies

Satellite networks, on the other hand, continue to function normally no matter what circumstances exist on the ground. This indicates that satellite phones, which often have enormous antennas, are able to assist in providing voice, SMS, and data services wherever on Earth, even in locations where there is no cell connection.


The surge in popularity is primarily attributable to hikers, first responders, and other tourists who seek exciting and novel experiences.

Satellite phones have been over the last few years; nonetheless, these phones are prohibitively costly and are not widely available. On the other hand, certain more recent versions of smartphones, such as the most recent version of the iPhone (model 14), as well as some phones produced by Motorola and Huawei, are equipped with built-in satellite connection, which enables the transmission of emergency messages via satellite.


For instance, iPhone owners are now able to communicate with specialized dispatchers in the event of an emergency thanks to Since its introduction one year ago, Apple’s free Emergency SOS service has been available through satellite. When a user attempts to call 911 but cannot seem to sign on to a mobile network, the user is in a potentially life-threatening situation.

They will be immediately sent to the service’s dispatchers, where they will be asked to complete a questionnaire consisting of a few brief questions with multiple-choice answers in order to provide information as fast as possible. In addition to this, the dispatchers get the individuals’ coordinates, as well as their medical identification and any emergency contact information.


Apple informed us that the function is just for connections to emergency services and does not enable users to get in touch with their friends and family. If you are wearing an Apple Watch and have access to a Wi-Fi connection, you may also utilize the Walkie-Talkie capability to send messages or make phone calls. On the other hand, disruptions in optical fiber networks may also cause Wi-Fi networks to become inoperable.


Even though it is unknown how long mobile phone service may be out of commission in impacted regions, businesses have historically been able to restore a connection in areas hit by natural disasters. In 2017, Google collaborated with AT&T and T-Mobile to launch its Project Loon balloons in Puerto Rico with the goal of providing residents with access to the internet in the wake of Hurricane Maria.


A recent tweet from the Red Cross in Hawaii informed folks that they may phone 1-800-RED-CROSS to find out if any of their loved ones are staying at a nearby shelter.


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