What's Your Backup Plan if Cell Service Is Down?

In light of recent events with AT&T’s network…

…what’s your plan B?

I’ve long been an advocate for keeping landline or landline replacement service. No technology is 100% reliable.

My hometown (Watertown, MA) takes it a step further. They still maintain these:

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I have a VoIP “landline” and an old cell phone with a TextNow SIM. I’ve also been playing around with Dish’s Project Genesis (another backup). I’ve been thinking of dropping the VoIP line.

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I live in a multiple dwelling unit building. In many areas, cellular 911 remains incapable of transmitting an exact address. If one is unable to speak over the phone, first responders would know I’m in the building but not necessarily know the specific unit. In a medical emergency, seconds count.

My VoIP landline replacement service transmits my exact address, so, even though I also have multiple cellular backup services, I keep it. It costs me all of $3/month.

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It wasn’t really why I switched to an iPhone 15, but if in truly desperate circumstances, I would try THIS.

I am loath to pay the local operating company for a copper land line that will get a constant stream of junk calls. My sister has one, and when I visit it often rings with these calls. For some bizarre reason she has it answered by an answering machine so we get to hear the junk message out loud as it is recorded. Sigh…

The other solutions depend on the mode of the failure. If one’s Internet is down for any of dozens of reasons, forget VoIP. Using the wireless cell system for home Internet is becoming a thing, so if the communication problem is that the cell system is down these folks’ Internet might also be down. StarLink-type service would be an alternate path, but it’s quite pricey and dependent on electrical power. In the cell system failure the other day, AT&T was telling people to use WiFi calling on their cell phones, so i would have been able to make calls and texts just fine in the case of that failure mode since my Internet is carried on a copper DSL line.

My wife and I both have cell phones, and our carrier (Consumer Cellular) can use either T-Mobile or AT&T, so I guess I could put one phone on each carrier - with eSIMs, switching is fast and easy.

I’m also an Amateur Radio licensee, so I could get the old rig out of its box and try to jump on a local repeater.

Does one prepare for all modes of communication failure no matter how close to an edge, or does one just obtain good-enough daily communication methods and rely on the kindness of strangers (or neighbors) in the event of a failure? I weigh the probability of a cell failure occurring at exactly the same time I have a medical or other emergency to be slight, even at my advanced age.

I thank @rolandh for getting us to think about this BEFORE something occurs.

Generally, I agree and because I enjoy experimenting with them, I have multiple cellular options on more than one network available to me.

Unfortunately, I’ve had occasion to use the VoIP landline replacement to call 911 (for another household member not myself). Because; I was calling for someone else, I was able to stay on the line with the 911 operator. Nevertheless, I find it comforting that even if that were not the case, first responders would know exactly where to respond. Another feature of the VoIP landline replacement superior to cellular 911 is if anyone calls 911 using it, I’m notified by email. So, if I were out and about and another household member needed to call 911, I would know.

It’s true that if Internet (or power) were out the VoIP landline replacement wouldn’t work. I must say while my AT&T Internet is hardly blazing fast, it has been remarkably stable for 10 years. Short of a hurricane, power is stable also. All in all, I consider $3/month to be cheap insurance.

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Hi, @rolandh! Where we are, our Internet has been out more than our cell service has. Indeed, when it’s out, I have always been able to connect to the Internet through my cell phone. In our case, power failures have been our failure point and even if I were to power my router with a backup battery, the failures also take out our local DSLAM as well.

Ah, for the days of my youth; we were on a four-party line when everything was carried on copper, the central switches were battery backed up for a very long period, we had to actually know someone’s phone number in order to call them, and long distance charges applied. However in any case, outages have been few and far between.

Was 911 included in that outage? Crazy if so.

Several news stories mentioned disruption in the ability to call 911:

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I maintain a MagicJack line that I transferred my home number to some years ago. This line serves primarily as a telecom rubbish dump. It is the number I give out when I don’t want to hear from someone. I paid for five years of service at something less than 5/month.

I have all three major carriers covered between two phones. My personal phone has two lines: Mint/T-Mobile, and BoostInfinite/AT&T, my work phone is on Verizon. Management is likely to be forgiving of personal use during a communications crisis, given that I’ve never received any complaints about the occasional personal call or data session.

As a result, if I’m completely cut off from communications, just about everybody is down.

Here’s a real world (pun not intended) example.

Recently, I was grocery shopping when I started receiving incessant calls on my cell phone. At first, they were from anonymous numbers, which I typically don’t answer. Then, Caller ID showed local numbers. I presumed the calls were coming from either a persistent spammer or someone persistently calling a wrong number.

On the fifth call, I answered. It was the police in the town the grocery store I was shopping at is located. Apparently, I had triggered my iPhone’s SOS feature without realizing it. The police were calling from the strip mall parking lot precisely because though the inadvertent 911 call provided my approximate location, it was not enough to know where in the strip mall I was located. So, to their immense credit and my chagrin at triggering the SOS feature, they persisted in calling until I answered and was able to assure them no help was needed.