Weathering the Storm with Effective Cellphone Use

You won’t find many “timely” posts on Geek-in-Law. That’s because I want the information to be useful to many people, over many years, now and down the road, without requiring a lot of content maintenance. I am a one-man-shop, after all – at least for now. 😉

This post is an exception to the nothing timely guideline – it’s about the hurricane.

Frequently I find myself in a conversation about a technical topic which I thought would be pretty obvious, but which turns out not to be for my “user.” Today that happened, and I realized that the information might be helpful to others in the Northeast of the United States who are preparing for Hurricane Irene.

It seems like nearly everyone nowadays has a cell phone. But not everybody understands how or when that phone can be used during a full or partial power outage. The original cell phones were primarily used in case of emergency. Our lives are so continuously connected nowadays that communication emergencies are rare, but when they happen knowing a few key facts about exactly how your cell phone, your smart phone and/or your portable device with Wi-Fi works can be extremely helpful!

Here goes… if you have anything to add, please feel free to post in the comments.

Tips for Cell Phone Use During a Power Outage

  • A typical “smart phone” (i.e., an iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, or similar device) uses both voice service and data service. The icons near the antenna area of your phone’s screen will indicate which are currently available. You should familiarize yourself with what they mean.
  • If you have data service, you most likely also have voice service.
  • If you do NOT have data service, you still may be able to get a data connection by changing your phone’s settings to “roam” onto a different cellular provider’s network. You will pay extra for this but it may be worthwhile.
  • If you have data service, you can send email.
  • If you do NOT have data service but you have voice service, you can still send SMS (text) messages. Basically – if you can make a phone call then you can probably also send text messages.

Finally, if your mobile device is a tablet computer (iPad, Android table, or similar device) or a laptop, then you probably get Internet access via Wi-Fi. This won’t work if your power is out.

And here’s a tip you might enjoy (though you need a specific set of devices for it to work). If you use an Android phone on T-Mobile, and your T-Mobile service is working, then you are able to share your cellular data connection via a personal hotspot. If you additionally have an iPad with the Optimum Cable application installed then you can use that shared cellular data connection to view any Optimum channel. Very cool if you are trying to keep up on the latest hurricane news but your house is without power! Unfortunately, other device combinations fail: T-Mobile is the only provider I know that lets you share the data connection (without requiring an additional “tethering” plan), and the Optimum application does not work on an Android tablet.

Did I leave anything out? Get anything wrong? Have a related tip you would like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Image credit: laurianne from the Open Clip Art Library

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