On Friday, Unalaskans received a surprising—and enigmatic—message from public safety: that community members should expect GCI cell phone service outages starting this Wednesday, March 4.
The good news first: those outages have been tentatively rescheduled to April 10. The bad news? Depending on the level of connectivity, GCI customers could lose some or all phone service during that time.
GCI is launching a $6 million project to upgrade satellite service in 61 rural communities across Alaska.
The company's current satellite, Galaxy 12, has reached the end of its technological life. Over the next few months, the company will be moving traffic to the H3E satellite that was launched in 2018.
"Satellites are critical to our ability to deliver reliable connectivity," said GCI Vice President, Heather Handyside. "Satellites usually have a 7 to 10-year shelf life, and so we plan on moving our connectivity and services to different satellites."
The transfer involves sending GCI employees to communities all over the state. At each one, they will physically repoint local, on-the-ground satellites toward the new H3E.
Handyside said that while network speed won't increase, the changes should help with coverage.
"I don't think people will see faster service but it should be more reliable," said Handyside. "Because this is essentially a brand new satellite."
Handyside estimated that each community should experience service outages that last between one and six hours.
She said Unalaska will continue to have landline access, and should be able to temporarily switch to other carriers like AT&T. In communities without other carriers, services like calling 911 from mobile phones will likely not be available during that time.
Work in Unalaska is scheduled to start on April 10, followed by other communities in the Aleutian Chain.