We all know that in this day and age many, if not most, of us heavily rely on our mobile phones. So how is it then that reliable cell phone reception is still an iffy prospect?
It happens to everybody. You’re on a call and the connection drops out. Or maybe you’re using a GPS app to find an unfamiliar address, and it suddenly quits working because the signal has disappeared. Now what do you do? Drive around in hopes of picking up the signal again?
When this stuff happens we all love to blame our cell service providers for poor coverage. The truth is, most of the time it’s not their fault. More often than not the culprit is something between us and the cell tower that blocks the signal so we can’t get good reception.
There are actually only two causes of dropped calls and lost signal – distance from the cell tower, and obstacles that block cell signals. The obstacles can be man-made or naturally occurring. The result is the same.
Distance from the nearest cell tower
This is almost always the first thing we fix on when a connection is dropped or service is unavailable. After all, cellular signals are radio frequency waves and they behave like any other RF signal. Think about the FM radio in a car. If the receiver (in this case your cell phone or tablet) is too far away from the signal source – for our purposes, a cell tower – then the signal will be weak or maybe undetectable.
Natural obstacles that block cell signals
Local terrain like hills, mountains, ridges, bluffs and similar terrain will block cell signals. Any situation in which there is higher ground between your phone and the cell tower can cause signal issues.
Vegetation can cause poor cell reception. May be hard to believe, but it’s true. Trees, shrubbery, almost any kind of foliage can refract RF signals and interfere with your cell reception. Ask anyone who lives in a heavily wooded area how their cellular reception is. They’ll tell you – trees are wonderful things, but they do NOT enhance signals.
Atmospheric conditions like poor weather can block signals. Even dust particles in the air can reflect and refract RF signals. A foggy day? Water vapor can diffuse RF signals.
Man-made Obstructions to Mobile Reception
If you try to make a call from inside your home or workplace, the building itself can block your cell reception. RF waves don’t easily penetrate the brick, metal siding, concrete, steel, coated glass and other materials that form the exterior of most modern buildings.
In urban areas, even when you’re outdoors, large building and other structures can deflect or distort RF waves and mess up your cell reception.
Most of us have experienced a poor cell phone connection while inside a vehicle, and then noticed a marked improvement in voice quality or data transfer speed once we step outside. Those metal-and-glass encased cocoons we drive do an excellent job of blocking cell phone signals. Research shows that on average cell signal strength drops by about 30 percent inside a vehicle.
With all these elements stacked against us getting a reliable mobile signal, what can any of us do? Here are some simple tips and tricks to help you find a solid cell connection.
Phone tips for better cell reception
If there’s a case on your phone, remove it. Test to see if the signal is better without the case. A case can block cell signals from reaching your phone’s internal antenna, so removing it may improve your reception.
Be sure you don’t block the internal antenna while holding your phone. Be aware of the position of your hand on the phone while calling, texting, etc. Try a different hand position to see if reception improves.
Keep your battery charged up. A low battery can negatively impact your phone’s ability to get and hang onto a cell signal.
Tips for you to improve cell signal
If you’re moving, stop. When stationary, your phone and the network don’t have to constantly adjust for your changing location. This makes it easier to get and hold a strong signal.
Go outside and get clear of any obstructions. Find an open area like a plaza or a park where cell signals are more likely to reach you than when you’re standing on an urban street surrounded by tall buildings.
Change location to see if reception is better. If you’re inside, move to another room of the house or into your office corridor. Or try next to a window, where cell signal may better penetrate the exterior walls. If in a vehicle, try driving a mile down the road.
Increase your elevation. Like we said, anything between you and the cell tower can block the signal. By moving to the top floor of your home, office building or even the roof of your apartment building you reduce the chance of obstructions blocking the cell signal. If you’re driving, find a high spot and park there.
Improved cell reception with tech
Try Wifi calling. All newer smartphones allow native Wifi calling and texting, which is supported by all major U.S. cell carriers. There also are a bunch of messaging apps now for audio and video calling. So if you have solid Wifi coverage in your location, it may be a perfectly good substitute for the spotty cellular network.
Use a web site or app to find the nearest cell tower. To learn how, read this post How to Find Cell Tower Locations. When you know where the cell tower is located, you know which direction your signal is coming from. Once you know that, move to the side of the building nearest the tower to see if reception is better. If you’re outside, try to get clear of any signal-blocker obstructions between you and the tower.
Switch to 3G. Many areas of the U.S. and Canada are still covered primarily by 3G cell service. Turn off your LTE service to see if you can get a better connection and improved coverage by using the 3G network. How you turn off 4G service varies by carrier and phone model. A ‘how to turn off 4G’ Web search will return plenty of results.
Get a cell signal booster. This is your best option to improve cell coverage inside a building or in a vehicle. To learn more about cell boosters, click the button at the bottom of the page.
Want to lean more about cell phone signal boosters? Click below.