In our always-on, data-driven, 21st century world a reliable cell phone signal is not optional, it’s required. So why does it seem that acquiring and keeping a reliable cell signal is so frequently a hit-and-miss proposition?
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?
It’s probably NOT your carrier’s fault When things like this happen we all love to blame our cell service providers for the poor coverage. The truth is, most of the time it’s not their fault. The culprit is typically something between us and the cell tower that blocks the signal so we can’t get good reception.
Here’s a list of the top five things that weaken or block cell signals. One or two of them may surprise you.Distance from the cell tower Local terrain Man-made obstructions Vehicles Vegetation Atmospheric conditions
1. 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 altogether unusable.
Or sometimes your phone may show that you have a bar or two of signal, but you can’t make or receive a call. The phone may ring, but when you try to pick up, no one is on the other end. This happens because the cellular device you’re using does not have enough power to push its transmission signal all the way back to the distant tower.
2. Local terrain features 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.
If you live in or have driven through hilly country you know that you might have a good signal one moment, and then when you go around a corner or into a low spot the signal may vanish only to reappear a short time later. That’s the terrain messing with your cell signal.
3. Man-made obstructions A nearby bridge, utility tower, highway overpass or almost anything else built by humans can interfere with cell phone connectivity. RF signals can’t easily pass through metal or concrete, so anything built with either or both can cause reception problems.
In urban settings, structures can be the main culprit that blocks cell signals. Large buildings, like any natural or man-made obstruction, can deflect or distort RF waves. Driving into a parking garage is a virtually foolproof way to drop a cellular connection.
We’ve already mentioned concrete and metal, but almost any materials used in construction – shingles, masonry, wood, drywall, even glass (especially the metal-oxide-coated low emittance type) – will weaken or block signals as they attempt to pass through.
So when you’re at home, in the workplace or inside almost any building you can encounter cell phone reception problems. Reception is almost always better outside a building.
4. Vehicles No surprise here. 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.
5. Vegetation It may seem hard to believe, but it’s true. Trees, shrubbery, almost any kind of foliage can absorb cell signals. 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.
6. Bonus Blocker – Atmospheric Conditions Here’s the kicker – even dust particles in the air can weaken RF signals. A foggy day? Water vapor can diffuse RF signals. Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
With all these elements stacked against us getting a reliable cell signal, what can any of us do? Here are some simple tips and tricks we posted earlier to help you find a solid cell connection.
And if those don’t work for you, here are the tech solutions we discussed in a previous post. Remember people, in most situations you don’t have to put up with unreliable cell signal. To improve cell signals quickly in your home or office, check out weBoost’s top 3G signal boosters and 4G boosters.
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