Cell phone conversations can be frustrating. Echo, blank periods, static, and DROPPED CALLS. When you consider what this small object is doing for you, it is really an amazing bit of technology. Besides, when we are in a conversation, we can always work around the situation…repeat the information, wait for the problem to clear, and, in some cases, call back.
With person-to-person calling, the problems can be overcome without loss of anything except time and, perhaps, a few nerves. It is, however, becoming more important that we have the capability to transmit data via these radio waves. Low quality transmissions will result in missed information, confused messages, and, again, dropped calls. In the case of certain financial transactions, this may mean a duplication of the transaction and an error in the charge.
As we begin to depend more and more on this type of technology, it is important that we understand some of the limitations to the cellular technology and how transmission quality can be anticipated and improved. If we understand some of the reasons for signal strength changes, we can better prepare ourselves for the inevitable.
Signal quality can vary whether you or the other party are at a desk, walking around, or in a vehicle. Certainly the terrain will have a great effect on the signal if either of you are driving. Buildings, tunnels, hills, etc. will all decrease the signal level. These will affect your signal if you remain in one place but they can be anticipated. You know that there are places in your home or office that are better than others for cell phone reception. But…WHY?
We’ve touched on some of the types of obstructions to good signal quality…hills, buildings. But, building materials, position within the building, clouds, and even trees can all have an impact on your cell phone function. Yes, even the season of the year will change your signal depending upon whether or not the trees and shrubs have leaves. All of this must be considered when trying to improve your transmission.
2. CELLULAR TOWERS
Your distance and direction to the nearest tower will have the greatest effect on your signal. You must be within “range” to use or continue to use your cell phone. This “range” depends upon a couple of factors…the power of the tower transmitter, and the power of the transmitter in you cell phone. The real distance from this tower can vary up to about 5 miles. This, too, would depend upon the height and output of the tower. Keep in mind that it is easier for your phone to hear the tower than it is for the tower to hear your phone. The output of the tower is much greater than that of your phone. The output of your phone varies between 0.2 and 0.6 watts. Depending upon your location (metropolitan, suburban, rural) the tower could have an output of up to 3.0 watts. This is why you will see a signal on your phone (up to 5 bars) but not able to carry on a conversation.
The tower direction is also a factor. The tower “cells” are put together much like a honeycomb in design. This is done to make some sense of the pattern and not have your conversation spread across several towers at a time. This is also a reason that the power output of your phone will vary up to the full 0.6 watts…so you are linked to only one tower at a time. When you are mobile, one tower will “hand you off” to the next tower. This hand off is not supposed to present a problem…but we all know it can.
Another problem presented by the towers is that of ‘antenna position’. The antenna that is to cover your location may not be pointed in the correct direction (high, low, or not at all). The antenna may be in the correct position according to the cell requirements. However, if you are in a location that has always had good reception, you must complain to your carrier. It is possible that a technician “bumped” the antenna.
Trees, foliage, hills, buildings, and weather all have an impact on the signal quality that you are trying to achieve. Metal will reflect the waves from the tower and can make it impossible for you to make or receive a call from one point in a building, while a few feet away the signal is fine. Your position within a building may also have an impact on the signal strength.
4. TOWER PROBLEMS
As with everything else in this world, the operation of any device is totally dependent upon the weather. Wind, rain, lightening, and ice will all have a detrimental affect on the function of the tower. Once your call is received by the tower, it is sent on its way via computer. Software problems can slow or stop the transmission. Actually, the programming in your phone may well have an intermittent failure.
5. TOWER CONGESTION
Towers that are very busy will also diminish your signal quality, increase your dropped calls, and will even give you a ‘busy signal’. Once you are linked to a tower, the transmission should be fine. However, if you move to a tower that is overloaded, the call will be dropped. Rush hour driving usually indicates ‘rush hour’ for the towers. Sporting events and other large groups will also cause a delay in finding an “open” line.
External Antenna…There are several antennas available (depending upon whether you are mobile or in a home/office situation). Just getting your signal beyond some of the obstructions can double your range and decrease your dropped calls. An antenna does not increase the output of your signal. It does help to receive and transmit signals that might otherwise be lost due to obstructions.
Signal Booster…This accessory will boost the output of your cell phone. The booster attaches between your cell phone and the external antenna. It can be powered with the cigarette lighter in your vehicle or by using the AC/DC power adaptor for your home/office power. The signal for both transmission and reception will be increased (bi-directional). The booster can be used at home, in your office, or any vehicle (boat, RV, car).
Signal Repeaters…These units are necessary when an external antenna and/or signal booster will not resolve the problem. The office or convention space may be on the interior of the building. The ‘repeater’ will pick up the signal of the cell phone and ‘move’ it to the external antenna and directly to the tower. Many convention centers are set up with this feature. Smaller units work well with homes and small office buildings.