Understanding Cell Phone Signal Strength & Coverage
Many of us deal with spotty coverage on a daily basis and have become used to perching our devices in odd locations to send a text, or stepping into a certain area to place a call. The common belief seems to be that cell phone signal strength is based on our carrier alone, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle.
What Factors Affect Cell Phone Signal Strength?
We’ve already explained in another post how distance from a cell tower affects cell phone signal strength, and how to find towers near you. But obstacles like hills, mountains, or buildings can also interfere when they are located between your device and the nearest cell tower. Weather can also affect signal strength.
Basements, valleys, thick foliage, and parking garages can be troublesome because they are often underground or leave you out of the line of sight of a cell tower. Cell phone signal strength is affected when signal is unable to penetrate through obstacles and this is called ‘destructive interference’. The signal could bounce off of obstacles and reach you through reflection, but the resulting coverage would still be erratic and weak.
- Proximity to cell tower your carrier broadcasts from
The building or vehicle you’re located in could be causing cell signal issues. When you need to step outside of your office, home, or vehicle to accomplish tasks on your device, you know that the materials your shelter or vehicle was constructed with are to blame.
Parking garages are made from thick, solid cement walls that interfere with signal transmission. Sheet metal, concrete, brick, block, glass, and wire mesh used in construction are obvious culprits, but water fixtures like pipes or waterfalls, or tile roofs and energy-efficient coatings can also be at play. Small rooms or rooms with too many electronics can be disruptive. Commercial buildings and campuses are susceptible to poor cell phone signal strength because of the materials used in construction.
- Building materials
- Building layout
- Placement of electronic devices
Simultaneous Users in Crowded Areas
If you live, work, or recreate in a crowded spot, then you might have weak signal because there are more people competing for signal from the nearest cell tower. Bustling urban areas are more heavily populated, but cell towers are more scarce and restricted by more obstacles. Sporting events and festivals are notorious dead spots because of the number of simultaneous users situated in close proximity.
Other Factors Affecting Cell Phone Signal Strength
High user load in one location leads carriers to build more towers there, and reduce transmission power since each tower is covering a smaller area. This could lead to good outdoor coverage, but poor indoor coverage since the transmission power is not great enough to reach through the structure. Cell coverage areas are hexagonal, so coverage gaps can occur when there is little or no overlap between cell sites that are next to each other.
Phone manufacturers want to produce phones that are long-lasting and light on power consumption, therefore they use low-power transmitters, which means your device could also be causing your bad reception. When your battery is low, the device may also be less able to receive a strong signal.
When Cell Phone Signal Strength Can’t be Improved
If you are too far from a cell tower (maybe you live in a desert or somewhere in Antarctica), a cell signal booster won’t be able to create a signal that doesn’t already exist. Some geographical obstacles like mountains are insurmountable, but are thankfully uncommon. If there is a mountain between you and the closest cell tower, and your carrier doesn’t have any other towers nearby, a booster is not likely to help enough to penetrate through the obstacle.
If a cell signal is still too low while using an amplifier with the maximum boosting power allowed by the FCC, then installing a second booster system could be an option.
How to Improve Cell Phone Signal Strength
If one person with a particular provider has poor signal while everyone else on a different carrier has good signal, then it is likely a matter of proximity to a cell tower. When individuals using various providers are all experiencing a weak signal in the same location, then some other type of interference is indicated.
You can set up a donor antenna in your designated window or spot with great coverage, and magnify the signal into the interior of your home, small office, RV/portable home, or vehicle/boat with a signal repeater.