“Can you hear me now?” It’s a clever Verizon Wireless commercial, but these are also words we hear much too often. Bad cell reception is frustrating, especially when we pay so much for service in the first place. So why do I have poor cell phone reception despite the fact my provider claims to have great coverage in my area? I live in a city, surrounded by towers but unfortunately our experts say it isn’t getting any better for a while.
Can you have bad reception if you live in the city?
Very often rural areas struggle with reception because there are fewer cell towers. Now, more areas that previously had reception issues, like national parks, have towers nearby. But those who live in cities often find themselves with a weak signal, or no signal at all.
Jim Mcewan is the Vice President of National Sales at Harris Communications, a company that specializes in building cellular antenna systems in larger spaces, like office buildings, that have signal issues. Mcewan says most of his company’s work is done in major metropolitan areas.
“The problem is you have buildings that either have a lot of steel [or] thick concrete,” Mcewan explains. “Newer buildings are being built green, so you have reflective windows…New building materials for insulation have foam backs, thick granite – all of that prevents from the cell service from getting into the building. Particularly if you get into underground garages [and] lower floors you’re going to have issues with cell service.”
Other common areas with signal issues include tunnels, subways or trains.
The dreaded dead zones
Dead zones can happen anywhere, and they are a spot that flat out doesn’t receive reception. It’s a spot where the antenna is blocked by either natural or man-made causes, from hills to tall buildings. The problem with dead zones is that even though a carrier may claim they cover an area, due to interferences, these dead zones still exist.
As a result, your cell battery can get run down from working overtime trying to find the nearest tower. Mcewan says, “Your phone is always connected to a tower somewhere but when you get into a low service area with no signal your cell phone is working harder because it’s constantly sending off that beacon.”
What to do if you have service issues
If your home is in a dead zone, your first step is to contact your service provider to see what the company can do for you. You shouldn’t have to pay for a service that isn’t working for you. Mcewan says there is no clear answer as to which provider delivers the best service because it depends on what service is best in your area.
If you’re still having issues, a femtocell (also called a network extender) is an easy solution after you’ve contacted your provider. As Mcewan explains, this device is a small repeater that you can hook up to your cable line to improve the signal in your home. It uses your broadband connection to provide service for up to six phones. It also allows your phone to be tracked like a landline in case of 911 emergencies.
Cell signal issues are getting worse
Cell phones are being used more now than ever, and according to a recent study by Rethink Technology Research, 94% of service providers are planning for an over 20-fold increase in the data demand in the next five years. Experts involved in the study expect most devices to remain on 4G, which won’t help with issues of data storage.
“I’ve seen the projections for cell usage in 2016, and it’s just unbelievable,” exclaims Mcewan. “Just think for a moment where cell phones were just a few years ago. They weren’t taking pictures. They weren’t steaming. They weren’t doing a lot of things.”
Not only do more and more people have smartphones than ever before, but Mcewan estimates that 70% of phone calls now originate indoors. He also says that when most buildings were originally built, even in the past 20 to 30 years, people just weren’t using their cell phones nearly as frequently. The same issue wasn’t present or even considered in constructing these buildings.
So, as cell phone usage and signal issues increase, what’s in store for the future? Mcewan has a feeling providers will have to respond to their customers’ increased data usage but said he isn’t sure what we can do to improve service fast enough.
“There are more cell phones now than there are people in the U.S., I read in the paper the other day. Will there be problems? I think so.”