Top 10 Cell Phone Reception Issues

What is more annoying than not being able to reach someone on their cell phone? Dropped calls, dead zones, and network congestion. This is such an important issue and some speculate the coverage has actually gotten worse over the last few years as smartphones start to dominate the network traffic. Leading industry analysts and wireless carriers keep statistics on this matter. Change Wave Research, a leading industry research company in the wireless sector, found that AT&T was the leader in this wireless category with approximately 4.5% of dropped calls in January 2010. We don’t necessarily believe this extent of this recently published research due to AT&T’s network problems and expect to see some more research on this topic in the weeks to come. So, if this so important, what are the top 10 cell phone reception issues?
  1. Network coverage. In the US, there are 4 major mobile telecom service providers and approximately 200 regional wireless telecom providers: AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T- Mobile. One of the main competitive advantages of being a large mobile service provider is to have nationwide network coverage. Recently, Verizon Wireless claimed to have better 3G network coverage and AT&T Wireless, but this is a bit misleading due to the fact that 3G coverage means data coverage. Voice traffic is still predominantly carried over the 2G networks. So, if the wireless carrier does not have adequate coverage in your area, it could be a leading factor in your cell phone reception issue.
  2. Cell site capacity. Another issue is contributed by the channel capacity of carrier cell towers. Most cell sites can handle a finite number of simultaneous users. Cell towers can typically handle up to 500 simultaneous voice users at once while drastically less and only about 50 data users. Once this capacity has been reached, the base station controller (BSC) rejects the calls or data connection which ends up dropping those calls. You may often see full bars on your phone which is a good indicator of network congestion. This finite capacity is calculated based on Erlang calculations.
  3. Geographic topology. Sometimes, the wireless signal can get “bounced” due to geographic constraints such as water, buildings, hills, and trees. The wireless signal gets dissipated and lost which minimizes the optimal connection.
  4. Cell phone antenna issues. Most cell phones these days have an internal antenna for reception and communication. Therefore, the size of the antenna is restricted by the form factor of each cell phone.
  5. Human interference with cell phone antenna. This is the most recognized issue especially with the gaffe by Apple and their most recent iPhone 4G. Due to the fact that the hand placement on the antenna can dissipate the signal, the cell phone would lose the wireless connection. Simple guards such as “bumpers” or cell phone cases can minimize this issue.
  6. Signal handoff. Due to the mobility nature of cell phones, sometimes the handoff of signal from one cell tower to another gets mixed up due to signal dissipation and network errors. Most of the time, people experience this while they are driving.
  7. Roaming authentication. Although most of the coverage purported by the carriers appears to be their own network, some of the coverage is offered by other network operators in strategic alliance with the major carriers. These relationships are known as roaming partnerships. Sometimes, the visitor location register (VLR) does not sync with the home location register of the carrier’s back-office which does not complete the settlement between the two operators. Today, most of this is masked due to the elimination of roaming charges to the end-users with the carriers simply rolling in this roaming usage into one voice plan.
  8. Long-distance handoff issues. Cell phone users take for granted that they can make long-distance calls outside of their toll area since it is rolled into their voice plans. However, when there is a communication error from the Long Distance provider and the carrier’s network, the call cannot go through.
  9. Network outage. Sometimes, the weather has an impact on the telecom network. When the cell tower loses power to access, the signal is lost for a short duration.
  10. Building penetration. When you are indoors, there are times that you will lose your cell phone reception.  This is due to the signal dissipation through the concrete as well as through other materials. Some building owners implement cell phone repeaters (picocells) to help improve this issue.
So, even though these are the majority of the factors that could hamper cell phone connectivity, sometimes, you just have to check to see if you have your antenna operating on your device before you can blame the carriers.

Author: John Shin is a featured writer at a new ask an expert site. Visit for more info.

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