What causes your weak cell phone signal and dropped calls and how to prevent it
December 3, 2016 — by KEN PERKINS
We all know how frustrating it is when you need to use your cell phone but you can’t get a signal. Or perhaps worse, you place a call but then the connection drops.
Why can’t we just get a reliable cell signal?
The answer is pretty simple. There are only two things that cause poor cell reception – distance and obstructions.
Everybody gets why distance is a problem. Obviously if I’m too far from the nearest cell tower, the signal may be faint or even undetectable by my phone.
Or maybe I can get a signal from that distant tower, but my phone’s transmitter lacks the power to send its signal all the way back to the tower. Either way I can’t use my phone to communicate.
Distance is often a bigger issue in less populated areas where there are fewer cell towers.
Obstacles that block signals
Obstructions are a much more common reason for poor reception, and typically not as well understood. An obstruction is anything between me and the cell tower that can block or weaken the signal and prevent it from reaching my phone or getting back to the tower.
If there’s a hill between me and the tower, it’s easy to see how that could block the cell signal. But vegetation can also obstruct cell signal. That’s right, trees, shrubbery, or almost any kind of foliage can mess with my cell reception!
Atmospheric conditions can also obstruct cell signal. Culprits are rain, of course, but also fog, and high winds that kick up lots of dust. All that stuff in the atmosphere is enough to weaken or block your reception.
Buildings get in the way
In urban areas the main cell signal obstructions are buildings. The cell tower may only half a block away, but if there’s a building between here and there I have a problem.
The radio frequency signals that carry cell communications can’t easily pass through metal, concrete, oxide-coated glass or the other construction materials that comprise modern buildings.
And even if there’s no building between me and the tower, what about the building I’m in? Remember, we’re usually inside, while the cell signal is outside.
For our phones to use the signal, we have to go outside or the signal must get inside. As we just noted, getting through common construction materials to gain entry to a building is not easy for cell signals.
And the same goes for vehicles. RF signals also can’t easily pass through the metal body and safety glass of my vehicle. Those obstructions plus the near-constant motion can make it really tough to get cell reception while I’m driving.