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Understanding Cell Phone Coverage - After Sen. Schumer’s Report.

Sep 20, 2016

After Senator Schumer's release of report detailing reports of cell phone dead zones by residents of New York, we hereby shed more light to help understand better the serious issue that is our "cell phone coverage". By the end of this post, you will be glad you understand the intricacies and specifics on this topic that you may not have known before. This information with some very helpful tips will make you more knowledgeable, and help you to make informed decisions regarding your cell phone service. 

A cell phone communicates via radio waves using a system of cell sites, or base stations, that send and receive telephone calls, and then relay them to networks such as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Since these telephones communicate via radio waves, there're varying factors that can influence their reliability. Those factors include physical obstacles, the proximity of the base station to the cellphone, and noise or interference. In this instance, "noise" refers to natural disturbances or unwanted electronic signals introduced by circuit components that tend to distort communications.

Cellular phone calls are similar to other radio transmissions. They can be affected by severe weather conditions and obstructions located between the cell phone and antenna, or nearest base station that your wireless service provider uses.

Factors Affecting Phone Calls.

There're a few different factors that can prevent a user from being able to start or finish a cell-phone call. Even when carriers publish maps showing their coverage in certain geographic areas, there's really no guarantee that subscribers will be able to complete phone calls, and this can be due to the surroundings (topography), the number of callers trying to communicate with one cell site at any given time (capacity), and where antennas are located (network architecture).

Dropped Calls and Dead Zones.

Dropped calls usually occur when the user is on the move, and there're very few cell sites, or none at all, in that particular area. They can also be the result of a weakened signal from the cell site that is carrying your call, and/or your call in progress not being handed off to another cell site. Let us say you're walking into a building or driving into a tunnel: The communication signal between the cell site and your wireless phone could fade significantly, thus ending your call. The structure involved has blocked your signal. These locations where you're unable to either make or receive calls because of these limitations are often called, "coverage holes", "dead zones", "obstructed areas", or "dead spots".

When the capacity of a wireless service provider's network is strained because many people are using it at the same time, other users trying to connect may be unable to complete their calls and will hear a "busy" signal instead.

Coverage Areas Research.

We strongly suggest that you research the extent of various providers' coverage areas prior to choosing a wireless service provider, or plan. There are various ways of researching the coverage area of wireless service providers.

  • Ask Around.

Ask your friends, neighbours, and colleagues about their experiences. In addition, there are Internet sites that list specific dead spots, such as www.deadcellzones.com. Information on dead spots is listed by location and wireless service provider.

  • Ask to Test the Coverage Area on a Trial Basis.

If possible, arrange to test the wireless service provider's coverage area (and plan) on a trial basis. There're wireless providers that offer a trial period, during which time you're able to test a phone before committing to a service contract - thus saving yourself significant expense in terminating the contract. Just keep in mind, though, that if you terminate at any time (even during the trial period), most wireless service providers won’t refund your activation and/or usage fees. To determine if the coverage suits your needs, use your trial period to test the phone in areas where you would normally be using it.

  • Check Coverage Maps.

Check your wireless service provider's website, or in stores where its products are sold, for coverage maps. These maps provide general coverage information for entire regions; but keep in mind that they do carry a disclaimer saying that actual coverage may vary and that the maps are only provided for informational purposes.

  • Check for Dead Zones.

It is quite possible that there will be holes where the topography causes dead zones or where the service provider does not have cell sites. These maps do not generally indicate dead zones or signal strength. They will not show whether coverage is provided in obstructed areas like underground garages, tunnels, buildings, and so on. Many wireless service providers will provide in-building wireless solutions for these types of problem areas, but lack of coverage is generally not disclosed. In hindsight, this is generally when you can look to us, SignalBooster.com, for assistance with getting a strong signal in your home, or in your vehicle.

Even though an area may be included on the coverage map of a wireless service provider, there's still no guarantee your mobile phone will work. The wireless service provider may advertise service to a certain area, but there could be several reasons as to why service is not reliably available. No network is perfect, and providers may do their best to design their networks to eliminate dead zones, busy signals, and dropped calls, but it is always possible that there will be coverage breaks within the coverage areas. And because coverage is always changing, updated and/or specific information may not be available on maps provided by the wireless service provider.

Explaining "Roaming".

The word, "roaming" describes an ability of a wireless phone to make and receive calls under your service plan, outside the home calling area. It is called, "roaming" when a subscriber of one wireless service provider uses the facilities of a second wireless service provider. Generally, the subscriber will not have a pre-existing agreement with the second service provider to handle calls. However, the subscriber’s provider may have a roaming agreement with the second service provider. Under the terms of that agreement, the second provider agrees to take care of calls placed by the first provider's subscribers, and vice versa. 

You will automatically know that your phone is roaming because the word, "roam" will be displayed on your phone written in text or some form of an indicator light. There will be occasions, though, when even though you are in a roaming area, your handset will not display a roaming indicator. In addition, some handset software must be updated monthly, and this is completed by simply pressing some buttons on the handset. It is important to keep your software updated for many reasons, one being to reduce inaccurate roaming charges.

Talk to Your Wireless Service Provider about Roaming.

Speak to your wireless service provider for further information about roaming areas, software requirements, and related fees. If the service provider's signal from the nearest antenna is weak or your handset signal is weak, even though you may be using your phone in your own home calling area, roaming can occur automatically. In addition, if there's a high volume of calls in the area, a phone can go into roaming mode. You could well be surrounded by sites from your provider, but each of these sites may be out of range or be at their capacity. So, instead of having your call dropped, or blocked, your phone might roam - meaning that it will use another provider's cell site. When this occurs, it could be at an additional cost to you. Roaming fees are determined by your service provider and are typically charged on a per minute basis.

Today, some wireless service providers have scrapped these fees in their nationwide pricing plans, and all major wireless service providers (including some smaller providers) now offer pricing plans that offer their consumers a certain number of monthly minutes to use nationwide without being charged roaming fees. However, be aware that the definition of "nationwide" varies with different service providers. Some define "nationwide" as being anywhere in the country, while others define it as being anywhere within the provider's network! Per incumbent "Buyer Beware" policy the norm in United States and Canada, it is up to you to do your research and check with your wireless service provider regarding plans without roaming charges, and/or other roaming options.

Emergencies!

Some users purchase wireless phones solely for emergency use: Their cell phones are a vital means of accessing help during times of emergencies. These people are fully aware that when there is a widespread emergency, a wireless phone call may not be successful simply due to the increase in calling volume in that particular geographical area. Important tip: When there is a high call volume and limited capacity, try sending a text message first because text messages require very little capacity and may be more successful than getting a voice call out.

Researching the Best Coverage.

  • You first need to find a plan to suit your needs, and this is done by determining how you intend using your wireless phone - emergencies, long distance, weekends, or daily.
  • The next step is to investigate the coverage areas of wireless service providers to determine if they provide service in the area/s where you will be using your phone most often. As mentioned previously, be aware that just because a coverage area is shown on a map, it does not necessarily mean that the wireless service provider’s signal in that area is a strong, reliable signal, that a signal is even available, or that there may be dead zones. You will notice that most, if not all provider's coverage maps have a disclaimer stating that these maps are only provided for general informational purposes, and that the actual coverage may vary.
  • Talk to your friends, colleagues, neighbours, or anyone who may have similar calling patterns, and ask about their experiences with different service providers and the plans they offer.
  • Do your own research and browse the Internet for websites listing dead zones. Search for areas where you will be using your wireless phone on a regular basis.
  • Understand that the type of handset you use could well affect your coverage, so you need to consider which type of handset would best suit your calling needs - a single, dual, or tri-mode handset.
  • Single-mode handsets: These can be connected to either a digital or analog network, but not both.
  • Dual-mode handsets: These can be used on an analog network and one type of digital network. 
  • Tri-mode handsets: These handsets can be used on analog plus two types of digital networks. 

Digital networks now permit their wireless service providers to offer their customers certain advanced features, such as Internet access.

  • Before you decide on the best cell-phone and plan to suit your requirements, do your research and compare plans and prices of several service providers and dealers.
  • Remember that some wireless service providers offer their customers trial periods, and this is something you should consider taking advantage of: The trial period will be a short period of time where you're able to use the phone without the obligation of paying a significant fee should you decide to terminate your service contract.
  • You might also want to consider trying a Pre-paid plan: A Pre-paid plan allows you to easily switch providers if you find you're not satisfied with the service. Keep in mind that, if you sign a long-term contract but then realize you're not satisfied, you may be required to pay a hefty termination fee to cancel.
  • Make sure you call your wireless service provider when you're experiencing problems. If it is the phone itself that is causing the problem, then instead of contacting an independent agent, it may be advisable to contact one of your provider's company stores, because the company store personnel may be more equipped to resolve your problem.
  • Always, always, always, keep your phone battery charged. You need to be sure that your wireless phone will work in the event of an emergency.

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  • I hate dead zones. This article helped me understand why I can go from decent coverage to no coverage. While I can’t depend on businesses or sports arenas, I can help myself at home with one of these cell phone signal boosters. I’d like something for a 1,500 square foot area. I’m looking for a booster that will strengthen my cell phone’s signal power so I don’t lose calls or experience lags in accessing data.

    Billy Davidson on
  • This article was one of the best I’ve ever read. It explains the ins and outs of cell phone usage, as well as what can lead to dropped calls, dead zones, and such. I’m going to share this with my friends and family so they know how to protect themselves. It’s important to realize when your cell phone might not work, and how to increase its reliability through things like cell signal boosters. I particularly liked the tidbit about using texts in emergencies as they’re more likely to get through. This was well-done.

    Michael Rickard on

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