Time keeps going and things keep changing. At first, the most common cell phone reception problems dealt with dropped calls and poor voice quality. Now, poor cell phone reception also affects text messaging, internet, and emails. It's a headache when you're trying to send a quick message but get stuck text. Or you're loading a mobile internet page but it crawls before timing out.
It's even more troublesome when you're unable to upload an Instagram photo of something in the moment, but you keep getting sending errors. In a world ruled by social media, being unable to tweet, post on Twitter or Facebook, especially when we're living in the world of now and instant gratification, it's an interruption we don't need.
But before you look for a paid solution, here are 7 free tips and tricks to possibly get better signals.
1) Clear Out Obstructions:
Your cell phone and cell phone tower play a game of Marco Polo every time you use your phone. One shouts "Marco" and the other yells back "Polo." When there's a clear line of sight between them, it's easy for the two to hear each other. But when there are objects and obstructions in between, it gets a little harder for the two to communicate. When you see people raising their phones or moving to a window, they are basically trying to reduce the interference between the cell phone and cell tower.
So simple tips such as moving outside, getting near a window (away from thick walls, insulated interiors, etc.), avoiding barriers such as hills, mountains, metal structures, and tall buildings, and reducing clutter (e.g. trimming tall trees or bushes, tidying up an unorganized space, etc.) should help you get better reception. Weather may also affect reception, too. But just remember this, less things between your cell phone and the cell tower, the easier the two can keep communicating. Even shifting your position a few feet can contribute to better reception.
Speaking of cell towers...
2) Locate Your Nearest Cell Tower(s)
Knowing the location of the closest cell phone tower helps tremendously when it comes to getting the best reception: the closer your phone is to the tower, the better the signal strength. We highly recommend cellreception.com. Use the cell tower map to find the nearest tower. You can even further refine by carrier towers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, & T-Mobile), read , rate, and write reviews, and even search by ZIP code.
Also check out antennasearch.com. You'll need to put in a full address, but you'll get a detailed report about existing and future towers. You can also search for antennas. However, the ability to refine towers and antennas by carrier does not exist, so it's a bit of a search.
If you prefer a dedicated app, OpenSignal's Signal Booster and Akelon's Signal Finder (both on iPhone and Android phones) are excellent apps with tower location and compass directions.
For the technically-minded, you can use your phone settings to read decibel (dB) gain. Any reading with a -50 is considered full strength. Anything -113 and below means it's a dead zone. So your working signal reading should be between -50 and -113. And don't rely on the bars too much. There's no industry standard to represent dB gain, so one carrier's one bar could be another company's three bars. The most reliable way is to read dB gain.
Here are options to display the dB gain reading on your smartphone:
For Android: go to Phone settings, About Phone, +Status, Signal Strength.
For Blackberry: select Tools, Settings, Status or Option, Status.
For iPhone: choose phone mode, dial *3001#12345#* then press Call.
3) Keep Your Battery Full
Your phone needs to do many things. Connecting to a cell tower takes a constant supply of power, so if you're low on battery, your phone might not have enough juice to find a signal.
Best practices such as turning off hardware options like Bluetooth or NFC when you're not using it, adjusting screen brightness, closing unnecessary apps working in the background and updating to newer versions that may use less power, reducing push notifications, keeping your phone away from extreme temperature, and updating to the latest software/firmware of your operating system are a few examples that will definitely lead to a longer lasting battery.
You could also get an extra battery in the form of a battery case or portable battery extender.
4) Don't Block Your Cell Phone Antenna
Before the rise of smartphones, most mobile phones had external antennas. They were the vital part of the machine that gathered and sent signals to the cell tower. However, with most smartphones today, the antenna is now designed to be tucked inside the phone. Great for cosmetic reasons, difficult for increased reception, because those interior antennas still need to do the same job.
By holding your phone in landscape position (sideways), your hands may be effectively blocking your antenna from the cell tower. Apple faced such a "death grip" problem with Antennagate when then-Chief Executive Steve Jobs asked consumers to "just avoid holding it this way."
Newer smartphones may have reduced the antenna problem, but by holding your phone in an upright position with your antenna free of a blockage, it should help increase cell phone reception.
5) Find Some Me Time
When you're at a concert, festival, crowded public event, or major sporting event, there's bound to be a horde of picture taking, Twitter posting, and every-five-seconds selfie lovers out there. With so many people with smartphones and tablets, overwhelming the cell tower and clogging up the network is a definite possibility.
Instead of completing for signal bandwidth with a high concentration of like-minded users, finding a less populated area should help improve your situation. Of course, if you followed Step 2 above, you already know where the cell phone towers are at.
6) Use Your Wi-Fi Network
Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), also known as Wi-Fi Calling, allows your Wi-Fi Calling-capable smartphone to use your wi-fi connection to make calls and connect to the internet seamlessly when you can't get signal coverage. So far only T-Mobile offers this service, but as the number of network subscribers increase every year, the strain of new users may force the competition to consider this option. As for phone models, Android, Blackberry, and Window Phone 8 operating systems are Wi-Fi Calling capable. However, Apple iPhones do not have this option. But there's always a possibility in the future.
7) Change Network Carriers
Well, you've done everything you could, but there's still no progress. If your phone is fully paid for or past its two-year contract, it may be time to jump ship and find a carrier better suited to fulfill your mobile needs. And most carriers are eager to get customers to switch, so you might be able to get a new or highly discounted smartphone.
We recommend using opensignal.com to research the carrier service heatmap for your location. Search by ZIP code and compare network rankings in your area. It'll even show how each carrier's service compares to the US and world average.
By finding the closest carrier tower near you, you'll most likely improve your chances of getting better coverage and service. However, you'll have to take your time to consider the variables. Verizon might get more 4G coverage nationally, but if you live near an AT&T cell tower, you might have to reconsider. Perhaps talk and text is more important to you than internet data, so T-Mobile's or Sprint's 3G plan might be more cost effective. So take your time and do the right research.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series as we look at deeper solutions (some unconventional) to improve your cell phone signal reception.
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