Mobile signal can be both a blessing and a curse. Most of the time you’re unlikely to notice if your phone connects to your network without a hitch, but if it loses signal or you’re trying to use it in a black spot, all you may be left with is anger and frustration.
There are a number of things that can harm your phone’s reception and only some of them you have control over. Thick walls, metal frames and tall buildings are common barriers that sap signals and block the repeaters. In major cities such as London, carriers have taken special care to avoid these problems but the same can’t be said for everywhere.
The weather also has the potential to affect reception, as electromagnetic interference can cause issues, however this problem is less apparent as mobile technology has progressed. A common factor that many should be able to relate to is human interference. Anyone who’s attended a festival or major public event such as the Queen’s Jubilee may have found text messages taking extensive periods of time to send or be received and phone calls sometimes impossible in areas that usually work perfectly well. As with any OTA signals, interference can be amplified by high concentrations of mobile phones, ‘clogging’ up networks or the signal around the affected area.
Identifying where bad signal comes from is only half the battle, we’ve got a few suggestions that might help prevent scenarios like we’ve mentioned here, or at least give your phone the best fighting chance if you find yourself in one.
1. Try different locations
It might sound obvious but shift your phone, even around a few square feet might make a significant difference to your phone’s reception. Holding your phone by doorways, windows or anywhere you know walls are thinner can all contribute to better signal.
2. Hold your phone differently
Some of you may remember the ‘Antennagate’ scandal that befell the iPhone 4 not long after launch. Users reported visible reception drop when they gripped their phones tightly. Although this doesn’t apply to all phones, the internal aerial placement on some means gripping or holding too tightly or across a certain point adds a another layer for the phone reception to ‘push’ through. By using a lighter touch or holding it higher up or lower down along its body, there’s a chance you might improve your signal.
3. Orange Signal Boost/UMA phones
Some phones feature a service called UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access). This technology allows the phone to switch seamlessly between using the standard mobile network and (when in range) your home’s WiFi network. By switching between the two, the device doesn’t have to remain dependant on the mobile network to place a call.
Orange is presently the only UK carrier to offer this type of service, which it calls its Signal Boost, it's available on devices including BlackBerrys, Nokias and some Android phones.
4. 2G and 3G Boosters (updated 14/12/12)
For those not on Orange or who don’t have a phone that supports UMA, Three and Vodafone both provided alternatives that work in much the same way. Signal boosters act like the UMA units in some phones, sharing your mobile phone’s signal over both the carrier network and your internet connection, boosting multiple phone signals. Three Home Signal is available to to Pay Monthly customers on request.
Vodafone have done away with the older 2G/3G boosters and replaced it with a more compact Sure Signal unit. The new model plugs into a plug point anywhere in the house but still allows for another device through it - anything that uses a standard UK 3-pin plug.
The cost of Vodafone’s new booster is double that of the old one and not just because it takes up less space. For £100 the Vodafone Sure Signal can boost 3G signals, even if it's placed say, in a cellar or basement. It allows for up to 32 devices to be registered to it and it can support eight simultaneous voice calls over 3G. Vodafone also offer a list of their latest handsets which are confirmed to be compatible with the new Sure Signal booster, find out more on their website.
A little more low-tech than the previous tips, but there a numerous homebrew methods of improving your phone’s reception. If you’re comfortable with rooting around behind the back panel, you can attach a piece of wire or coil to the antenna terminal and loop it around a stand-in external aerial - such as one you could unscrew from your home router. We found a few other tricks on a piece put together by wisebread.com in this department, but if you are undertaking home-signal boosting do be careful.
6. Signal boosting cases
Accessory companies don’t just make phone holders, speaker docks and cosmetic cases anymore, some have taken on board the importance of mobile engineering and incorporated components and techniques into the manufacturing process of their products to help improve signal strength. Case maker Pong has created iPhone and iPad cases which use special plating embedded within the case to boost signal and shield the user from radiation, pretty neat (£39.99).
7. Change network
A drastic solution but not an impossibility if your carrier simply can’t meet your demand. It’s no secret that some networks operate in certain areas more effectively than others. The combined forces or Orange and T-Mobile’s ‘Everything Everywhere‘ partnership make for the largest shared network in the country, with users of both networks now able to make use of the other for both 2G and 3G services. Ofcom have provided links to all the UK’s major network coverage maps, which you can find here and is well worth checking out.