Are You in a Mobile Phone Dead Zone?

Category: Mobile

It’s a minor nuisance to experience poor cellular reception as you pass under a bridge, through a tunnel, or between tall buildings. But it’s a much bigger deal if your home or office (or just certain rooms) are in such a “dead zone.” Here are some gadgets that can help to bring your cellular signal where you need it the most...

"No, I Can't Hear You Now!"

It's frustrating to have poor signal reception, no incoming texts or calls, and the dreaded “network unavailable” message. Weak signals mean scratchy, barely-audible conversations with frequent repetitions. It’s like living under a bridge or down in a hollow. A retired friend of mine lives in a comfortable basement apartment, but he can’t receive calls down there and has to trek up to the house’s deck to call anyone. Even there, his call quality is lousy.

The carriers do a lot to minimize dead zones. But no matter how many broadcasting towers your carrier says it has within half a mile of your home, there may be a dead zone caused by local terrain, tall buildings, thick trees, interior walls, or other obstacles to radio frequencies that just are not going to go away.

Cellular Dead Zones

As more of us cut the landline cord at home and work, the need for technology that overcomes dead zones becomes greater. I've previously written about Cell Phone Signal Boosters that can be used to amplify weak cellular signals, so you don't have to walk down the street or stand on the roof during a thunderstorm to make a call. These devices tend to be a bit pricey ($200-$300 and upwards), but we are starting to see other solutions to this growing problem. Here are some that you can explore.

Filling Gaps In Cellular Coverage

Panasonic offers a line of multi-handset cordless telephone systems (about $50 for a basic one-handset system, up to $149 for a five-handset luxury system) equipped with Link2Cell technology. Essentially, the cordless phone base station links with your smartphone via Bluetooth. The smartphone can be placed wherever reception is best and you can make or receive calls through it using the cordless handsets. You do not need a landline, but one can be plugged into the base station if you wish.

Bluetooth is generally considered a short-range wireless networking technology. The latest standard is capable of linking devices that are 100 meters (330 feet) apart, in theory. But manufacturers are recommending a maximum of 30 feet between cell phone and a Bluetooth device.

Another nice benefit of such a system is that you don’t have to carry your smartphone around home or office. Just place cordless handsets in frequently used rooms. No more, “Where did I leave my phone?” You always leave it in the same place, plugged into a charger. Cordless handsets are cheaper than smartphone when they fall in the toilet, too (and at any other time, I suppose).

Cordless handsets cannot display text messages, but they can alert you that text messages have arrived on your smartphone. They also feature advanced noise-reduction technology for clearer calls.

Other dedicated Bluetooth-to-cellular gateway appliances are appearing. The Xlink Cellular Bluetooh Gateway is a small appliance that connects up to three cell phones to all of the phones in your place (wired or cordless). The basic model without landline capability costs $40; another with the ability to connect a landline to the network costs $45.

The Cobra PhoneLynx (about $30) is the simplest and cheapest of the Bluetooth-to-cell gateways I have seen. Not much bigger than an iPhone itself, the PhoneLynx has only two buttons. Place up to two cell phones where they get the best reception, hook them up to PhoneLynx via Bluetooth, and plug the PhoneLynx into an available landline jack and power supply. When either cell phone rings, the hardwired or cordless handsets in your place will ring. Calls placed from any handset are routed through one of the cell phones. The PhoneLynx supports up to three landline handsets or ten wireless base stations for cordless handsets.

Another device that can help to boost cellular coverage around the house is a microcell. This gadget connects to your existing Internet service and broadcasts a cellular signal to nearby mobile phones. Think of it as a mini cellular tower in your living room. Some readers have told me that their mobile providers have given them a microcell for free when they complained about lack of service in their home. If you can't finagle a freebie, you can probably find a microcell compatible with your mobile provider for about $100 on eBay.

And there's always the option of switching to another service provider. My daughter's T-Mobile phone wouldn't work inside our house at all. But Verizon and AT&T have strong signals here. Just be aware that there may be an early termination fee for cancelling your mobile service plan. Some providers will reimburse you for that fee if you switch to them.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Are You in a Mobile Phone Dead Zone?"

Posted by:

Vince Burget
19 Aug 2014

We live in a "mobile challenged area" and a $300 cell phone booster was a bust. When I went to upgrade my cell phone with AT&T, I told them there was no reason to upgrade (I had chosen the Galaxy Note 3) unless they gave me a Micro-cell, which they did.
One caveat: the micro-cell will not work with satellite internet. Too much latency. You must also have download speeds of at least 2 Mbs.
There are a limited number of cell numbers that can be connected, but I am now able to give my customers my cell number instead of my land-line office number. It's nice to not have to ask, "Can you hear me now?"

Posted by:

Quebec City
19 Aug 2014

I have found that the use of a piece of metal sheet about twice the length and twice the width of the phone, properly positioned along the phone does wonders.
My home is sandwiched between two cell towers, in front the signal goes to one tower in the back to the other. If I put the metal sheet in the right position, that is a bit like a focusing reflecting surface, I can link to the tower I want wherever I am on my property!
This can even save some money on long distance call.
The metal must be able to be magnetized, such as steel, not aluminium.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2014

I think you mean femtocell. Microcells transmit up to 2 kilometers and are for larger sprawling facilities like airports, amusement parks, manufacturing plants, etc. Picocells range up to 200 meters and are for single buildings, malls, train stations, etc. Femtocells range up to 10 meters (33 feet, about the same as bluetooth) and are used in the home. Although, AT&T does call their femtocells "microcells" which range about 40 feet, thus a bit of confusion.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2014

Sprint gave me a unit when I complained about poor reception. It is connected to modem and also has to receive a GPS signal. They provided an external GPS antenna with the unit. 4 to 5 bars!

Posted by:

19 Aug 2014

------------> FOR EDITOR ONLY

Bob, found this today during my morning 'study time'. Thought you might find it interesting.

ABSTRACT: Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science is developing a tool called XRay - it tracks WHERE your adds come from (the text of my emails!? the e-mails *IN* my inbox!?, and of course searches). E.g.:". . .for example, that a Gmail user who sees ads about various forms of spiritualism might have received them because he or she sent an email message about depression."

Take care Bob -- Doc

Posted by:

19 Aug 2014

A couple of my customers who were neighbors tried to used Verizon hotspots for Internet service at their homes. The service just would not reliably work. When they would go to the Verizon store they would tell them "see it works", but back home it would not.

Verizon told them it would cost $150 to early terminate their two year contract. Finally, threaten with civil action against Verizon for not providing acceptable service and default of contract (denial of service), Verizon terminated service without charge in both incidents.

Posted by:

Tom Drew
19 Aug 2014

A caution to apartment dwellers - cell phone companies typically will not provide a micro-cell to you, for fear of causing interference with your nearby neighbors.

That was the boat I was in, and finally ending up switching from T-Mobile to AT&T. No regrets at all.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2014

My office building is "shielded", and I cannot get any cell reception. Is there any way to overcome the effects of the "shield"--whatever that is?

EDITOR'S NOTE: The shielding is probably just the metal and concrete structure of the building. If you can get a wifi connection, you could use VOIP calling with Skype.

Posted by:

Brian R
20 Aug 2014

I've set up 3 microcells for other people. All have worked beautifully. The only warning I have is the microcell account must be tied to a phone account, so if you set one up in, say, an office environment, the person who owns the phone you tie the microcell account to, can't change their account or their provider. If this happens, and the account is cancelled by the owner of the phone, it may leave the microcell account stranded. It will continue to work, but you can't log into the account to manage it anymore. And managing these things is important. You have to tell them what phone numbers can connect to them. And this changes over time. The microcells also have a limit of around 4 simultaneous connections at one time. This is a bit of a bummer if you have a lot of users who need it. You can allow up to 20 or so numbers to use it, but it will take the first 4 that connect to it, and won't allow the others until one of the connected numbers goes out of range or turns off their phone. All-in-all, seems to work ok and I can't think of a better solution, short of the providers installing new towers or boosting signals form existing towers.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2014

I switched from Verizon Wireless recently, and the service so far with our new provider is stellar! Republic Wireless. It piggybacks on the Sprint network, and when there is a wifi signal it can shunt you to it. In our home the quality is flawless, and I have not noticed a degradation of signal when it hands off to the gsm network anywhere I have used the phone. Whats more, I am very pleased with the Moto X phone I purchased through them.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

If you have a good Wifi connection, you can use T-Mobile's Wifi calling for phone calls and texts when you have a weak or no cell signal.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

Most carriers will waive the termination fee if you can't get a good signal in your home. It's generally just a matter of getting a CSR that's not an idiot. Have friends with different carriers come around and test the signal, so you know who to switch to. Although here, that's a moot point - it seems to be Verizon, Boost, or suffer.

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