Wireless carriers, as they build-out their 3G and 4G broadband networks continue to struggle with ensuring strong cell phone reception for voice and data. And it’s not only iPhone and other smartphone owners who are suffering.
Five major factors account for poor cell phone reception.
- Handset antenna placement mainly inside a mobile phone and anything–the handgrip, for example. Most Nokia, Sony Ericsson and other handset manufacturers instruct users how to hold phones for best reception.
- Cell phone reception inside buildings. As Scott Goodrich of CSI pointed out in his podcast interview with me, 80% of all mobile phone usage today is inside buildings where reception is poor. This was not as serious a problem five years ago when most “mobile” phone owners made calls and accessed the mobile Internet outdoors. The solution to the “indoor” use problem is not only antenna boosters but using Wi-Fi when cellular signals are weak.
- Lack of wireless spectrum and channels. Although the carriers are improving their 3G/4G wireless networks quickly, mobile data demand continues growing faster than carriers can handle. This is especially the case with AT&T, the sole iPhone carrier. If half of all iPhone users were on other U.S. carriers’ networks, AT&T network congestion would significantly drop improving reception
- Smartphone penetration continues growing. 20% of all U.S. cell phone owners now use a smartphone. Within two years the figure will rise to 50%. Since smartphone owners on average download and upload 3-5 times as much data on the mobile Internet as feature phone users, network congestion will remain an issue. Companies like Clearwire claim their network bandwidth is plentiful with typical customer usage of 4 to 7 gigs per month.
- M2M and other wireless devices and applications. By the end of 2010 5 billion wireless devices (tablets, e-readers, laptops and embedded devices) will access the Internet through cellular or Wi-Fi. That’s in addition to 5 billion mobile phones. Although many M2M devices are low-bandwidth, demands on 3G and 4G networks will continue growing.
Improving cell phone reception both inside and outside buildings and other structures requires cooperation among handset manufacturers, carriers and users as technology improves signal strength for voice and data communications.