What causes poor cellular coverage

Posted by Wave Wireless on Jun 8, 2015 7:30:00 AM

Outdoorwireless

Our dependence on wireless coverage has brought up new issues for the wireless industry. The growing number of users and devices per person has had a drastic impact on coverage and connection speeds. Integrators of wireless communications as well as cellular providers are struggling to keep up with capacity issues and are constantly trying to determine solutions to fixing weak coverage. Coverage gaps and a lack of bandwidth, affect our ability to communicate efficiently and safely.

If you have ever been in an area where you experience symptoms such as:

  • dropped calls
  • garbled noises
  • slow cellular internet
  • internet timeouts
  • increased battery usage (amongst others),
growth in mobile traffic

chances are that you are in an area with a weak coverage. Most of us have experienced this and can share in that frustration.

In our last blog post you may have notice the coined term ‘global mobile nomads’, relating to the factthat we are constantly texting, emailing and using mobile video, consuming enormous quantities of data. Voice and data consumption is increasing daily but most of the networks infrastructure is unableto keep up with the demand.

The distance from your mobile device to a cellular tower, as well the overloading of these macro cellular towers can play a major role in how reliable your coverage will be. Radio and light waves are part of the same electromagnetic spectrum and therefore behave in the same way when it comes to obstructions in their path. To put it into prospective, if you have a source of light, say a flashlight and hold an object in its path you will notice a shadow. Similarly with radio waves, if you put something in its path it will also form a shadow of sorts. If you look closely, when an object is closer to the surface the shadow will appear sharper but as you start moving the object away from the surface, it will begin to become more and more distorted (try it!). In terms of electromagnetic waves this experience is called knife-edge diffraction where the electromagnetic waves are directed inwards and towards the shadow region. Additionally, the amount a radio wave bends is dependent on its frequency, so the lower the frequency the more it will bend.

So now imagine that the cell tower is our source of light. If the tower is placed in a location between a plateau and a hill, the areas around the plateau would experience low signal loss but the areas on the other side of the hill will suffer from a weaker and less reliable signal. A cellular tower’s ability to penetrate inside buildings is also a major factor that influences coverage and a problem that we are exceedingly seeing in dense urban environments such as New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

global mobile traffic

 

You may notice that you experience poor reception indoors despite have good coverage when you walk outside the building or venue. This often has a correlation between the metal-based or dense building materials that reflect or absorb RF signals, minimizing the signal strength indoors. Unfortunately, the building materials used in the modern construction process provide great insulation and structural strength but are also inevitably the biggest culprits of reflecting and absorbing RF signals, causing signal loss. These materials can include concrete, brick, copper wiring/plumbing and metal roofing to name a few.

Using distributed antenna systems is still currently the most viable solution to help alleviate concerns on wireless coverage, both indoors and outdoors.

 

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