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Why Do Cell Phones Drop Calls?

Posted on the 29 September 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds


Dropping calls is a fact of life, unfortunate as it may be.

Are you the kind of person that takes solace in knowing why irritating things happen? Me either, but sometimes it's all we have. And unfortunately, dropped phone calls is one of those areas. If you own an iPhone 4, you know that a dropped call can be as simple as holding your phone a certain way. There are a couple of things you can do try, emphasis on try, and hold calls longer, but we'll get into that later. First, a bit of background on how cell phones make calls.

Since this article is more about the causes of dropped calls, we're only going to cover the basics of how a cell phone works. Your phone utilizes radio frequency waves to transmit voice and data. It communicates this data via cell phone towers. Your phone, which as we all know is a mini computer, has programming that allows it to locate the tower with the strongest, usually closest, signal. So when you place a call, or send a text, your phone sends it over the RF waves to these towers.

The tower, which for the purpose of our article, is about 98% magic. It will suffice to know that they receive the signal, convert it and connect your call to the fiber optic network in the ground. There's more after this, but quite frankly, it's all a bit too nerdy.

Now that that's out of the way, why do calls drop? The main reason is the dreaded "dead zone". A dead zone is just an area of weak or no cell signal coverage. With the prevalence of cell phones today, these are becoming more and more scarce. But look at any cell phone coverage map and check out the Montana area. It is almost entirely uncovered. I suppose that makes sense considering population density and all. But look at the coverage map around Atlanta. You'll still see the map has holes. And if you happen to be in one of the holes, you'll probably manage to drop a call or two.

Also, terrain and buildings can effect the radius of cell towers. Hilly areas present a whole host of problems for cell coverage. And throwing building into the mix makes coverage even spottier. So even though you may be in an area that's supposed to have full coverage, the urban landscape can drastically affect your cell signal strength. If you are underground, in an elevator or in a building with a metal roof, these can all cause your signal to drop as well.

Another reason calls can drop is from your cell phone switching towers. When you're on the move and you get near the edge of a cell tower's coverage radius, your phone is forced to switch towers. Sometimes this transition isn't as smooth as desired, and your call can drop. The Federal Communications Commission has actually said that this is the cause of most dropped calls.

One cause of dropped calls people don't usually think of is battery levels. It may seem odd, but calls tend to drop more when your phone has less than half battery. Due to priority of battery allocation, the lower your battery levels get, the more likely you are to drop calls you wouldn't otherwise drop.


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