11 reasons your smartphone network data connection is patchy

Have you ever wondered why as soon as you get into work, your phone's 4G starts acting up? Or during your commute, despite a 3G data signal strength, all you get is the spinning wheel of death? No? Well, we have!

We have also pondered how in the same room you can have 4G on your Vodafone handset while the person on the next desk has 3G on EE. 

 Well, there are some facts that hold for all networks and that is that you cancel out about 40 percent of your mobile signal by going indoors and research suggests that between 80-90 percent of all data exchanges take place indoors.

We rang around some of our contacts who use big words like: small cells, hexa communications and ESN to understand it a bit better. And what they said was very interesting and also downright absurd, at times.

1) Terrible 3G on a train? It's not you, it's the train


Yes, you read right. Train carriages work as perfect Faraday cages, wherein you and your very expensive 3G/4G device is safely coccooned in a steel cage making it super tricky for radio waves to get in and get out.

The high speed at which trains travel also doesn't bode well for high-speed streaming. 

For you to be able to take advantage of optimum data services during your commute, not only does your network connection have to be absolutely ace, but it also needs to be able to seamless hand-over your data needs (Netflix, Twitter, Instagram etc) from one base station at the bottom of a phone mast to the next in the direction in which your train is moving. So while there is plenty of time to hand over when you are walking down the street, at 120 miles/hour it is substantially trickier.

2) Thick walls and traditional buildings

Thicker the wall, worse the signal strength. So unless you have a phone mast almost on top of your idyllic 16th century cottage with its 1-metre deep walls, you might not have the streaming experience you are hoping for.

It isn't just mobile data signal strength that is prone to degradation within buildings built using traditional materials, wifi signal tends to suffer too!

3) Trees and foliage affect 3G signal

The fact is- mobile signal is a fickle thing. Wispy thin strands of radio waves that carry data back and forth from your smartphone to the mobile mast and if the mast happens to have a lot of trees with lots of leaves nearby...

EE and Vodafone have, in the past, blamed leaves for fluctuating mobile signal and with almost a third of the roughly 23,000 base stations in the UK surrounded by trees, we know which way to point an axe next time Facebook fails to load on our phones. 

4) Rain, 'wrong type' of snow and inclement weather

Ever heard of 'rain fade'? We hadn't either until we started researching for this piece. It refers to rain absorbing microwave radio frequency signal, enough to make it fade. Utilising between 1GHz and 30GHz, microwave radio frequency signal is used heavily in transmitting mobile phone data. 


So, with the atmosphere absorbing most of it during a particularly bad downpour, it is no surprise that if you are stranded, Netflix will not be streaming as well as it should.

And just so we are clear, although it is called rain fade, it also refers to atmospheric disruption due to snow, sleet, ice and hail. The all-enveloping phrase also refers to the degradation of a signal caused by the electromagnetic interference of the leading edge of a storm front.

5) Reflective window coating and mobile signal

Tinted windows- ones that stop sun glare usually have metal bits in them, which while being great at stopping people from looking in, also stops radio frequency signal from getting into the building.

Often in these cases, opening the window, getting rid of the film covering the glass or investing in a mobile signal repeater (££) helps but because these are usually office buildings with these window treatments, a swift email to HR could also help!

Government offices and police buildings use this treatment quite frequently, for obvious reasons.

6) Fast cars and mobile signal

Very similar reason to that of a bad mobile signal in a rain carriage, a lot hinges on your network and how quickly one phone mast is able to hand over to the next in the direction of your travel.

It also depends on how much investment your network has done in rural areas, along motorways etc so you can still access high-speed internet on the way to your holiday.  

For comparison sake, EE say they cover 75% of UK landmass with 4G while Vodafone have over 85% UK 4G population coverage while Three UK say their 3G network covers 97% of the UK population.

So if you are travelling to a rural part of the country, there will be fewer phone masts and hence will lead to a loss in the quality of signal and ultimately the availability of mobile network in the area.

7) Your mobile phone affects your quality of mobile signal

We often recieve notifications on our work phone before we do on our personal phone- often from the same websites. This is because our work phone is a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, with a fantastically fast LTE chip, while our personal phone is an Apple iPhone 6. 

If you are using an older phone, chances are it will not have the latest and greatest mobile signal tech onboard and your browsing experience less than what you would like it to be!

8) Low battery = poor quality signal

This is a vicious circle of doom for a prolific mobile data user. A poor quality signal means the phone will try to re-send packets of information, using more battery. Ultimately, if you have low battery on your phone, it will not re-send information packets to the phone mast (to conserve battery) and lead to bad quality mobile signal and a LOT of buffering.

9) Proximity to a mobile tower

If you have reached this far in the article, you will probably be able to see why being far away from a mobile phone mast will lead to a poor quality signal. It is essentially like trying to have a phone conversation with the phone held away from your ear!

10) Number of people at an event

So, you are at a music festival and Jay Z is playing his set. You are enjoying the music but also want to use Facebook Live to brag to your friends who aren't at the show.

Trouble is- the other 75,000 people at the event are also trying to do exactly that. So, if the phone mast has to transmit 75,000 Instagram videos and Facebook posts, it is obviously going to give up at a certain point.

11) On London Underground

Go underground, and that usually guarantees that your mobile signal dies-unless you tether onto London Underground's free wifi. Usually to do with the layers of concrete, metal and soil over your head, almost guaranteeing a Facebook-free environment.

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