Author Topic: Cell phone problems - weather (unfixable) or phone (fixable)?  (Read 4646 times)

herisff

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Cell phone problems - weather (unfixable) or phone (fixable)?
« on: December 13, 2012, 08:19:43 AM »
I moved a few months ago to an area 12-minutes outside of town. In town my cell phone reception was fine, albeit a bit difficult in poorer weather. Now my cell phone reception is spotty/horrible when it's foggy or overcast. It's still fine when the weather is clear. If it makes a difference, I am on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, with mountains nearby.

- Is this an issue with all cell phones, regardless of phone quality? If it's not improvable, I won't bother to upgrade my phone.

- Or would I get better reception with a better phone? I have a pre-paid Samsung flip phone (no camera or other extras) with AT&T that I've had for at least 2 years (replaced only because I lost the previous version). I am thinking that I would like to upgrade to a phone with a keyboard (easier to text) as I've found that when I have spotty voice connection I can still text easily. And when my landline went down recently (truck hit distribution node) my cell phone was still up (at&t was still working, all other cell phones were down) but with horrible voice quality (texting was fine).

This matters to me only because I take call for work. My pager is my first access (my land line is 2nd, with a hardwired phone by my bed). When I'm out and about and on call I use my cell phone to call in, and if reception is poor than I need to borrow a phone or just go in to work.

My minute renewal for w/ AT&T is the end of February, so I have lots of time to think about this.
Other options I've been thinking about:
- switching to Consumer Cellular, recommended by Consumer Reports, has plans with great costs, but has a horrible reputation out on the interwebs. Not mentioned in IP Daley's Superguide which makes me cautious.
- switching to one of the MVNOs mentioned in the Superguide, but am concerned because they don't seem to allow roaming off their network and I travel periodically down to California to visit family. [And yes I know that Page Plus does allow roaming, but it was also mentioned that it was pricey].

Thanks in advance!


Daley

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Re: Cell phone problems - weather (unfixable) or phone (fixable)?
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2012, 09:43:55 AM »
Part of the reception issues most likely boils down to your handset in question as most modern flip phones don't always have the greatest antennas or broadcast strength. Atmospherics can impact any RF reception, but the level of problems you're having sounds more like a phone issue than a network issue. If you're in a dodgy reception area, research the available handsets through sites like GSM Arena and Phone Arena to find detailed specifics on broadcast and reception strength. Look over general reviews online as well as C|Net, which has some decent reviews.

The only MVNOs that really have off-network roaming (beyond PagePlus) are the postpaid outfits like Ting and Consumer Cellular. As for the reason why I don't really include Consumer Cellular in the mix... they present their billing in a slightly murky manner to really make their prices clear. Let me show you a breakdown of their actual tiered fee structure so you can better compare the price of the services with traditional prepaid MVNOs and Ting:

Quote
$10 a month per handset (minimum monthly fee)
25 per minute overage from plan
10 per SMS overage from plan
1 per kB overage from plan

$5 for 100 minutes
$10 for 300 minutes
$20 for 700 minutes
$30 for 1200 minutes
$40 for 1800 minutes
$50 for 2400 minutes

$2.50 for 100 messages
$5 for 500 messages
$10 for 1000 messages
$20 for 2000 messages

$5 for 2MB data
$10 for 15MB data
$20 for 30MB of data

When you factor in the issue that you have to manually switch between plans to keep away from overages and the rather expensive rates they charge (which isn't unexpected for an AT&T postpaid MVNO with T-Mo roaming), there's just not much worth spending time on them as they're a bit too niche... plus, I wholly approve of not giving any money to any outfit that takes such an insulting and condescending stance on prepaid MVNOs and are willing to hire Ron Maestri to do commercials. ;)

They may be fine for people who's low usage, road warrior wandering habits and predilection toward GSM service warrants it... but you can see how quickly the rates can skyrocket well past even traditional MNO plans even from AT&T directly for heavy users, and they're deliberately structured to automatically try and reap overages from users who might exceed their assigned plans.

You might want to check network coverage maps for your area between CDMA and GSM carriers as well and ask friends and family who are in the area or visiting how their reception is where you are. Though typically rural areas usually have better AT&T GSM coverage than any of the others, exceptions do occur.

An option for you to potentially look into if you have decent Sprint coverage in your area might be going with a CDMA outfit like Ting and taking advantage of their new BYO(S)D program, and locating an unlocked and clean ESN Sprint branded Motorola XPRT CDMA/GSM World Phone and grabbing an Airvoice Prepaid SIM card for fallback GSM service at around $3.33 a month. You didn't mention monthly costs or usage levels, but a setup like that would run you around $25 a month between Ting (500 minutes/100 SMS/100MB - $21/month) and Airvoice (Pay As You Go - $10 every 90 days - effectively 70 minutes or messages in 90 days)... this would effectively give you Sprint as your primary network, Verizon as a fallback roaming network, and AT&T as an emergency fallback network.

That's the best suggestion I can make given the limited info provided. Hope it helps!
« Last Edit: December 13, 2012, 09:58:41 AM by I.P. Daley »

Bakari

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Re: Cell phone problems - weather (unfixable) or phone (fixable)?
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2012, 10:31:00 AM »
I don't know remotely as much about all this as IP, but I can say from experience that when in rural areas, I've always had reception with cheap phones on Verizon's CDMA network, even when the people around me with fancy smart phones (on other networks) had none. 
I'm not at all sure about this, but I suspect that in places that have not yet gotten upgrades, the old analogue signal is still there.  But only cheaper / older handsets still come in tri-mode (I never understood why "all-digital" was supposed to be a selling point)

If all else fails, you can always get a cell phone antenna and signal booster, put the receiver on your roof and the repeater in your living room.  A little pricy up front, but if it means you don't need any landline perhaps it would pay for itself eventually

herisff

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Re: Cell phone problems - weather (unfixable) or phone (fixable)?
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2012, 02:07:20 PM »
Thanks guys! I had a feeling it was more of a phone issue.

As for usage - since I rarely use it, I spend $100/yr to update the AT&T pre-paid account, and I always have plenty of minutes. I have been doing more traveling lately (to see the parent) but am still not using all of my cell minutes so far, but may start texting my sister & brother more.

I will re-read this later when my brain is more functional (was on call last night). Thanks again.

Daley

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Re: Cell phone problems - weather (unfixable) or phone (fixable)?
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2012, 10:13:33 PM »
I don't know remotely as much about all this as IP, but I can say from experience that when in rural areas, I've always had reception with cheap phones on Verizon's CDMA network, even when the people around me with fancy smart phones (on other networks) had none. 
I'm not at all sure about this, but I suspect that in places that have not yet gotten upgrades, the old analogue signal is still there.  But only cheaper / older handsets still come in tri-mode (I never understood why "all-digital" was supposed to be a selling point)

If all else fails, you can always get a cell phone antenna and signal booster, put the receiver on your roof and the repeater in your living room.  A little pricy up front, but if it means you don't need any landline perhaps it would pay for itself eventually

AMPS and TDMA (Digital AMPS/D-AMPS) went fully dark in 2008 here in North America. The reason why the older tri-mode AMPS/TDMA/CDMA phones work so well in rural areas is due to the old school antenna design and quality, something you just don't get anymore. I appreciate the wonderful world of what fractal antenna design has done to eliminate the rubber duckie antenna, but manufacturers are getting cheap and lazy with the technology as additional frequencies get piled on as is evident with manufacturers pushing up hard against SAR restrictions by pumping more wattage out of a catch-all fractal instead of using better discrete antennas that take more physical room to improve signal broadcast and reliability.

As for the whole digital transition, I do tend to agree that analog broadcast is far superior due to its graceful degradation of signal quality for communications, but it takes a large chunk of RF spectrum to send that signal. The reason for the change was one partly done out of necessity. Digital communications allow for far more simultaneous communications within the same spectrum and physical area than analog can support. Of course, the trade-off is range and quality with the transition, and the switch from NTSC to ATSC with television's a great example of this. Metro dwellers get great reception of the new digital broadcasts, but rural areas suffer. Back in the 1980's, my parents used to be able to pull in TV stations 80+ miles away across hilly terrain with a set of rabbit ears. It was snowy, but watchable. Now? A big-arsed directional yagi isn't enough short of hoisting a 100 foot lightning rod for it, and now they're stuck on satellite. Nobody has changed locations, just the signal.

Anyway... the booster and external antenna solution is one approach, but it's a bit of a sledgehammer solution. Better to try getting a different model phone that has a more reliable history of reception or switching carriers to an outfit that might have better coverage in an area first. Cheaper solutions. That sort of gear's best suited for techno-Thoreaus out in hill country.

Thanks guys! I had a feeling it was more of a phone issue.

As for usage - since I rarely use it, I spend $100/yr to update the AT&T pre-paid account, and I always have plenty of minutes. I have been doing more traveling lately (to see the parent) but am still not using all of my cell minutes so far, but may start texting my sister & brother more.

I will re-read this later when my brain is more functional (was on call last night). Thanks again.

Not a problem.

You'll note that the Android phone I namechecked (the Moto XPRT) is a no-nonsense business/enterprise Android model designed to make Blackberry fans happy (higher quality guts than most of the cheapo consumer phones, full keyboard for you) and can be picked up for around $50-75 these days. Given it's a CDMA/GSM hybrid, it could potentially work no matter what carrier you want to go with. Reception reports seem relatively favorable as well. I'll admit, it would have been the phone I'd have preferred over the Intercept the wife and I wound up with if P'tel had allowed BYOD.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2012, 10:17:59 PM by I.P. Daley »