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What causes weak cell phone signal and dropped calls?

Poor cell phone signal is a very common problem: the majority of our customers come to Waveform looking for a solution to their own, very specialized, cell signal problems. A common situation is a home or office with few or no signal bars and frequently dropped calls. Whether or not a repeater can help in this situation depends on the cause of the problem - which you the customer can usually determine quite easily.

Bad cell phone reception is an ubiquitous problem across the United States, and the causes of bad signal fall under two categories: localized poor coverage due to building materials or destructive interference, and geographical distance from or obstacles between your phone and the nearest cell tower.

Lets deal with the latter first. Say you live in the middle of a desert, miles from a town or major road. If you are physically too far away from the nearest cell tower, and have to drive a couple of miles to get a signal, a repeater is unlikely to be able to help you, because it cannot create a signal where one does not exist already. Similarly, if you live on the side of a mountain, and the cell tower is on the other side of that mountain, a repeater is not likely to able to pick up a strong enough signal through that obstacle to improve your coverage.

So geographical reception barriers are often insurmountable. Fortunately, they are relatively rare. The cause of your bad cell signal is far more likely to be due to the construction materials used in your home or office, or destructive interference from the buildings around you. Cellular signals have a hard time passing through metal and concrete within the walls of your home. That’s why you might gain two or three bars of signal by hanging out of an upstairs window. Obviously, you can’t make all your cell phone calls like that (!), but you can set up a cell repeater there, magnifying the good signal to an internal antennae within the walls of your house and bypassing the ‘blocking’ effect of the building walls. Many buildings also use a wire mesh in their construction called a Faraday cage. This mesh blocks external static electricity fields, meaning that cell phone signals cannot get through.

Destructive interference runs along similar lines and is a particular problem in built-up areas. If you can’t get a signal in your Manhattan apartment, it’s obviously not because Cingular/Sprint/Verizon etc coverage is poor there. In cities, cell signals will be reflected from walls and other barriers and many separate signals will be found traveling in different directions. These different signals will interact with each other and some of these can be diminished in strength, which results in weaker cell signal for you. Luckily in these cases you will probably be able to get a reasonable signal nearby, and so again, a cellular repeater is an excellent solution. This article from has more on bad cell reception in city apartments.

A good rule of thumb is the following: if you can get a signal outside your home or office, but not inside, the problem is likely to be one of localized bad coverage which can be improved by a cellular repeater. Everyone's situation is different though, and if you have any doubts, contact us to discuss your case in detail.