Who’s to Blame for Poor Smartphone Reception?

Carl Weinschenk

Many of the problems smartphone users experience are caused by the phones and not the networks on which they ride according to a report from Strand Consult. The network operators generally get the blame, but Strand says that service providers are forced to sign gag orders that prevent them from discussing device performance.

Unanswered is whether the scenario of phones failing and operators unable to rightfully assign blame is a worldwide phenomenon.

Assuming that this is happening worldwide, it is a bit of a big deal. Strand is reacting to a report done by the Danish Telecommunications Industry Association that looked at “mobile black holes.” The finding was that they are pervasive and much more common in the case of smartphones than feature phones. Assuming that the findings are true, Strand’s press release states the obvious:

"… today's complicated smartphone technologies are increasingly the reason for mobile black holes, not the operator's network.”

The contractual relationship between two parties is largely off limits to prying eyes. It seems a bit un-American to have a contract in which one party is forbidden from expressing its thoughts. It is not all that uncommon, however.

The specific point to consider is what is being done to alleviate these issues. The main driver of the small cell industry – picocells, femtocells and other types of small base stations that work in concert with the macrocells with which we are familiar – is to save money and stretch bandwidth by offloading traffic from cellular to wireless platforms. The industry sector is getting hot. An oft-cited side benefit is improving coverage, particularly indoors. Therefore, at least to some extent, the industry is addressing the shortfall. Having the signal source a few feet away will make up for a lot of poor design choices.

Such a challenge also drives innovation. Bloomberg Businessweek reports on a clever approach by Ericsson to small cells. It is reminiscent of radio antennas embedded within vehicle’s windshield:

Basically, a small antenna element is embedded into a pane of shielded glass. That antenna can pick up Wi-Fi or cellular signals from nearby phones, tablets, and laptops and then aggregate those connections, sending them as a combined transmission to the nearest LTE cell tower.

The old days in which equipment and networks were tested almost to a fault are over. Way over.  The pace of change and the need to get products out the door and into the stores quickly means that the finished products will have rough edges. The ideal scenario is to employ testers that find and buff these rough edges before the public is bothered. Today, however, the real testing program is run by consumers, who report their findings in the form of angry phone calls and social media posts. This reality is one of many subtexts of the DTIA’s findings.

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