text vs voice required signal strength
March 27, 2011 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Is less signal strength required for sending/receiving texts versus voice calls?

I find myself in those 1/2-bar situations a lot, where the phone thinks it can make a call but cant - would there be better luck of sending/receiving texts then? I mostly encounter this in hiking/backpacking situations where im trying to check-in, if that matters. (my work pays for a phone with texting disabled so I cant just test)
posted by H. Roark to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Anecdotally, I'm often able to send texts when calls are dropped due to poor signal strength. I don't have actual numbers on how much signal is required for either, though.
posted by estlin at 8:42 PM on March 27, 2011

Digital is digital.

That said, a text requires less bandwidth and terminates after sending, so if the connection is intermittent, a text might go through when a call would be interrupted.
posted by orthogonality at 8:43 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Generally yes, texts are more likely to go through in areas with spotty coverage. However, texts are not guaranteed delivery. Most phones try to tell you if they were able to send but there is no way to know for sure that the text was received. If you are trying to check in while hiking a text is better than nothing but you shouldn't expect it was received unless you get a reply.
posted by IronSurfer at 8:47 PM on March 27, 2011

From experience, yes. At my grandma's house I can get about 1 bar if I hold my phone right in the right room. I can send/receive texts decently there. The chance of being able to make a phone call is about nil. I'm not sure how much this has to do with signal strength versus reliability though.
posted by DJWeezy at 9:35 PM on March 27, 2011

To draw an analogy with a wifi router: as you get further away from it, you may still be able to communicate with it, though owing to errors creeping in you can only do so at a lower data transfer rate. Similarly, voice calls require a higher bandwidth than texts. That's why you tend to get garbly reception before a call is dropped - errors creeping in. Texts on the other hand need only send a few hundred bytes of data. Anecdotally, I have an iPhone and notice it takes longer to send a text in poor signal - something I attribute to the phone and the tower asking each other "Did you get that correctly?" as they negotiate a reasonable data rate at which errors can be corrected.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:25 PM on March 27, 2011

I have texting enabled on our workphones for this very reason. So people can check in in remote areas without using the sat phone. It's pretty amazing where you can text if you stand on the top of a hill.
posted by fshgrl at 10:28 PM on March 27, 2011

You might be interested in the explanation given in this article: In an Emergency, Why Cellular Data Is Better Than Voice.
posted by Houstonian at 1:16 AM on March 28, 2011

Seconding Houstonian, I came in to post that article too.
posted by mnfn at 1:40 AM on March 28, 2011

For GSM networks, texts piggy back on the network status announcements; if you have any signal at all, a text will probably get through. You can also set your phone to request delivery receipts for texts (in the UK, these usually cost an extra "text" if you have a limited allowance of the things).

A voice call requires not only data connectivity, but some limit on packet loss between you and the cell base station. A text only needs to get a single packet through & can retry as often as it needs to until it gets a response.
posted by pharm at 2:41 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah I was going to mention the GSM thing. A text is just adding some data to your phones ordinary pings it does with the tower, so if you have any signal, you should be able to send a text.
posted by delmoi at 2:48 AM on March 28, 2011

we have no reception throughout our house, yet are very surprised to sometimes get texts. Dunno how that happens, but it tells me that texts are getting through when a call wouldn't connect.
posted by wilful at 3:39 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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