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May 10, 2011 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Cell phone reception is crappy in my neighborhood. Might switching providers help, or should I invest in an antenna/repeater as recommended in other Askmes?

In my apartment, as well as when I'm just walking around the neighborhood, I flit between three and zero bars (usually closer to the latter) and calls drop a LOT. Additionally, people complain about not being able to hear me well when I am connected.

If I go to other neighborhoods, zoop! Up to five bars and no problems with dropped calls or bad sound quality.

So the problem does not appear to be with my phone (Pantech).

My carrier is AT&T. I'm willing to switch but not without more information.

Does switching stand to make any kind of difference? If the problem is that my nieghborhood isn't close enough to a phone tower, then it seems like switching would be pointless. However, I know that different carriers use different networks, so maybe my bolded presumption is incorrect.

If it IS incorrect, then how can I find out which carrier has the best service in my area? If I call the different carriers or go to their stores I'm sure they will all tell me yeah, they have great coverage out there.

"Out there" is Old East Dallas, so color me annoyed that I live in a big city proper and can't get good cell phone reception.

(Excuses self to go watch the famous "Everything is Amazing and Nobody is Happy" Louis CK bit.)
posted by mreleganza to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If the problem is that my neighborhood isn't close enough to a phone tower, then it seems like switching would be pointless.

Your neigborhood isn't close enough to an AT&T phone tower, but that says nothing about other carriers' towers. They don't all use the same towers, you know.

Borrow phones from your friends and see what the reception is like on various carriers.

I'd bet on Verizon, personally.
posted by kindall at 10:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try calling AT&T and telling them you're considering cancelling service due to bad reception in your home. I did this with Sprint and they sent me this thing for free. It works like a charm. That wouldn't solve the problem when you're outside your home, of course.

If they can't help you, just throw a barbecue, tell your friends to bring their cell phones, and check everyone's service while they're at your house.
posted by something something at 10:44 AM on May 10, 2011

Yes, switching providers can absolutely help. They don't all simply re-sell the same service through the same towers. In fact, some types are even mutually incompatible with one another; Google "cdma vs tdma" for various summaries. Sprint and Verizon presently use CDMA; T-Mobile and ATT presently use GSM/TDMA. There can even be a difference between T-Mobile and ATT, however.
posted by rkent at 10:52 AM on May 10, 2011

Not sure how accurate this site is, but a quick Google search pulled up www.cellreception.com, which shows the location and owner of the cell towers in your area, so you can check to see whose tower is the closest.

This is a tricky thing, because even though another carrier may technically own the closest tower to you, AT&T might be using that same tower as their main access point for your radius. This is common practice in the wireless industry as all carriers just pay a wholesale per-minute rate to any other carrier with towers of the same technology (CDMA, GSM, HSPA+, etc). That's how carriers can offer you "nationwide" coverage without actually investing in towers every square mile all over the country.

ON TOP OF THAT, AT&T has pretty wacky roaming rules -- if you're using a non-AT&T-asset tower for more than 50% of your calls, they reserve the right to kick you off their network and release you from your contract (at no cost to you, but, still, annoying). This happened to me early last decade after AT&T bought Cingular: I was living in a rural area in Michigan (so all my calls were on a "shared" tower) and they sent me a letter politely declining my business. Still, I'm a glutton for punishment, so once I moved to downtown Chicago, I went right back to AT&T, mostly because my phone equipment was compatible with their network.

Here's the story of why AT&T instated that particular rule (as told to me by a then-Cingular VP): The CEO of AT&T Wireless was hosting a party at his getaway ranch in rural Texas, and everyone at the party was showing him how cool their new AT&T phones were, and how great his company was, etc. It dawned on him that every single person there was technically roaming outside the AT&T-asset network, and how much that was costing his company by offering nationwide no-roaming contracts (remember that carriers pay a per-minute rate for shared tower use). So, the next week he introduced the 50% policy, and a month later I was dismissed as a customer.
posted by firstcity_thirdcoast at 11:01 AM on May 10, 2011

I have the same problem and did the same thing as something something except that I didn't even complain and ATT sent me their version of a micro cell for free. It works fine within about a 40 foot radius, can handle up to 10 different phones (you program in the numbers over the internet; 3 or 4 can be in use at once) and you have to have a broadband internet connection. Within those limitations it is good, and as I said, they gave it to me even though it has a list price of 150 dollars. I have heard of others getting discounts of 50 or 100 dollars in some cases.
posted by TedW at 11:07 AM on May 10, 2011

I switched from AT&T to Verizon when the latter got the iPhone.

My voice quality at home is now much better. My data quality at work is FAR worse.

It's like shooting fish in a barrel.
posted by tremspeed at 11:17 AM on May 10, 2011

wait no, not fish in a barrel. Please recommend a suitable idiom. But yeah.
posted by tremspeed at 11:18 AM on May 10, 2011

Another vote for micro cells. I've had mine for a year and have been very pleased.

Note that these are *not* repeaters. They terminate the cell phone call right there in your house and run the voice data over your existing internet connection.

(disclosure: I've worked on the software for micro cells)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2011

I did the same thing with AT&T. I told them I'd been soooo happy for two years but my new apartment was dismal. They started with a $50 discount on the $200 device but then it became free magically. The range gets me out to my car before cutting off and my sound quality is way up.
posted by katybird at 2:11 PM on May 10, 2011

The key here is trying out each carrier's system. Most cell phone providers offer a 30 day trial run. Subscribe to Company "A" and immediately go home. If it works, keep it. If not, go back the next day and return the phone and cancel. Repeat until you find your carrier. Tell the customer rep behind the counter exactly what you are going to do. If you get any flak, scratch them off the list. I did this when a Verizon engineer came out to my house and couldn't a signal. Where I am the best service was US Cellular. Who knew?

Also tell them you want to port your old number over to your new phone, but not until you have done your test. Most providers will figure out how to do this if the trial period is super short.
posted by Old Geezer at 4:22 PM on May 10, 2011

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