Flippin' Cell Phones, How Do They Work?
January 24, 2014 9:08 AM   Subscribe

My phone suddenly can't get reception in the city but can get reception on the coast. How is that possible?

As of a couple weeks ago, my (admittedly old) cell phone no longer gets reception here in Portland, and just says "emergency calls only." My cell phone provider (Consumer Cellular) attempted to "boost the signal", but to no avail. On their recommendation, I also replaced the SIM card. Still doesn't work.

But! We took a trip to the coast the other weekend, and suddenly I could make calls and send text messages. What gives? I'm willing to accept that my phone is old and it's time to move on, but the fact that it works some places but not others just confuses me. Can anyone explain more about how cell phones and cell phone towers interact, and what could have changed to cause this?

If it matters, I'm on my parent's contract. They live about 15 miles away and have experienced no change in service.
posted by brisquette to Technology (4 answers total)
Best answer: They're probably starting to shut down the 2G radios/towers. Here's an example of an announcement from AT&T in 2012: http://gigaom.com/2012/03/02/is-att-sunsetting-its-2g-networks-as-well/

It would make sense that carriers would kill off the old tech first in dense urban areas, because that's where the towers have the most traffic to contend with and will get the most benefit to freeing up the radio spectrum for newer signal types (3g, 4g).
posted by frontmn23 at 9:16 AM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wild guess: CC leases space on AT&T's network, they're rolling out LTE (4g) service. Your phone isn't even 3g capable, AT&T may be reapportioning their towers in Portland and reducing their 2g footprint which is negatively affecting you. They may not have gotten to the towers near the coast yet, but they will eventually.

Time for a new phone. If you want the absolute best bang for your buck in a cheap smartphone, get a Moto G
posted by Oktober at 9:16 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your phone is a little radio receiver. It gets reception when it's close to a radio station (a cell tower). If the people who own the towers take out old ones and put in new ones that use a different technology, then your phone will no longer be near any towers it knows how to listen to.

Just pretend it was an AM radio and there was a big push on the part of radio stations to move to FM. You'd stop being able to find anything to listen to on AM in certain parts of the world pretty quickly, and others would take longer.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:38 AM on January 24, 2014

Response by poster: A-HA! That makes so much sense. I'm a little annoyed that the cell phone people didn't have that information for me either time I called, but now that I know the reason, I can move on with life, and with a new phone.
posted by brisquette at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2014

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