No cell coverage in our new home. What to do?
September 22, 2006 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Our cell phones don't get coverage in our new home. Can I get out of my contract, and how do I find out who had coverage for our street/area?

We just moved one mile down the road and now we don't have cell phone coverage (we're lucky if we can get one bar and that's on a good day).

We contacted T-mobile and all they said was that they'd let the field technicians know, but that doesn't guarantee that they'll do anything about it and they won't let us out of our contract.

Now we're stuck with two cell phones that don't get coverage in our home.

My questions are...

1) Is it possible that we can get our of our cell phone contract because of no coverage - has anyone done this before?

2) If we CAN get out of our cell phone contract, how do I find out who has coverage for this area - I'm guessing very few. I've gone to verizon and cingular coverage maps and they don't give good detail about local coverage.
posted by mgarnhum to Technology (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you've moved only one mile, and had coverage before, it's possible that you are still getting a signal, but it's too weak for your phone.

So, you might try getting a more expensive phone that has better hardware for ow signals.

Or, you can get signal repeater, which sits on your roof with a very nice attenna and then rebroadcast the cell phone company's signal into your home.

I don't have specific suggestions for a new phone or a repeater.
posted by about_time at 4:44 AM on September 22, 2006

1. I don't think so. The maps they tout on their websites all have disclaimers about how your reception may not be exactly what's represented and such. I have the same problem, but I knew my house was notorious for being in a cell dead-zone, so I tested out various phone company offerings using their per-month plan. It's more per month than a yearly contract, but the good thing is that you can cancel it at the end of the month if you find it doesn't work.

2. See #1.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:49 AM on September 22, 2006

I should clarify: it's more per month than a yearly contract would calculate to per month. About $50 a month, instead of $35.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:51 AM on September 22, 2006

As to #1, read your contract. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that no, you cannot get out of your contract for this. If it bothers you that much, you can pay $100 or whatever it is to get out and go with a different company.

The easiest way to determine what's working around you is to talk to your neighbors. Ask them if they have a phone and if so, what carrier and how the coverage is.
posted by unixrat at 5:00 AM on September 22, 2006

No help on 1, but as for 2, I believe that most cell phone companies will give 30 days (or so) to try out your new plan risk free. If it doesn't work at your house, return it. At least this is what Cingular was willing to do a couple years ago.
posted by Xalf at 5:00 AM on September 22, 2006

This may be some help on #1. For #2 you could have a few friends who have different carrriers try out their phones at your new house.
posted by fhqwhgads at 5:38 AM on September 22, 2006

It might be the phone, esp. if it's a non-US phone running on GSM, or GSM/CDMA phone.

There are four lights GSM frequency bands -- 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 Mhz. Actually, there are six, with 400 and 450Mhz, but I don't know anyone actually using the last two.

Ideally, we would have had 400Mhz, 850Mhz and 1800Mhz (or 450,900,1900, or something like that.) The problem is that many countries already had assignments in a particular frequency band, so you couldn't pick one true band.

There are two different modes. GSM is the most popular around the world. CDMA was the most popular in the US (one reason -- CDMA has a big range advantage, important for covering the US highway system.)

Because of this, and of the different propogation modes between an 850Mhz signal and an 1900Mhz signal, most countries picked a couple of bands. In Europe, they picked 900 and 1800. In the US, we orginally only had 1900, with the world going digital, the old 850MHz analog cell band was alotted to digital, and of course, we had the big "GSM or Not?" question.

So, what phone do you buy? Depends. If you never leave North America, an 850/1900MHZ dual band phone is correct. If you do, you want at least a tri band phone. In NA, these are normally 850/1900/1800. In Europe, they're often 900/1800/1900, but some are 850/900/1900. Thus, the rub.

Most carriers in the US pushed out 1900Mhz cells. 850Mhz cells came later -- the lower frequency is better for "umbrella" cells used to cover large rural areas. If you have a triband phone that cover 850/1800/1900, or a US dual band phone, it's not an issue. If you have a Euro 850/900/1900 phone, you may find that you just don't get signal in lots of places. You're blanketed by them, but your phone just can't talk.

(The current ultimate answer for GSM is Quad-Band phones.)

So. First test -- does it work just outside? Is the singal weak there? Then you're in a weak spot on the bands that phone covers. Find out what bands that phone covers.

Second, look at the settings. Motorola Triband and Quadbands often are able to shut down a block (either 850/1900 or 900/1800) if you wish, to extend battery life. Try setting that to Automatic.

Third. Borrow a quadband phone. If anyone you know has a Motorola V500 or V600, I know those are both quad band. Put your SIM into the phone, so it tries to talk to the same towers your phone would. If these phone get a good signal, the problem is the phone you have doesn't cover the band that the tower nearby is working, and the answer is a different phone.

IIf the signal is still weak or dead, you're in a dead zone, and the answer is a different provider or a dual-mode phone. There aren't many, but there are some GSM/CDMA cells phones out there that can talk to both. The fast trick to tell is all GSM capable phones have a SIM -- the Subscriber Identity Module. This is a little tiny card that goes into the phone, usually into a socket under the battery. If you have one, your phone talks GSM, and a CDMA capable phone may be the answer. If you don't, your phone talks only CDMA, and a GSM phone may be the answer.

If you can post the phone make and model, we can probably find out what it talks to.
posted by eriko at 5:51 AM on September 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have absolutely nothing to back this up other than my own experience, but it may be your house itself. Three different cell phone carriers are unable to maintain a signal within my parents' condo, but walk out onto the porch (or even stand in front of an the open door) and suddenly you've got 5 bars. Our guess is that something in the way the condo is constructed is blocking the signal.

Have a friend with a different carrier try to get a signal within the house - if they can't get a signal, maybe you've got the same problem.
posted by xsquared-1 at 5:52 AM on September 22, 2006

T-Mobile won't do anything for you in that situation. They have some fine print in their contract that says they're not responsible for reception abnormalities inside buildlings. Because, you know, we only ever care about reception outside, because we only talk outside, right?

Anyway, it's total b.s., but when I was a T-mobile customer, they were pretty good about investigating the situation. Of course, they just came back with "we're looking at putting a new tower nearby in the next 6 months".

That doesn't help, though.

Here are your options, in my opinion.

1. Wait and see what their "investigation" turns up. Ask what they suggest you do.

2. You could try and get a different cell phone. I don't think you're going to have too much luck on this front, though. It's worth a shot, as it'd probably be less trouble than options 3 and 4. Try before you buy, though. Or buy and return. Whatever.

3. Look into getting a repeater. More details here, and here.

4. If T-Mobile isn't worth the money you'd fork over for a repeater, maybe switching services would be a good plan. Of course, there's that pesky termination fee. But then again, there's Cell Trade USA
posted by jeffxl at 6:43 AM on September 22, 2006

I use T-Mobile and the quality of the signal seems to change day by day (or even hour by hour). It can go from an almost perfect signal to no signal. However, if I leave my house and walk about 30 steps, the signal will be clear again. I decided to solve this problem by getting a SkypeIn account (about $30 a year for a number) and forwarding my cell phone to that number (since I don't have a home phone) when the signal is questionable.

This solution is not perfect, but it works for now.
posted by toddst at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2006

how do I find out who has coverage for this area?

Some carriers (Telus, for example) will allow you to sign out a 'loaner' phone for a day or two to try it out. Go in person to some carriers' stores and inquire if such a service is available.
posted by raedyn at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2006

I certainly got out a contract with Cingular for having poor to no service. I had to call and call and wait on hold for weeks, but finally I got them to cancel the contract. BUT, I not only did not have service at my house, but there was also no service on my street and up to a block from my house. They said they had to send out technicians and I am unclear as to whether they did, but I just kept excellent notes of the conversations I had and with whom and what they said. Eventually they probably just got sick of talking to me and let me out.

And the coverage map they had did certainly cover where I was living.
posted by sulaine at 7:41 AM on September 22, 2006

Sometimes you just can't get a lock on the new tower until you turn your phone off and turn it back on.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:42 AM on September 22, 2006

I remember reading an interesting essay online about how to get your carrier to drop you: basically it revolved around finding a location from which all your calls were roaming calls (on a different network), and making a lot of calls from that location.

Couldn't find that in a search, but I did find this.
posted by adamrice at 7:52 AM on September 22, 2006

I'm not sure about T Mobile, but I used to work customer service for Sprint U.S. and they had a policy where if your home was in an actually dead zone according to their coverage maps, you could be released from your contract. Of course, that means that their coverage maps had to be accurate, but I was there for almost a year and never encountered someone who said they couldn't get any coverage on their property and the system said they should.
posted by DecemberRaine at 8:58 AM on September 22, 2006

You might also see if you can update your roaming list, if that is an option with T-mobile & GSM.

With Verizon, the phones are programed with a list of tower operators that Verizon has a business arrangement with. Their phones will preferentially connect to those towers, even if there might be another operator with tower with a better signal within range. The thing is, this information goes out of date, so it's good to update it every 6 months or so. With Verizon, you can do it by dialing *228 while on their network.
posted by Good Brain at 9:07 AM on September 22, 2006

I just switched to T-Mobile (from Cingular)--primarily for their data plan (I don't have cable or land line service). I ended up buying an amplifier on ebay for ~$250 (inc. antennas). I tested it and was able to get about a 50% (of max) signal with it (w/o was one bar to none). Plus it's a mobile unit so I can also use it in my car. It might be an option for you.
posted by MikeKD at 4:34 PM on September 22, 2006

adamrice, were you thinking of the story about Cingular on Consumerist?
posted by evariste at 12:40 AM on September 23, 2006

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