What are cell towers

No bars? Here you will find everything that can affect the signal strength of your mobile phone

The cell signal is weird. In a moment you could have five bars, but go a few feet and it falls to two. In my house the signal is terrible downstairs, but it's perfect upstairs. There is a lot going on in receiving cells. So let's look at some of the most important factors that affect this.

Your distance from a cell tower

Your cell phone communicates via radio waves, which get weaker the more atmosphere you have to go through. This means that the distance you are from a cell tower can be one of the most important factors. A more powerful transmitter can continue to send the signal, but of course there is a limit to how big a radio can be in a modern smartphone.

According to Outside, a cell phone can theoretically reach a tower that, under ideal circumstances, is 75 km away. However, due to the way cell phones work, the real limit is 35 km, even under perfect circumstances.

In a city the distance probably won't be that great, but out in the backcountry or when driving between cities it will be one of the most important. If you are too far from a tower, all you can do is make one move for a better signal.

Any terrain that is in the way

Radio waves travel in a straight line from your phone to the cell tower. If something big is in the way, like a hill or a mountain range, the radio waves cannot reach the tower. In the place where I live, one side of the main hill has great reception as you can see the tower at the top. The other side of the hill has terrible reception because you can't. Instead, our phones connect to a tower about 10 miles away, not the tower they can see less than a mile away.

In a city this is not so problematic because:

  • Small radio antennas are usually installed all over the city so that the signal never goes too far.
  • Radio waves bounce and ricochet off buildings, helping them move in the way.
  • Other wave effects like diffraction.

While certain buildings and structures can affect the signal, it's not as harsh as in rural areas with high terrain.

Be inside

While the terrain isn't that important in cities, the stuff between you and the cell towers sure is fine. Concrete, steel, and most other building materials are excellent at blocking cell signals. The reason your cellphone receives reception in the basement is that your phone can only get to the tower through concrete.

Once you are up an upstairs signal, your cell phone will most likely return. In this case, the strongest radio signal leaves the windows and bends (basically spreading in all directions) so it still reaches a tower.

If you are in the house and have a bad signal, stepping into your front yard or balcony can go a long way towards this.

The weather

So radio waves propagate through the atmosphere and other things moving through the atmosphere, such as raindrops, dust particles, and ionized particles, can get in the way. When you're in the middle of a thunderstorm, your cell signal will drop as the pouring rain and ions disrupt the thunderstorm. You almost always have a better signal on a clear day than in rain or fog.

Other users on the network

Cell towers are only designed for a certain number of connections at the same time. Most of the time, they have more than enough capacity for everyone who wants to use their phone.

However, if you've noticed your signal dropping when the clock turns at midnight on New Year's Eve, or when you're in a soccer stadium full of people, this is why: an unusually large number of people are loading the tower.

This can be done in two ways. First, a normal number of people in an area may decide that they want to use their phones at the same time, e.g. B. on New Year's Eve or in emergencies. Second, there would be an abnormally high number of people all huddled in one area and using their phones normally. A cell tower near a football stadium can serve 50,000 people six days a week, but it may have to serve 100,000 people on game day.

The speed at which you are moving

When you use your cell phone, it sends both signals to the cell tower and receives them back. The radio waves travel incredibly fast, so this usually happens without any problems. However, if you are moving at speed, your constant changes in position can affect signal quality.

As soon as you go above 60 mph you will begin to see a drop in the signal. After a few hundred miles an hour, your phone is having trouble working. If you've ever turned your phone on before landing and noticed that you won't receive notifications until you've actually been there, this is one of the reasons.


The cell signal is a complex thing. There are always a lot of small factors that disturb it. This is why one corner of your house is a dead end but another has a good signal.

Photo credit: Craig Lloyd / Flickr