When there are severe weather conditions – whether it’s thunder, heavy rain, or thick clouds, cellphone coverage usually gets spotty and data speed slows down. Sometimes it gets so slow that you can’t even open your WhatsApp messages without delays.
But do you actually know why?
Why do we face issues of slow network, bad call quality, or bad internet during severe weather conditions?
To understand this better, here is a brief explanation for it.
What is a cellphone signal?
First, think of radio. Yes, that old traditional radio thingy.
Radio wave is basically a type of light (part of the electromagnetic spectrum) that we simply cannot see, but we can create devices to detect it. Physicists have discovered that this particular type of wave has properties that can be manipulated in so many ways to create all sorts of signals which can be converted to electrical signals.
Engineers have gotten really good with manipulating radio signals to carry different kinds of information for various purposes. That would enable:
- TV broadcasting
- Satellite communications
- Creating remote controls
- Enabling GPS devices
- WiFi networks
- 3G & 4G services
- Mobile services
- Studying deep space
- Even your microwave oven and so many more things.
Radio waves come in different frequencies and each frequency band enables different kinds of information broadcasting:
- AM Radio has an average frequency of about 1000 kilohertz
- FM Radio has an average frequency of about 100 megahertz
- Your home internet router has a frequency range between 2.4 gigahertz to 5.8 gigahertz
- 4G cellphone service providers broadcast radio signal at around 1 gigahertz per second
Of course, there are so many more frequencies, but you get the idea.
In simpler words, cellphones are basically fancy and more advanced radio devices with interactive nobs.
Longer distance disrupt radio signals
Let’s say you are going into the woods. Driving some 150km away from the city deep inside some forest in the outskirts of your city, you began to notice that you’re getting less and less signal bars on your phone.
At a certain point far away from the towers, signal will be GONE completely.
This is simply because:
- The longer you travel, more of earth’s curvature affects the quality of the signal (But this takes really long distances, not like 150km).
- Geographical obstacles and trees can also affect the quality of mobile signals.
This is why we need cellphone towers built in different locations to create a grid that would allow us to cover a much greater area of land.
Also, these communication towers have to be located at higher altitudes like hills, skyscrapers, or even build higher and taller structures to house them.
Of course, there are central reception stations that relay data to telecommunications satellites for inter-continental communications.
Keep in mind though that atmospheric conditions (weather, for example), transmission power of the tower, and other factors do effect the distance and quality of signal transmission.
The effect of weather
Signal comes and goes even when we are in proximity to communication towers, like in the city.
“But hey! I thought it is bad when we go far?! Now you’re telling me it can be bad even in the city?” one might ask.
Well, hold on. Clouds, water vapor, rain, and air temperature can also have an impact on your signal reception.
Water vapor and rain:
Because water conducts electricity, and signal cannot travel in it, rain and water vapor in the atmosphere cause signal interruptions by reflecting the signal and distorting it.
In other words, big drops of rain can reduce the quality of signal transmission between the tower and your cellphone.
Luckily, this issue isn’t as frequent as it used to be, thanks to engineers who study hard and develop better technologies.
Humidity changes when temperature changes. The sun has the main effect on changes in day-to-day temperature (we are not talking about climate, we are talking about daily weather).
Higher humidity in the atmosphere will affect the act of bouncing signals through the ionosphere and back to the receivers. Air layers may have various temperature depending on their respective altitude and this means there will be different levels of humidity and air density.
Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones
These types of extreme weather events have a combination of strong wind, heavy rain (big drops), thick clouds at varying altitudes, thunderstorms (which cause electric interference), variations of atmospheric pressure and humidity, areas of depression and other factors.
These factors can have significant impact on mobile signal services. The technical term is known as Propagation Delay.
Additionally, weather also impacts the equipment related to signal transmission and radio broadcasting. If something got damaged, there will be signal interruption.
Why is it important to understand this?
1. This will impact your service quality
If you are traveling away from the city, heading towards the desert or deep in the woods or some jungle, you will experience poor connectivity – it gets worse as you get farther away from populated areas
2. Different providers have different frequencies and coverage areas
Some services providers have larger coverage areas. This means that you might receive a coverage from a different provider even if you are far away from the city. Also, this is to prevent interference in signals from different providers.
3. This will affect your roaming capabilities
If you are in Canada (for example), you might need to know that there are mainly three mobile network operators Rogers, Bell, and Telus. If you are using roaming services like Flexiroam X, and are travelling around Canada, you can easily switch your service provider to get the coverage you want.
4. Cellphone tracking in emergencies
There are many ways to track cellphone locations, or at least measure the approximation of the presence of a cellphone in a specific location. But there is a very useful method to get that done, which is by using service towers. It is a little complicated to explain here due to the technical aspects, but you can check other sources.
Bonus: you can check global mobile service coverage based on tracking tower signals. Select the country, service provider and you will have the map of coverage. It is a great way for you to plan and understand coverage areas around the world.
As technology gets increasingly advanced, better solutions will be in place to overcome the effect of weather, the size of area coverage and network flexibility.
These days, the effect of usual weather conditions like average rain doesn’t impact our phone signals as much. But storms still do have significant impact. The stronger the storm, the more intense the impact it has on the signal and mobile coverage.
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