As many as 4,500 total miles of roads in Britain are completely out of range of a mobile phone network according to a RAC survey. As many as 14,500 miles of roads don’t even offer 3G coverage for high-speed networks. In a well-developed country like the UK, you wouldn’t expect this type of “basic necessity” to be lacking. Yet, the infrastructure is.
As a digitally dominated society, we’ve become so used to being always connected. If you even go to an area where there’s a lack of mobile signal, it can be beyond frustrating. It can be very uncomfortable when you don’t have access to one. What is even more frustrating is that you can find your mobile signal disappear even inside of a building in the middle of a busy and well-connected city. This is an area where you would expect it to be strong unlike in the middle of nowhere.
The truth is, that mobile phone networks are complicated. Likewise, the infrastructure that supports them is very expensive and complex. With a single mobile phone network having a significant number of subscribers, you can only imagine the work that is done to keep one up and running. In the UK alone, there are over 90 million subscribers. There are an estimated 7 plus billion people throughout the world. Because of this, mobile networks and their related infrastructure is one of the more expensive and reliable electronic systems on the globe.
A mobile phone network uses the microwave part of the spectrum. This is a frequency ranging from 800MHz to 2.2GHz. These frequencies do a good job of reaching long distances in open spaces. However, they don’t do a great job of generating dense and thick barriers like steel walls. They also don’t reach well around corners. Keeping this in mind, it’s much easier to understand why it can be easy to find yourself with the dreaded “no signal” sign.
The city has a lot of different surfaces inside it. These surfaces can do things like absorb, reflect, and even scatter the frequencies. Worst of all, the way it does these things can be unpredictable. Therefore, it can be difficult to properly place base stations to improve repeated signals throughout the city. While it’s easy in open conditions with no clutter. It’s much more difficult in a dense city with a lot of construction and development. This is particularly true in cities that have large buildings and tall buildings. It only gets worse when these buildings are made out of reflective materials. These materials can introduce the dreaded “dead zones” into the picture where these signals are blocked.
There is something that occurs when you walk inside a building. The microwave frequencies need to penetrate the walls to reach your phone’s antenna. All of the materials it must pass through can absorb the energy which can reduce your signal along the way.
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While you may be willing to accept that you don’t get a reliable connection when you are inside a steel building, what about the times when you are out in the middle of nowhere in the countryside? The problem with being in the countryside has to do with the lack of infrastructure. You don’t have any base stations around you. Basetsations are used to offer complete coverage. The infrastructure for mobile phones is paid for and developed by commercial companies. They generally don’t invest in areas where there are too few people to pay for the service.
Similar problems affect the mobile signal when you are traveling by train or by different roads. There are usually not sufficient base stations close to where you are located at the time. Thus, your phone doesn’t get the signal it needs. This can make your coverage while traveling on a train patchy and sporadic. This is primarily because the base stations are so far apart from one another. Or because the base stations don’t support newer technology. These base stations tend to struggle when the phone that is attempting to gain a signal is traveling too fast. This forces the mobile phone to constantly have to look for and connect to new stations. This makes it much more likely to suffer from a call disconnect. Even the metal on the train could present a problem because it can act as a shield for frequency transmission.
Dead zones could become a thing of the past by blanketing the entire country with antennas. While it wouldn’t help dead zones deep in buildings, it would solve all dead zones outdoors. However, this type of strategy would cost over £5 billion to cover even 90% of the entire UK. Thus, it is impractical due to the substantial infrastructure costs.