Mobile Signal Strength and Coverage
Teragence, Signal Checker and Cell Coverage
1. Teragence and its Mobile Network Coverage Mapping Products
2. Mobile network technologies
Accessing the dBm signal strength value on your phone can be easily done. How depends on the type of phone you are using. On Android you can access the information via the Settings Menu ->Status (or SIM Card Status). On IOS the procedure is a bit more complicated and you need to access the Field Test Application. This video tells you how (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_r-yk07T9U).
There is also a variety of apps which you can download to get more detailed information. Of course, all this will only enable you to ascertain the signal strength at your current location. If you want to know what signal you can expect at a location without actually going there, you can always use our Teragence Signal Checker and verify the signal strength without leaving your desk.
Operators worldwide have announced they will sunset their 2G and 3G networks. Usually the timescales for 3G shutdown are much more aggressive then those for 2G, but in most countries these networks will have disappeared by the end of the decade latest. More information about specific timescales for specific operators and countries can be found here: https://velosiot.com/2g-3g-sunset-overview
A celltower is ID’d through its CGI (“Cell Global Identifier”), a code which consists of a number of elements. The most important ones are:
- RAT: Radio Access Technology – for example “LTE” for 4G and “NR” for 5G.
- MCC: Mobile Country code – identifies the country in which the tower is located. For example, 234 is the MCC for the UK.
- NC: Mobile Network code – identifies the network operator. For example, in the UK EE is identified by MNC 30.
- LAC or TAC: Location Are Code to Tracking Area code: identifies the region where the celltower is located.
- CID or ECI: this is the code which actually identified the celltower.
The above is a somewhat simplified definition of things. For more detail we refer to detailed technical literature.
Teragence does not provide information about the location of a celltower. However, we very precise information about the coverage area of any given celltower- which is arguably the more relevant bit of information.
Signal strength is a measure of the strength of the radio signal your phone (or other device) is receiving. It is expressed in dBm (“DeciBels at 1 Milliwatt”). Most consumers understand it as the “the number of bars on my phone”. A useful (but not entirely accurate – every analogy breaks down somewhere) is to think of it as the number of lanes on a highway.
Throughpput or bandwidth is the other measure understood by most people, it refers to the amount of data that can be pushed (or more typically downloaded) through a connection. It is expressed in Mbps (megabit per second). Consumers typically relate it to how long it takes to download a file and the “smoothness” and resolution of an online video. There are other factors outside of bandwidth which influence this, but for our purposes those shorthand definitions are good enough.
If we build on the road analogy we set up earlier, the throughput or capacity is the time it takes to get your “payload”, distributed over a number of trucks from A to B. A few things become immediately clear: if you have many lanes and no-one is using the road, your payload will be shipped very quickly (or put differently, if you have a strong signal and not many people are using it, you should have a ton of throughput). Inversely, if you only have a few lanes (i.e. weak signal), even when not many people are using the road, it will take significant time to get your load from A to B. And if lots of people use it, very little will get through on time. So bad signal will always mean bad to very bad throughput.
The relationship between signal and thoughput is dependent on the utilisation, but good throughput is only possible when there is good signal.
3. Introduction to Mobile Coverage
4. Understanding Mobile Signal Data and Mobile Coverage Maps
5. Mobile Signal Strength and Troubleshooting
The key to understanding mobile coverage is Shannon’s law. In simple terms, it states that any signal has to contend with a tradeoff triangle between power, data and distance:
- The further you want to make a signal reach, the more power it will require (all things being equal)
- The more data you want a signal to carry, the more power it will require
- Lower spectrum bands can carry signal further than higher spectrum bands (for the same power and payload)
- Higher spectrum bands can carry more data (but over shorter distances) for the same power
Given that the power which an operator can put through an antenna is limited, the signal you will receive is pretty much a function of how far away you are from the tower and the spectrum on which the tower (or more precisely, the antenna) operates.
A second set of factors is the medium through which the radio signals need to travel. Radio signals will degrade as they travel through a physical medium, be it air, brick or wood. The more solid and metal-like the material becomes, the more difficult it is to penetrate. In addition, some material such as water and glass will deflect radio signals. Again, these effects become more pronounced in higher frequencies: for example, where low frequency signals will not be affected by things like rain or snow, high-frequency signal will see a stronger effect. Equally so for vegetation and foilage. The effect becomes especially pronounced indoor vs outdoor. Put simply, high frequency signals struggle to travel through buildings. And many modern buildings make use of signal deflecting materials such as steel and glass, exacerbating the problem. Whereas a Victorian brick building will see very little signal degradation, even at higher frequencies.
The inability to connect to the internet via your mobile can be due to four factors:
- Lack of mobile network coverage. Check the number of bars on your phone or verify the local signal strength with Teragence Signal Checker
- Lack of capacity: even when you have strong signal, it is possible that you have no internet if many users are trying to connect at the same time. This can happen at busy places such as train stations, festivals, etc..
- Interference: in certain cases, you might not get any internet connection even when you have strong signal and available capacity. This might indicate the presence of network interference. This can be caused by a misconfiguration in the mobile network or the presence of illegitimate radio object.
- A fault in your device: A faulty device can prevent you from getting any internet, even when all other factors are good. Check your device settings or have it checked in a repair shop.
The first step is to chose the best mobile operator. Using Teragence Signal Checker, users can find the best operator to serve their location.
There are a few things you can do to improve your mobile signal and overall mobile experience. First thing is to get a high-quality handset. Different handsets have different types of antennas with different performance characteristics. Getting a good handset with a good antenna can help you eke out a bit of extra performance.
A second option, specifically for indoor coverage is to look at boosters and repeaters. There are now many independent providers of mobile booster and repeater systems which can help you to augment your available coverage. However, they will charge you for their equipment and services.
6. LPWAN/ IOT
LPWAN stands for “Low Power Wide Area Networking”. It refers to a set of wireless networking technologies for the “Internet of Things” (IoT). IoT connections are connections between devices such as water meters, people counters, remote monitoring stations or your smart thermostat. LPWAN technologies focus on carrying small volumes of data over long distances with minimal energy consumption (to enable long battery life).
There are LPWAN technologies which operate in unlicensed spectrum such LoRa (or LoraWan). NBIOT (“Narrowband IOT”) and LTE-M (LTE-Machine) are LPWAN technologies which operate on the licensed spectrum (and are provided by the licensed mobile operators).
Our NB-IOT and LTE-M coverage and signal strength data is delivered through a two-step-process. First of all, through our cellular crowdsourced data we know the coverage by band for each operator. We also know, which operators offers which LPWAN technology on which band. If we detect signal in an LPWAN band for a specific operator, we mark that location as NB-IOT or LTE-M “capable”. i.e. , if the operator has enabled the relevant LPWAN technology for the covering celltower, there will be a signal at the indicated strength. However, to be absolutely sure that there will be a signal, we need confirmation that the covering tower is indeed enabled for that LPWAN technology. This data we obtain by working with our IOT partners who provide us with the data sourced from their devices.
Through this combination of cellular and IOT crowdsourced data we are able to provide highly accurate NB-IOT and LTE-M coverage maps.
Teragence Signal Checker provides location-specific, transparent data on the quality of NBIOT availability and signal strength across Europe and North America.