With all the advances in mobile phone technology, your handset still needs to be reliable as a phone, but getting that isn’t easy.
No matter what platform, OS, handset or network – the primary function for your fancy smartphone is to make and receive calls, and if it can’t do that properly then it is pointless.
Here in the UK – the problem is even worse. Mobile phone signal is a terrible problem. While 4G/LTE has been brought in to major cities and towns, rural areas can still suffer from slow EDGE/GPRS speeds and sometimes No Service at all. This is especially so inside buildings.
You can pay quite a fortune for the privilege of having a poor service. But what is causing it and what can you do to minimise it?
I’ve been using an iPhone for a few years now on the Virgin UK network – a virtual network running off of EE. My wife has been using an iPhone on the EE for just over a year. In our small town mobile signal from any provider is sketchy so picking the best is important.
Both of us have experienced signal related problems lately, dropped calls, call failure and calls not coming through and suddenly a voicemail appearing.
With this in mind I decided to investigate other networks and other handsets, to see where the problem lies.
iPhone 5 + Virgin SIM
This is my main phone and my main network. I pay monthly for this service. I had a GPRS signal indoors. Outside it wasn’t much better although my back garden got a nice 3G service. Our local high street had patchy 3G, and the moment I walked in to my local supermarket I got No Service instantly.
iPhone 5 + Vodafone SIM
This gave me a consistent EDGE signal in my home and around my high street. I also had a signal in my local supermarket for a short time, but deep in to it I lost it completely.
HTC 8x + Virgin SIM
In my home I had a good EDGE signal. I had a strong H and H+ signal – aka 3G – outside. I also had a good EDGE signal well in to my local supermarket, but it did lose it completely once deep inside.
HTC 8x + Vodafone SIM
This gave me good EDGE signal in my home and in my local supermarket and it didn’t cut out. I had a signal throughout the whole place. However outside it still only gave me an EDGE signal.
Original iPhone + Virgin SIM
Further tests included two older handsets. One is an original iPhone which doesn’t offer 3G as it is a EDGE/GPRS handset only. The other is a basic Nokia 1100 which offers voice/text only, no data.
With the Virgin SIM in the original iPhone I ventured out again. It offered consistent GPRS signal inside and outside – but lost signal completely within seconds of entering the supermarket.
Original iPhone + Vodafone SIM
This offered a consistent EDGE signal inside, outside and even in the supermarket, but deep inside it lost signal completely.
Nokia 1100 + Virgin SIM
The Nokia 1100 is apparently the best selling handset ever. It gave me a 5 bar signal inside, full signal outside but it still lost it almost immediately in the supermarket.
Nokia 1100 + Vodafone SIM
By far the best performing combination. This never lost signal anywhere and even had good signal throughout the supermarket.
What Have I Learned From This?
Different SIM cards in the same handset can give varying signal strength. Different handsets with the same SIM can also give varying results.
Combine that good handset with a good service and your phone experience could be totally different.
My son has an Samsung Android handset is on the Three UK network. He gets good 3G signal outside but indoors he can lose signal altogether. My other son has a Microsoft Lumia handset on the Three network too and he gets better signal performance to the Samsung.
I have been asking others and it seem O2/Tesco are in the same boat as Vodafone. They don’t offer high speed internet services in our area but their coverage for calls is great.
Not only does a poor signal affect usage – you can’t make a call with No Service or surf over GPRS – but a handset struggling to keep a signal or dipping in and out can also affect battery life as signal fluctuation drains battery.
So our iPhones don’t seem to offer the greatest signal on either network, and while Virgin UK (my current network) fairs better in the HTC – if I was going for ultimate performance based on signal I would ditch the iPhone and ditch Virgin and use the HTC on the Vodafone network. I wouldn’t go as far as using the Nokia 1100 – although if calls were all I were interested in then I would.
However in my area Vodafone has no 3G coverage on any handset. So while Virgin has patchier coverage it does at least pull in 3G some of the time.
Also just because the HTC offers better signal performance – it doesn’t mean I want to lose my favourite mobile OS aka iOS for Windows Phone.
Is It The Platform?
While my iPhone 5 and my wifes iPhone 5s fair the same, newer ones might be different. Just because HTC 8x and Microsoft Lumia 435 offers great signal coverage it doesn’t mean other Windows Phone based handsets will too.
As you can see, mobile phones and the service they provide is a dark art. Most do not think this in-depth when purchasing. They look at handset and price. It is only afterwards they may realise they aren’t getting the best for their money.
For me I don’t know what I will do. I like my iPhone, but having patchy service is no fun.
If you are looking at buying a new phone or switching networks ask others in your area, but ask them not only what network they are on, ask them what sort of signal they receive and what handset they are using it on.
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