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Cell Phone Reception Hack

timothy posted more than 8 years ago | from the zooming-out dept.

142

New Breeze writes "Has this ever happened to you? Just when you need to make a phone call, the bars of reception are scant to none. But Graeme, who writes a blog called 'Earth: Mostly Harmless,' gives us hope. Succeeding where most would quit, he chronicled his ingenuity in a post titled 'How I got mobile phone reception where there was no signal.'" Update: 08/01 14:31 GMT by T : Note: Credit for this story belongs to Mike Yamamoto, who wrote it for CNET's News.com.

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Short version: (5, Interesting)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820932)

Use an external antenna. A lot of phones still have connectors for those, so no hacks required there.

Re:Short version: (4, Informative)

ElectricRook (264648) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820969)

I use the old three watt bag phone, gets great reception, costs US$19 per month, never rings unless I plug it in, which I never do. Clear as a bell, even if I'm out in the woods. Reception not too good in some canyons.

Where to buy? (1)

ThinkingInBinary (899485) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821172)

Do you know where to buy ancient phones and accompanying service? I'd be amused to have a bag phone or an OKI (they're really cool old hackable analog phones--remote controllable with DTMF, reprogrammable to display a list of other calls on the cell and let you select one to listen to, computer controllable, etc...), but I don't know where to buy them, and I don't know how to get service for them. (The cheapest plans most companies have now are around $40-$50.) Thanks for any pointers you can give.

Re:Where to buy? (3, Interesting)

Myself (57572) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822052)

Carriers won't put new service on an analog-only phone anymore. I spent an afternoon trying in March. I have a bag phone with a POTS simulator, essentially it's a Cellsocket or Dock'n'talk built right into the phone. Generates ring voltage and dialtone, interprets DTMF *and* pulse dial, and generally rocks. I wanted to find a prepay plan with free incoming and run a BBS off that sucker, with a 300 baud modem on a C64, in the back of my car just for kicks ;)

Verizon's counter-kids don't even know what the word "analog" means anymore. When I talked to the old guy in back, he laughed me out of the store.

The folks at Cingular, who I had service through several years ago but let lapse, thought it would "kick ass" to see "that old beast" running again, so we spent 2 hours trying to get their online activation system to do our bidding. I downloaded motbib23.txt and broke out the screwdriver while standing at the counter, but we couldn't get their system to take the phone's ESN. In the end it was fruitless.

None of the other places I called would even acknowledge that "analog" or "amps" or "brick phones" ever existed. Bastards.

If you find one, let me know...

OBSimpsons quote (2, Funny)

schon (31600) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822894)

I wanted to find a prepay plan with free incoming and run a BBS off that sucker, with a 300 baud modem on a C64, in the back of my car just for kicks

You must be a devil with the ladies.. :)

Re:Where to buy? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822108)

Yeah, pretty much you can't. Sometimes the prepaid cellular places are laxer about what phones they'll activate (I guess not an issue with GSM phones). But, the remaining TDMA (let alone AMPS..) ones were using Cingular AMPS.. Cingular's TDMA prepaid billing provider lost some lawsuit, and Cingular was required to stop new TDMA accounts as of January 1.

          As for prepaid cos using Verizon or the like... with newer requirements for locatable phones (your location's supposed to be avaiable to within a block or so at least if you dial 911), well, older CDMA phones and AMPS phones aren't locatable accurately enough. Verizon etc. have been letting people with AMPS accounts keep them but aren't activating new accounts citing this as a reason.

          I think maybe there's a few way-out-of-the-way areas that still have AMPS systems.. I think you could activate AMPS on them 8-).

Re:Short version: (5, Informative)

vonwilkenstein (817078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821233)

Enjoy it now while it lasts. FCC is allowing carriers to pull the plug on AMPS soon. We ( as in the carrier I work for) are vastly de-growing the AMPS network to a barebones network with BARE minimum capacity. Also as this is occuring, there have been cells that were just removed altogether eliminating AMPS coverage altogether. I do agree however, three watt bag/install phones are the shit for voice calls.

Re:Short version: (1)

vonwilkenstein (817078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822306)

Looks like Cingular is taking it a step further............... http://money.cnn.com/2006/07/31/news/companies/cin gular.reut/index.htm?cnn=yes [cnn.com]

Re:Short version: (2, Informative)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822923)

Hmm... from your FA:
Cingular has been working for years to phase out these technologies in favor of GSM (Global System of Mobile Communications), a newer technology that is the world's most popular wireless standard.
I didn't get the memo. When did the acronym GSM get hijacked by illiterate Americans? I always thought it stood for "Groupe Spéciale Mobile"?

Of course, I hope the French are pissed. :-)

Re:Short version: (1)

nitsew (991812) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822822)

I used to work for US Cellular... we were told that 95% of our customers had to be into CDMA equipment within a few months, or the company would be charged large fees. US Cellular actually sent out memos telling customers that they would be charged a "substantial monthly non-compliance fee" if they did not switch to new equipment... it was a huge mess... and alot of customers were pissed [for good reason] .. they later sent out an apology letter, and said that switching was up to the customer... they called it the E-911 initiative... they wanted GPS chips in everyone's phones... here is their apology letter:

U.S. Cellular prides itself on delivering the highest level of customer satisfaction possible, and it has come to our attention that we may have failed to uphold this commitment to you. Recently you received a communication from us perceived by some as bullying, by others as confusing. This was not our intention, and we sincerely apologize for our actions. Because your personal safety is still very important to us, you can upgrade to a GPS-equipped handset and do not have to sign a new contract. When you upgrade, you'll also get a $5.00 credit to your U.S. Cellular account. Please see other side for more information about changes to this program.

Other Side:

Although you have not yet updated to a wireless phone equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS), you should know that this feature could protect your personal safety and security. A GPS-equipped handset can help identify a caller's specific location whenever 9-1-1 is dialed. While you are not required to have a GPS-equipped handset, now is a great time to get a new phone. Here is how you can upgrade: Visit a U.S. Cellular store to choose a new handset at a special price. You do not need to sign a new contract to get your new phone In appreciation for your business, you will receive a $5.00 goodwill credit to your account when you upgrade to a GPS-compatible phone. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. The special pricing and contract-free upgrade will apply through April 29, 2006. If you have any questions or if you would like to upgrade your phone, visit your nearest U.S. Cellular location or call 1-800-455-7511.

Re:Short version: (1)

one_red_eye (962010) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821589)

I just had a flash of nostalgia! ROFL

Re:Short version: (1)

77Punker (673758) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821074)

It says in the article that the external antennas he had looked at were either too weak or too expensive. This gets a strong, cheap antenna.

Re:Short version: (2, Informative)

gfilion (80497) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821297)

Use an external antenna. A lot of phones still have connectors for those, so no hacks required there.

Obligatory karma whoring: Here's a good place to buy one. [wilsonelectronics.com]

For CAN$50 I got myself a mag mount 5 dBi external antenna. [wilsonelectronics.com]

Re:Short version: (1)

Kittyflipping (840166) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821359)

You can also just set the phone in the window and use a bluetooth headset.

Re:Short version: (1)

tylernt (581794) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822783)

Use an external antenna. A lot of phones still have connectors for those
True, but doesn't any antenna hooked up to a transmitter need to be FCC certified? Isn't this guy opening himself up for a slapdown from the FCC?

Furthermore, it doesn't appear that he tested the SWR [wikipedia.org] of his setup. He may be slowly frying his cell phone every time it transmits.

Next in series: (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15820943)

How I read a webpage from a server that had been slashdotted into oblivion.

site down? (1, Informative)

nyquil superstar (249173) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820945)

Is the linked site down for anyone else? Already?

Yep (4, Funny)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820985)

Plus, there's no cache in Google. Somewhere, in dim rack room, a server cries out in pain.

Re:site down? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821430)

You must be new here.

Next story idea (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15820951)

I can't wait for: "How I got pages served when my server was Slashdotted."

Re:Next story idea (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821054)

More likely "How Slashdot gave me a six-figure bandwidth bill for my birthday"

FYI Coral cache is up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821216)

Linky [nyud.net]

Use a land line? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15820957)

Yeah, that's positively ancient. But it works. Without frying your brain cells... :-)

I can't believe it... (4, Funny)

saifrc (967681) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820958)

I can't believe the site's down already. This means that Slaashdotters are actually reading TFA. Who knew?

Re:I can't believe it... (4, Insightful)

falsified (638041) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821011)

That's because it's a good old-fashioned "How to _________" written by an actual human being rather than a Vista/Wii/Apple/Linux/BSD press release via CNN.com or com.com. Hey editors, post more interesting things like this!

Re:I can't believe it... (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821258)

That's because it's a good old-fashioned "How to _________" ...and many of the trolls who just want to "me too" or comment without reading anything are too busy on Digg, where there are no filters, time limits between posts or accountability. Oh and anyone can (and does) moderate.

I am not trying to be mean, but Digg has helped /. by thinning the herd a bit. It also woke /. management up. I don't even bother with the comments area on digg unless I feel like trolling.

And yes, me too, more articles like this here on /. please ;)

Re:I can't believe it... (4, Informative)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821354)

You can always find some stuff on hackaday.com [hackaday.com] like this /. story.
If you wern't already aware anyways.

Re:I can't believe it... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821450)

That's because it's a good old-fashioned "How to _________" written by an actual human

Haven't had a chance to read it yet, have you?

Unfortunately, it's just a "How to _use an antenna_" article.
.

For my next slashdot article, I'll talk about poor radio reception, and ways to fix it.

Re:I can't believe it... (1)

falsified (638041) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822409)

Yes I know, but it's a start! Besides, it had some impressive-looking Greek characters in it. Lambda?! That's pretty far into the alphabet. No alphas or betas here!

Re:I can't believe it... (1)

Ohreally_factor (593551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822473)

It's far more interesting than your typical boring slashdot casemod article. It's applying high school physics, rather than applying a dremel. And it took a bit of detective work for him to figure out the correct (or near enough to correct) specs, since up until now, no one else has built their own UTMS antenna and published the details on the web.

If you have a novel approach, why don't you write and submit that article. I dare say it would be more interesting than half the crap that passes for news around here. If you have something interesting to say, we'd love to hear it. Your "Ho Hum" post, on the other hand, is trite and predictable.

Reinventing the wheel. (3, Informative)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822967)

Unfortunately, it's just a "How to _use an antenna_" article.

Yeah, pretty much.

I don't want to be too hard on the guy, because it sounds like this was his first antenna project, but the whole article just makes me a little sad. What he did isn't even all that hard, and if he had done a little more searching around he would have found literally thousands of pages and hundreds of articles, complete with formulae and schematics, on how to build antennas of this type.

There's an amateur radio band located just above (and IIRC overlapping slightly with) the 2.4GHz ISM band. There's tons of antenna construction resources; the American Radio Relay League has two volumes written about the topic [arrl.org] . (Although it covers a lot more than just antennas, admittedly.) Although I don't own the book, I'd bet that most of those articles probably have equations for scaling the dimensions to particular frequencies, so it would be trivial to do what he was attempting. (And a quite likely a violation of FCC rules, but that's another story.)

On a more general note, it's a little sad to see how little of a connection there is between the radio "hacking" community and the computer one. Perhaps it's due to there being a generational gap in there, but I've never met two groups of people that have as much in common, philosophically, as computer hackers and ham radio tinkerers. When I read articles like TFA, where the author says "To my knowledge no-one has built a homebrew biquad UMTS antenna before..." it just really underscores how poor a job the amateur radio community has done in connecting with computer geeks. The topic at hand here isn't something breathless and new, it's well-understood to the point of probably being boring. But because of the lack of connection between the two interest groups (even though, as in this case, they have a lot of common interests even if they don't realize it), we have computer geeks painfully reinventing the basics of antenna design, and we have ham radio operators who haven't in some cases even figured the Web out completely, much less how to use it to collaborate.

That's not to say that there aren't computer geeks who are into ham radio and vice versa -- the number of radio-related software projects is testament to that (as am I, and others here on /.), but it's a lot less than you would think given how much each group could stand to gain and benefit and learn from the other. There's some stuff being done that honestly is breathless and new, on the cutting edge of both radio communications technology and information/computer technology, but there's a shortage of people with the combined background to contribute. How much further along would we be, if both groups were't wasting so much time reinventing each others' wheels?

Re:I can't believe it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821819)

Also could be because the article is about something that attempts to fix a problem a significant portion of the population experiences once in a while.

Don't give a hack... (0)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820967)

Standing on top of the roof works fine for me. Except I wouldn't do that during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes, you know.

Mirror (3, Informative)

andyring (100627) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820970)

It's getting pretty slow. Here's a mirror [andyring.com] .

So... (0, Offtopic)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820986)

...what do we do when your mirror is slashdotted? :p

Re:So... (1)

andyring (100627) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821022)

Well, it's hosted on one of the top 20 (as measured by hosted sites) hosting companies [dreamhost.com] , so ideally it'll survive. I guess we'll find out!

ghetto (5, Funny)

grapeape (137008) | more than 8 years ago | (#15820996)

Nice solution I guess if you want a ghetto antenna next to your window, but it reminds me of my friends little brother. He was unhappy with his remote control cars range so he took a backpack and mounted a huge CB whip antenna to it and wired the antenna of the remote to the backpack. Dipole be damned, he claimed it made the car's range better. Of course he looked like a complete tard running around the street, but that wasnt unusual for him.

Re:ghetto (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821534)

He was unhappy with his remote control cars range
Eh? Hobby-grade R/C plane gear has a range of about 1.5 miles -- about 3x further than you can even see a 2 meter wingspan plane (at 1/2 mile, a 2 meter plane is a speck in the sky. If you have good eyes, you might be able to tell what direction it's pointed, but little more.)

Hobby-grade R/C car gear is similar, but the cars are a good deal smaller -- I'll bet you could barely see your car at 1/8th mile. So what would he need all this extra range for?

Re:ghetto (1)

Myself (57572) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822175)

Toy-grade R/C gear is significantly worse than hobby-grade. The $20 Radio Shack Ferarri would barely get to the end of the driveway before it got hard to control. The kid with the CB whip was a genius!

And anyway, when your plane gets too far away for you to see it, you need a video downlink from it. It's about time for hobbyists to get serious about this stuff, and I vote we refer to video-equipped R/C planes as "aliens". Just so we can one day have a giantic air battle with the military version and call it "alien vs predator".

It's not really a 'hack' per-se (3, Insightful)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821013)

All he does is use an external antenna, maybe if it fiddled with some of the phones internal settings I might call it a hack.

Re:It's not really a 'hack' per-se (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821191)

Well, the word "hack" and "hacker" originates [mit.edu] from the hardware side of things. Rewiring circuits and fiddling with non standard ideas to get some circuit to work etc. Software hacking is really a latecomer, and what he did qualifies to be called "hacking".

Re:It's not really a 'hack' per-se (1)

polymath69 (94161) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821325)

Well, the word "hack" and "hacker" originates from the hardware side of things.

Well, that's certainly true. But all this guy did was extend reception by 5 feet on a fixed unit. 5 miles on a mobile unit would be a hell of a lot more signifigant, and much more in line with what I expected to find from the article title.

Re:It's not really a 'hack' per-se (2, Insightful)

siriuskase (679431) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821440)

i agree with GP, not really a hack, even with the different definition. A "hardware hack" that doesn't violate the warranty isn't hack.

Article text (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821034)

How I got mobile phone reception where there was no signal
Posted at 20:30 by Graeme
Categories: Uncategorized

(Or, to be more accurate, where 20ft of solid stone was blocking line-of-sight to the nearest transmitter.)

I just got a Nokia E61 on T-Mobile. When I signed up, I knew that the signal was really weak in the back of our house - the building forms a large square, and my bedroom faces into the centre of the square. I could get a signal in the living room (just), but wouldn't it be great, I thought, not to have to go through there every time the phone rings. Although outside my house full-strength UMTS signals are readily available, the building's construction prevents them diffracting into the internal 'courtyard'.

All I needed was enough reception to receive and send SMS messages. I have home WiFi for data access, and I can potentially make calls over that too. I planned to aim for UMTS reception rather than GSM since: a) I didn't know which GSM frequency to aim for and b) E series Nokia phones maintain their batteries better if they have UMTS signals (otherwise they constantly search for a UMTS signal).

I tried two car-type external antennas that I got via eBay - but unfortunately the gain on both of these was just too low (barely even compensating for the losses in the cable running to the phone). Also, neither were sufficiently directional to catch enough of the reflected signal to give me anything to work with.

The first step was the figure out what the extent of the problem was. I located my nearest T-Mobile base station using the government's Sitefinder service. This also confirmed the frequency that the transmitter used - 2100Mhz. This is the standard frequency for UMTS (i.e. 3G) services in Europe.

By drawing a line between the transmitter's location and my building in Google Earth, I was able to confirm the approximate distance and angle of the signal I needed to catch.

Buying a directional antenna wasn't really an option - for a start, they are expensive - and anyway I couldn't be sure that such an antenna would actually help. If it didn't, I'd have wasted £60-£100.

However, in an incredibly geeky flash of inspiration, I realised that there really isn't much difference in operating frequency between WiFi (around 2.4Ghz) and UMTS (2.1Ghz). And there are loads of different clandestine WiFi antenna ideas floating around the Internet. If I could find an easy-to-build directional WiFi antenna, perhaps I could reverse-engineer its dimensions and adapt it for 2100Mhz use.

So I set about the task. I decided on the biquad antenna type, as it's fairly compact and easy to build, yet provides decent (10-14dB) gain and is quite directional. My primary sources of information were the many WiFi biquad and double bi-quad antenna tutorials and blog entries, such as: Engadget's; Trevor Marshall's tutorials. More can be found on my del.icio.us page for the tag 'antenna'.

Both WiFi and UMTS operate in microwave frequencies - however, there's a substantial difference between the middle WiFi channel (around 2.4Ghz - what people usually tune their WiFi antennas to in order to give a good amplification factor across the channel range) and UMTS' 2.1Ghz. To my knowledge no-one has built a homebrew biquad UMTS antenna before, so there wasn't much to go on. What also didn't help was that most WiFi biquad tutorials just give you the measurements verbatim - not the calculations of formulae.

Having done no physics since school, my expertise in antenna building is poor to say the least. Still I did realise a few things about most of the designs floating around the Web: all of the dimensions were multiples of the wavelength at 2.44Ghz (122mm or 0.122m). So then, I just needed to figure out the multiplication factors in each case and I was sorted.

My list is as follows: ( = wavelength)

        * Emitter wire total length: 2
        * Emitter 'square' side length: 0.25
        * Emitter offset from reflector: 0.125
        * Reflector width/height: 1
        * Reflector 'lips' height: 0.25

So, at 2.1Ghz (2,100,000,000Hz - = 142.8mm),these dimensions are:

        * Emitter wire total length: 285.6mm
        * Emitter 'square' side length: 35.7mm
        * Emitter offset from reflector: 17.85mm
        * Reflector width/height: 142.8mm
        * Reflector 'lips' height: 35.7mm

I made the reflector out of galvanised steel mesh and mounted an N-type connector to the centre. I made an N-type coaxial to FME coaxial cable to hook up the phone to the antenna. The emitter itself is made from the copper centre conductor taken from a length of high-quality satellite TV coaxial cable that I had left over. I used some scrap wires to connect the ends of the biquad 'bow-tie' back to the reflector, and placed some of the original dielectric insulation from the satellite cable back on the ends of the bow-tie' shape to prevent the antenna from 'shorting' (in an RF sense). The emitter is then soldered into the N-type connector in a most slapdash style.

I didn't have enough mesh to make the 'lips' of the antenna's reflector match the measurements I'd planned, but made them the longest equal lengths that I could. In other respects, I managed to get the dimensions down to within a couple of millimeters of my target measurements.

High-quality cable is a must - I only used 50cm or so of RG-58 type cable to go between the phone and antenna, and unless you're using something very high-grade (like LMR-400), I wouldn't go too much further than that.

Presently the antenna is fixed and aimed in a pretty shoddy way - it's fixed onto a set of '3rd hands' - and there's a Post-It note there to provide (some) insulation between the stand and the reflector... I plan to investigate more permanent mounting options at some other date.

The biggest problem with the antenna is aiming it - but having said that once it does catch a signal, the phone holds on to it very well. I'm aiming it over the rootfops of the building, hoping to catch some of the signal's diffraction.

I have no idea how much gain the antenna produces. When aimed correctly (which is very tricky), it gives me a consistent 1-bar UMTS connection, or a 2 bar GSM signal. It works better at night, holding on to a signal for many hours.

MOD DOWN! CONTAINS ANTI-SEMITIC STATEMENT! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821078)

For shame!

Will not work in the US. (4, Insightful)

LqdSlpStrm (464344) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821055)


GSM phones here operate on 850/1900Mhz. 3G is not really deployed yet.

Re:Will not work in the US. (0, Redundant)

91degrees (207121) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821082)

Sure it will. You just have to scale everything accordingly.

Re:Will not work in the US. (1)

puto (533470) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821966)

Actually,

Although I no longer work for them, Cingular soft launched 3g in 2004, and then 13 markets in 2005, and if you go to this link.

http://www.cingular.com/business/3G_cov_maps_pop

You will see they are stringing it together pretty fast.

I am not a huge fan of the company, but they are doing it, and it works well.

Puto

Re:Will not work in the US. (1)

ran-o-matic (667054) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822098)

To add to this comment, Sprint/Nextel, Alltel, and Verizon have also rolled out 3G in the form of EVDO services. T-Mobile is lagging behind.

Bars (1, Insightful)

booch (4157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821067)

Mmmm, bars.

Sorry, got distracted there. I'd like to know why it is that there are 4 bars right before I dial, and only 2 bars (or worse) right after I hit the SEND button. This has happened to me multiple times. I'm pretty sure it's even happened to me on 2 different carriers.

Re:Bars (4, Funny)

Jerry Coffin (824726) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821118)

I'd like to know why it is that there are 4 bars right before I dial, and only 2 bars (or worse) right after I hit the SEND button. This has happened to me multiple times.

Obviously you're driving by the bars when you decide to dial. Your phone is trying to tell you to stop in and have a drink instead of just driving by. It won't make your phone work any better, but it'll help you realize the futility of caring about it. :-)

Re:Bars (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821128)

I've heard that phones only update so often - they aren't continuously monitoring the strength of the signal, but instead check it a couple times a minute to save battery life. If you've moved since the last check, then the signal strength may have changed, and it updates when it goes to contact the tower to complete your call... Just a theory. IANAWE (wireless engineer).

Re:Bars (2, Informative)

steveo777 (183629) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821131)

I get that kind of crap too. I live in the middle of a metro area and I get almost no signal in my house. I had to buy a bluetooth headset just so I can leave my phone in an ideal position for signal. Pisses me off. Not like the phone companies care. Half the time when I dial it says 'connecting' for 15 seconds and then the bars dissappear and I get the main screen on my phone back like nothing happend. This has happened to me with three seperate phones, Two Motorolas and a SonyEricson. Also Verizon and Cingular as carriers. So you're not alone my signal-deprived comrade.

Re:Bars (1)

h4ck7h3p14n37 (926070) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821360)

A friend of mine just moved into a new building and he receives almost no signal on his cellphone; fortunately he has a Cisco SIP phone too. I suggested attaching an antenna to a ballon and floating it to the top of the building (his only window faces an alley and he's basically surrounded by brick and concrete), but I like the article's solution better.

Half the time when I dial it says 'connecting' for 15 seconds and then the bars dissappear and I get the main screen on my phone back like nothing happend.

Consider yourself lucky. I have a Samsung i500 with service through Sprint and if the thing doesn't have a signal, it jacks up the power and keeps trying to connect until the battery is drained. I discovered this after a few times of driving to my parents' house and spending the night only to find my phone dead the next morning.

Re:Bars (1)

silvwolf (103567) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821903)

Consider yourself lucky. I have a Samsung i500 with service through Sprint and if the thing doesn't have a signal, it jacks up the power and keeps trying to connect until the battery is drained. I discovered this after a few times of driving to my parents' house and spending the night only to find my phone dead the next morning.


I think my Motorola v600i does similar stuff. Started a new job in June, and the building got zilch for Cingular reception. Lots of Verizon phones in the company (people love their crackberries) and we were told that Verizon had some sort of repeater in the building that pretty much killed off other signals.. It made sense, kinda sorta.. I thought the Windows had some sort of metallic tint and were blocking the signal from the outside -- I'm no engineer, but it made more sense than Verizon blocking everyone. I could walk out of the building and have full reception... 10 feet inside the building and the phone said "no service." I'd drain the battery in 2 days instead of the normal 4 or 5, so it seemed like the phone was blasting up the power looking for signal. After a couple weeks, I just left the phone off in my desk instead of letting it bake in the car.

Then, last week, my phone was on my desk and started vibrating like it had a call.. Had it on because my apartment had been burglarized and I was expecting a call from the cops about taking prints (they caught a guy breaking in to the next building over..) I just hit a button to stop the vibration and made note to check my voicemail a few minutes later, knowing I couldn't make it out the door to answer it in time. Then, I looked down at the phone and noticed I had full reception when I had zero the day before.

Very, very strange. Still can't figure out why I suddenly got reception.. I know the company uses some T-Mobile crackberries for the international travelers, but I'm hitting a Cingular tower so I kinda doubt Cingular got a repeater in the building too. Guess I need to track down the crackberry support guys and ask them what happened.

Re:Bars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822782)

You have to stand in the corner opposite to the refrigerator while leaning in a south easterly direction and holding the phone around chest level.

Direction maybe? (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821194)

I have this happen to me too. I suspect it has to do with the angle that the cellphone is at. When it's lying on the table, the antenna aims out the windows usually. Whereas once I pick it up to dial, the signal has to go through much more building material. I think I can see a pattern when I change the angle of the phone, but it's hardly scientific. It could be that I have a metal plate in my head that I didn't know about. :)

FWIW, my cell signal at home is marginal. It's pretty good on the south side, towards what I think is the transmitter's location, and very iffy everywhere else.

Re:Bars (1)

Shadyman (939863) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821785)

Or why I can dial and get perfect reception with no bars? The bars only display the signal for the frequency the phone is currently on. If, to complete the call correctly, it has to jump to another band, then it will. If you drive from in town like I do, where the phone towers are all 1900Mhz, your phone will show the signal for 1900Mhz on the antenna display. Out where I live, the tower is 800Mhz, and there are no 1900Mhz towers in range. So, it shows 0 reception for 1900Mhz. Only when it's prompted will the phone search for the best signal. Well, at least for my phone.

Re:Bars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821834)

I get this on my computer's wifi connection all the time, too, so it's not unique to phones.

My guess is that it counts noise in the signal strength before it connects but not after, and this intereference is responsible for the difference. Of course, I have absolutely no proof of that, it's just the best guess I've been able to come up with.

Re:Bars (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821870)

I get the same thing, and judging by the other replies, it's fairly common.

Last week, my T-Mobile Motorola phone would show 4-5 bars, and when I tried to make almost any call (including voicemail), it would sit for 5-10 seconds, then simultaneously drop to zero bars and show the "Call Failed" message. The interesting thing is that there were two numbers I could call that worked flawlessly: my house's landline, which is probably on my T-mo records, and the tech support number (I think I just dial 611 on my cell to get it). Further investigation on my own led me to believe that my phone was receiving a "fast busy" signal, but that the phone itself would just give the "Call Failed" message rather than let me hear it. Further investigation found that my friends who had been trying to call me received "fast busy" signals. -Further- investigation found that my sister's phone, which is also on T-Mobile, was having the same problem.

I calmly told all of this to someone at support. The frontline person asked a few script-type questions which seemed to want to blame it on my phone or the local weather. Luckily, the weather was flawless that day and my sister's phone was having an identical problem. Since she couldn't blame it on either of those, she forwarded me to an actual -tech- support. The actual tech support person was also very polite, and seemed to be able to check network status for any sort of regional problems...unfortunately, she couldn't really do anything to help. The final answer was something like "we've had some reports of problems and the engineers are working on it"...I could tell that was the best I'd get. She did give me 50 extra minutes, which is at least something (although I also found out that there was now a plan identical to mine at the same cost except with an additional 300 anytime minutes...so I guess I just got ripped off less this month).

Further research on fast busy led me to believe that some part of the local network was saturated...seeming to me like the kind of problem that would have been anticipated in advance if there was any actual hope of it being solved.

Anyways, my main advice:
1) Don't be afraid to call tech support. If you do, be calm, be ready to wait a few minutes if need be...but first make sure that you do a few things:
2) Before you call, try to verify that the problem is not your phone. Power cycle your phone. Try a couple numbers: cell phones, landlines, voicemail, and see what works or doesn't. Have a cell phone and landline call your phone. The more specific you can make your information, the less troubleshooting they'll try to talk you into on the phone, and the faster you can get things done.
3) Don't expect anything major in return.
4) Be nice!

I've pretty much resigned myself to defeat as far as cellphones go. Only once have I ever felt like my cell plan was a good deal (and it was when I first started with T-Mobile). Before and since that time, I've always felt like I was getting ripped off in various ways that I couldn't control. I've never had service in my house/room, but I've almost always had perfect service in my friend's homes/rooms. And, it's pretty obvious that whoever is designing phones and their menu systems has never used a cell phone in their life: it takes at least a full half-second for any button presses to cause action on the screen. The menus are a mess. Several years ago, in about a 12 month period, ringtones went from being something that anyone could make their own and easily upload to their phone to a $1 billion industry. A $1 billion industry created in a year at the expense of consumers.

Nothing anyone can do, because the convenience of a cell phone is still too nice to pass on, and they keep the prices just low enough that we'll still pay. Someone submit a story if some investors ever get together and offer relief somehow. :(

Useful response: Please mod up (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822040)

Just a note to try to prevent this comment being lost.

Re:Bars (1)

Ethan Allison (904983) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822164)

When you're not using the connection, then the bars are a battery-friendly estimate. When you're on the phone, then it's maintaining an active connection and as such has a more accurate measure of the signal.

Sitefinder (3, Interesting)

jarg0n (882275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821106)

Is there a US equivalent for "Sitefinder"?

http://www.sitefinder.radio.gov.uk/

Re:Sitefinder (3, Informative)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822301)

I found this FCC site [fcc.gov] which allows you to search for registered towers. After you find towers (in a particular city, for example) you can click on the individual tower (lat/lon data is provided here) then the "map registration" button will bring you to a Tiger map of the tower.

Then I found out that someone has a google maps interface [cellreception.com] to the same data. Screw that FCC site! :-)

Big deal,it is obvious! (5, Informative)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821112)

Not to rain on this guy's parade, but well duh! If you put up a bi-quad antenna, a circular polarized quad bay or 8 element yagi you would get a better signal. Of course he could have used a pringle can [oreillynet.com] for a 12db gain.

Re:Big deal,it is obvious! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821367)

He did build a bi-quad antenna.

Re:Big deal,it is obvious! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822854)

The point is that if you build a bi-quad antenna, you get more signal.

A " Cell Phone Reception Hack" - whatever (5, Informative)

tacokill (531275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821120)

So, I get to /. and I start to scan the articles. The usual stuff...12 dupes and a few new stories. I get to one called Cell Phone Reception Hack

Cool. I'll check that one out.

I pull up the list of comments and I click on the link to the article. I read the article from start to finish and having consumed the literary words on the page, let me be the first to post...

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
Read my lips: Antenna != hack

This is in no way, shape, or form a hack. It is a guy building an antenna. It's only been done by thousands of other ppl over the last 50 years. But yea, let's run the story anyway and call it a 'hack'.

Well, it's not.

Re:A " Cell Phone Reception Hack" - whatever (5, Funny)

weasello (881450) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821218)

Dude, you totally hacked the comments with that tirade!! awesome!

Re:A " Cell Phone Reception Hack" - whatever (1)

kemo_by_the_kilo (971543) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821539)

it is a hack, he modded the car jack thingy.... well its more like stripping a few cables and a little wire twisting then tape.
hardware mod = hardware hack
software mod = /. 'hack'
go troll elsewhere.... I must be new here.

Re:A " Cell Phone Reception Hack" - whatever (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822292)

So, I get to /. and I start to scan the articles. The usual stuff...12 dupes and a few new stories. I get to one called Linux Kernel Hack Cool. I'll check that one out. I pull up the list of comments and I click on the link to the article. I read the article from start to finish and having consumed the literary words on the page, let me be the first to post... ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Read my lips: Kernel != hack This is in no way, shape, or form a hack. It is a guy building a kernel. An OS kernel has only been done by thousands of other ppl over the last 50 years. But yea, let's run the story anyway and call it a 'hack'. Well, it's not.

Re:A " Cell Phone Reception Hack" - whatever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822429)

It is a guy building an antenna.

Yeah, but it's like a really ghetto antenna, all pimped out with bling'n'shit. Nuthin' but Rat Shack's finest 3rd hand for my homie!

Shoutz to anyone on the other end of the tin can'n'string 'n shit.

Re:A " Cell Phone Reception Hack" - whatever (3, Funny)

DeathElk (883654) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822981)

Hmm, your name isn't 'Adrian' by any chance?

Hack my butt. (0)

Bubba-T (578601) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821330)

How cant this be a hack, He plugged an antenna into his phone and got better reception.

Umm, why? (1)

masnare (922658) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821394)

Gosh, when I'm at home and my cell phone reception sucks I've always relied on the tried and true LL-hack. (LL = Land Line).

The irony, of course, is that a person who spends his spare time 'hacking' his cell phone probably has no real use for it outside of work -- and do you really want work calling when you're in your bedroom?

BETTER IDEA!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15821458)

Switch to another carrier, T-Mobile sucks when it comes to reception.

Commercial version? (1)

SeaDour (704727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821681)

I saw a commercial version of this "hack" that you plug into the wall. I think it was just a repeater. Can anyone confirm this?

High quality cable??? (1)

skogs (628589) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821758)

High quality cable? RG-58?? He is kidding right? I know it is 'Radio-Grade' and balanced at 75ohm...but it is definitely not high quality. RG-6 is the bare minimum I would use for this...and that is if I was hacking it to pieces. Seriously...he could have spent $10 (or pounds or whatever) on a decent length of cable.

RG-58 is 50 ohm cable (2, Informative)

IvyKing (732111) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822139)

RG-58 is high quality cable when compared to RG-174 - but a better choice in that size would be RG-223. RG-6 is 75 ohm, and coaxial cables are usually referred to as unbalanced lines as the outer conductor is usually at ground potential.

I hacked my electricity (5, Funny)

Sathias (884801) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821768)

I managed to hack my electricity so it reached areas it never did before. I used this hacking device called an "extension cord".

I hacked my moderation queue: spam ratio 1% (1)

erichschubert (96206) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822511)

This is how I got rid of spam in my blogs comments:

I got my blog slashdotted, and now I have so many comments on my blog that I'll be busy moderating until next April 1st. And almost no spam among them!

Re:I hacked my electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822596)

It goes deeper than you think - If you look at the "hardware" illustration, you'll see how to hack a two pronged outlet to become a three pronged outlet!

I think he does not know what 'gain' means (1)

JOrgePeixoto (853808) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821916)

The article's writer says things like "this antenna has a good gain, and is quite directional".

However, the gain is the efficiency times the directivity, so a high gain implies a very directional antenna; and, the only parameter that matters (AFAIK) is the gain, because the gain alone is enough to specify how much power you get from a given electromagnetic wave (not counting the losses in the cable and the impedance mismatch, but these are not affected by the directionality of the antenna anyway).

PS: Forgive my bad English, I'm not American.

Re:I think he does not know what 'gain' means (1)

JOrgePeixoto (853808) | more than 8 years ago | (#15821972)

Updating my own post:
I forgot to say that the polarization mismatch also counts. But then, the polarization mismatch is not affected by the directionality.

Re:I think he does not know what 'gain' means (1)

Chrononium (925164) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822973)

Sometimes impedance mismatch is included in the definition of gain, depending on the source.

Switch to analog and walk around... (2, Funny)

nolife (233813) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822003)

When I've been in the sticks and had to use my phone, I always seem to find a useable analog signal. I may have to stand on the roof of my car, lift my left leg, and hold head at a certain angle but it will eventually work. Odd thing on that though. I've never had an analog signal greater then 1 bar. My question, where the hell are these analog transmitters that I always have a usable signal but never a good one. Freaky.

A trick I've used to get better range from my car alarm transmitters, hold the transmitter against your cheek and raise your other arm. You will get at least 25% more distance, really.

Re:Switch to analog and walk around... (1)

Vegeta99 (219501) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822198)

That wouldn't work for this guy, or hell, ab out half of US cellular users - UMTS and GSM don't have /any/ support for analog.

mo3 up (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822124)

said. 'Screaming juggernaut either minutes now while [tuxedo.0rg], Niggerness? And Purposes *BSD is

SMS over IP? (1)

binarybum (468664) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822207)

If the only need was SMS and you're in front of a computer, I can't help but think it would be much easier to just use SMS over IP. I know that bluebottle provides this (for a fee), and I'm sure there are others as well. I think I recall ATT having a free SMS over IP service for messaging their customers - I can't recall if it could receive though. Anyone know of any free two-way SMS services online?

Re:SMS over IP? (1)

ahecht (567934) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822239)

Yes, AOL Instant Messenger. Just add the number to your buddy list.

Getting Gain in the US for Home or Car (1)

DavidD_CA (750156) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822286)

So, not being as inclined to go build my own antenna, can anyone recommend a ready-made device that I can install in my car and home that will increase my gain? I've seen such things advertised but have no idea which are gimmicks and which are real.

What I imagine is some antenna that I can plug into an outlet which will then boost the signal for my cell phone within an immediate radius. I'd like one for my car (which has AC power) and home.

I'm using Cingular and whatever frequency they have. I'd be great if it worked with voice as well as SMS and data.

Anybody got some tips for me?

Re:Getting Gain in the US for Home or Car (1)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822394)

Wilson Cellular sells "boosters". They have mobile [wilsonelectronics.com] and fixed, both wired and wireless repeaters. But they're a touch spendy -- I think between $400 and $500.

A buddy of mine who lives in BFE Wisconsin has looking to buy one for his house for about six months now -- he only gets cell reception while standing on his western porch (presumably on one leg, with the opposite arm raised high into the air.) The price has been a bit of an issue with him; but this weekend his wife was out there making a call and she got stung by yellow jackets. I bet she makes him buy one now!

Re:Getting Gain in the US for Home or Car (2, Informative)

toybuilder (161045) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822846)

If you are just marginally out of cell phone range, you can just buy an antenna and appropriate connector cable from Wilson Antenna or from Radio Shack. I've had "2 bar" situations go to 5 bars, and went from "no service" to 1 to 2 bars in a basement of a concrete building. The antenna and connector cable will set you back about $30-$40, but is probably plenty good enough if you know that the signal is just barely making it.

Re:Getting Gain in the US for Home or Car (1)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822881)

I don't think I made my point very well. He's a senior developer, and his wife is a V.P. at a bank. They've got money coming out of their orifices, they're just being too cheap to spend it. :-)

Anyway, he's a gadget freak and they're both convenience freaks -- hooking up an antenna is soooo third millenial. They'll get a repeater soon enough.

bad sumary (3, Insightful)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822302)

"Has this ever happened to you? Just when you need to make a phone call, the bars of reception are scant to none. But Graeme, who writes a blog called 'Earth: Mostly Harmless,' gives us hope. Succeeding where most would quit, he chronicled his ingenuity in a post titled 'How I got mobile phone reception where there was no signal.'"

Such a bad intro. He basically made a mobile phone into a not so mobile phone connected to a highly directional antena. That will not work for me or anyone else while I'm driving, walking down the streat or in a train. Which, is basically the only time it happens to most people. While I appreciate his predictimant and commend him on "solving" it. It really won't help many people, and wasn't that novel of a solution. It reminds me of undergrad research. Do something everyone has done before, but in a trivially different way and claim its ground breaking.

Re:bad sumary (2, Funny)

iMaple (769378) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822443)

It reminds me of undergrad research. Do something everyone has done before, but in a trivially different way and claim its ground breaking.

I think u accidently added the extra word 'undergrad' :)

Re:bad sumary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15822802)

... From the movie PCU ...
"That's the thing about college these days, you can major in gameboy if you know how to bullshit"

Who is this... (0, Offtopic)

TechDogg (802999) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822414)

... Adrian individual? (2nd or 3rd poster on the blog) [stewie]He needs to get laid BIG TIME![/stewie] This dude is a nerve wreck! Geez!

Alternative Workaround (2, Funny)

thetan (725014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15822805)

Hey buddy,

You don't need a fancy antenna. Just type in your SMS, press "send" and immediately throw the phone straight up as high as you can.

It'll get through.

-Thetan.

ps Make sure you catch it again!

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