Bad Mobile Reception: Is There Anything I Can Do?

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on May 14, 2015, How To Guides

Whilst mobile coverage in the UK is very good when compared to many other countries, there are still some people that experience bad reception. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to use your phone at home and finding that your texts don’t go through, or your calls get dropped, or that web pages load so slowly that they’re unreadable. If you have reception issues, is there anything that you can do? That’s what we’re here to tell you: all you need to know about solving mobile reception issues.

Is It Your Phone?

There are basically three main reasons why you might not be getting good reception on your mobile. The first and simplest is that it could be your phone. Some mobiles are just better at getting a signal than others (though most new phones are pretty comparable). It’s easy to find out if this is your problem, just slip your SIM card into someone else’s phone and see if you still have a problem. If you don’t then you’re going to need a new mobile if you want better reception. If you do, then the cause of your problem lies elsewhere…

Is It Your Home?

The second reason could be interference from your home itself. This does happen, either because there are lots of electronics around, or because you have thick walls or other obstructions that are blocking your signal. Again, it’s pretty easy to check if this is your problem. Do you have decent reception in the garden? If you do, then there’s something in your home that’s effecting your mobile reception.

There are a few solutions to this problem. First, try moving other electronics (your router, laptop, landline phone, anything) away from your mobile when making a call. This could help. Far more likely though is that the problem is simply your house creating too much of an obstacle, with its thick walls and insulation. Fortunately, most mobile carriers have something called a femtocell (Vodafone call theirs “Sure Signal,” with Three it’s called “Home Signal,” or with O2 it’s known as “BoostBox”). This is basically an extra signal point that should improve your in home reception immeasurably. You might need to buy it, but if you complain loud enough your operator might give you one for free.

A brief note: you might see gadgets called mobile repeaters being sold online. According to OFCOM, these are ILLEGAL in the UK, so don’t be tempted to buy one, no matter how much they promise to improve your reception.

Is It Your Operator?

If you’re getting bad reception not only in your home but also in the general area of your home then the problem is most likely with your operator. Mobile operators own cell towers that broadcast signals for your phone to pick up, the closer you are to a tower the stronger your signal is. It can happen that your home is simply too far away from a tower owned by your operator to get a decent signal. And now you’ve got a pretty big problem…

Your first step should be (wherever possible) to check reception with other operators. You can do this by borrowing SIM cards from friends, or even buying cheap pay as you go SIMs from other operators to see how they work. Chances are that you’ll find at least one operator that gives you decent service, in which case you’re going to need to switch to that operator…

But you signed a contract, right? Hmm. In this case your current operator is going to want to charge you a big chunk of change to cancel your contract so that you can switch. We’ve got some good news and bad news on that front. The good news is that the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 says that a service provider must provide you with the contracted service. In some cases this is enough to persuade your operator to cancel your contract without penalty. However, you might find that your contract includes a clause saying something like “service will vary” in which case you might not be covered by this Act.

Your best bet is to talk to your operator and explain the problem. Try to get them to cancel the contract without a penalty, or at least to decrease the penalty. If you feel that you’re being treated unfairly you can apply to an ombudsman to get an objective judgement. Which ombudsman you apply to will depend on your operator, and you’ll need to check your operator’s web site to find out where they’re registered (it will be either Ombudsman Services: Communications or the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS)).

I Have No Reception At All!

What about if you try other operators and you don’t get reception with any of them? This is pretty unlikely to happen, but if you live in a very isolated or rural area there’s a small chance. And the news isn’t good, we’re afraid. If you don’t get reception with any operator then there’s really nothing that you can do- though you could invest in an expensive satellite phone if a mobile is really necessary.

However, mobile infrastructure is constantly changing in the UK. More cell towers are being built, newer technologies are being released. The advent of WiFi calling (recently announced by both EE and Vodafone) may be able to help you with your reception problems, for example. That means that the chances are that you’ll be getting reception somehow with at least one operator sometime in the future, so be patient!

Bad mobile reception is very frustrating, particularly if you’re paying for a contract that you can’t use. There are solutions, however. But prevention is always better than cure. If you’re considering a new operator, it’s generally a good idea to check out reception first, either with a cheap PAYG SIM or with a friend’s phone. That way you’ll know that you’re not signing up for a service that you’re not going to be able to use…

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