Mobile 101 – Part 2: Coverage

At the most basic level, mobile technology requires a device, and a network connection. The device lets you make phone calls, get on the internet, and upload and download whatever you want. The connection is what makes it possible to do those things, linking the device to a network shared by other devices around the world. Most people know how important the right smart phone is to enabling great experiences, but far fewer understand just how important the connection is to making it all possible. That’s what we’re going to talk about – the basics of a mobile connection – and we’re going to focus on two key elements– Coverage and Capacity. Coverage allows us to have a mobile connection virtually anywhere while on the go, and Capacity allows us to get enough bandwidth to do what we need to do. Let’s start with Coverage. Coverage refers to a phone’s ability to find and keep a reliable signal on the network it’s connected to. Or, to put it another way, it’s about making sure we have enough bars at all times. Here’s how that happens: The process begins with choosing a mobile phone AND buying a subscription with an Operator. Now let’s be clear here: With all of the amazing things that smart phones can do, NONE of it would be possible without mobile operators. They are the companies that own and manage the networks, and the towers - or base stations – that keep them running. When data or voice leaves the tower, it’s embedded in a radio wave, which creates a signal the phone can pick up. But while that wave is very strong when it leaves the tower, it becomes much weaker as it travels. And just getting where it needs to go can be a challenge, because there are LOTS of things that can disrupt the connection. Have you ever noticed that your call sometimes gets dropped when you go into a tunnel, or into some buildings? That’s because the signal has to fight its way through physical barriers to get to your phone. Plus, there are lots of OTHER radio waves that get in the way too. Believe it or not, by the time a signal reaches a mobile device, it can be more than one hundred trillion times weaker than when it left the tower. You heard me right: 100 TRILLION. That’s 14 zeroes worth of signal loss. On top of all that, there’s also the issue of mobility. The maximum distance the signal between the phone and the tower can travel is about 15 kilometers. But no one wants to be limited to fifteen kilometers. Think about it like this: You’re driving down the road, listening to your favorite song on the radio, when all at once it goes from music to static. What’s happening is that you’ve reached the limit of that station’s coverage area, and you can’t stay connected to its tower anymore. That’s fine for radio…but for mobile phones, fading out or dropping just isn’t acceptable. We move around constantly, quickly moving out of range of a single tower. As we travel, our signal has to be seamlessly handed to other towers without losing the connection. So to sum it all up: Coverage is all about making sure we can get a signal on our phone wherever we go. While it might seem as easy as connecting the phone to the nearest tower, there are lots of obstacles that get in the way: physical barriers like buildings and tunnels, and other signals fighting their way through the airwaves at the same time. And all this has to happen while we are on the move. For mobile technology to be successful, it must overcome all of this to deliver clear, uninterrupted signals at all times. Most people don’t know any of this. But now the next time you look down at your smartphone and see a reliable signal, you’ll now understand all the amazing things your mobile connection does, to make that happen.

Publish Date: Jul 22, 2014

Length: 3:37