There are three main causes of signal problems: distance from the cell tower, obstacles in the way like buildings; mountains or local obstructions, and the construction material of your home or office building. These issues can also work together to compound the problem.
1. Distance from the Cell Tower:
Cellular signal is broadcasted from towers that are installed by local operators (Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom.). The closer you are to a tower, the stronger the cell signal is going to be. As you move further away from the tower, the signal becomes weaker, which we call attenuation, until at some point it’s too weak to hold a call or transfer data.
Being too far away from a cell tower is the most common reason for weak cell signal, and the one you’ll often experience if you live or travel in very rural areas.
2. Obstacles in the Way:
The second cause of poor or erratic cell signal is the presence of obstacles between you and the nearest cell tower, like a mountain, hill, or building. You may also experience cell signal problems if you’re at the bottom of a valley or underground and don’t have line of sight to a nearby tower.
Signal is not usually able to penetrate through large obstacles. The cell signal may bounce off of other hills or buildings and reach you through reflection, in which case you’ll notice that your signal is weaker and may fluctuate up & down, otherwise you’ll most likely end up with no signal in your location.
3. Building Materials:
That last major cause of cellular signal problems is the construction materials that make up the building that you’re in. Brick, block, concrete, sheet metal and wire mesh construction materials are some well-known and obvious blockers of cell service, but things like energy efficient window coatings, tile or metal roofs, and water fixtures can also cause major signal issues.
If you find that you have a usable cell signal outside of the building, but it drops significantly once you step inside, then construction materials are the most likely culprit. Here is a list of the most common materials to look out for:
Combination of factors:
Unfortunately, these causes of bad cell signal frequently work in combination. For example, a rural warehouse with weak outside signal and sheet metal walls that completely block the signal from entering the building, or a house in a valley without a clear line of sight to the nearest cell tower, and no other nearby cell towers from which to receive a signal.
When looking at solutions to solve your cellphone signal problem, it’s good to have an idea of what combination of causes is creating the problem in the first, so that the right solution can be put into place.