The reason cell phones drop a lot of calls in Barrhaven – and why changing carriers won’t help

A few post back I wrote about a great service to use when you dropped (and cracked) your smartphone. Today I’m going to attempt a variation on the theme – what can you do when your phone drops you.

I often come across tweets originating from Barrhaven residents complaining of dropped cell phone calls. Turns out, it’s a real problem for our community. Barrhaven does indeed suffer from a specific set of circumstances that result in a higher rate of dropped cellular calls. And today, I reveal the reason behind the dropped calls, and why changing your cell phone provider will probably not solve the problem.

Barrhaven Cell Phone Problems
Suffering from numerous dropped cell phone calls in Barrhaven – it might be caused by airplane flutter.

Before I start, I would like to make the following disclosure. While I’m an IT professional, I do not have any formal training or expertise in the area of wireless communication protocols and technologies. The information I will share today was gleamed from personal observations and online research. If some of you have in depth knowledge of cell phone communications, please feel free to share your expertise in the comment section. Your input would be most welcomed.

With that out of the way, back to the topic at hand. There are many reasons why cell phones drop calls, and what I’m about to share is not the only cause, but in Barrhaven, it’s a significant one. It’s a phenomenon referred to as airplane flutter and it affects cell phone performance when devices are used near airports.

In a nutshell, your cell phone communicates with a local antenna (usually mounted on a tower). But when the right geographical and atmospheric conditions are in place,  your cell phone can receive both a direct signal from the antenna tower and a reflected signal scattered by a low altitude airplane flying overhead. The combination of these two signals confuses cell phones, which can result in dropped calls.

In more technical terms, the aircraft fuselage acts as a mirror to the RF signals radiating from the mobile telephone transmitter and redirects them to your mobile handset.  However, as two signals arrive to your cell phone by differing route lengths (one by the cell tower, the other reflected by a low flying aircraft), there will be a phase difference between the two, and when this is of the order of 180  degrees, they will cancel each other out resulting in no signal. Redial please.

This phenomenon also affects digital TV signals, but unlike cell phones, there are ways to mitigate those effects using a specific foil reflector with your antenna. The wild card here is that cell phones operate using many different frequencies and protocols. GSM, CDMA and the newer LTE communication protocols may all be affected differently by airplane flutter, therefore it’s important to ask your cell phone provider what product they recommend to minimize its impact.

Barrhaven Oktoberfest
See who’s playing at this year’s Barrhaven Oktoberfest