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What Causes Dropped Cell Phone Calls?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Just about everyone has had the frustration of using the cell phone for an important call and having the signal suddenly drop. Unlike wired phone services, which rely primarily on fiber optic cable and physical switches to provide service within a given geographic area, cell services function with the use of towers that link to and from phones to the switching software located at the towers. When a tower is rendered temporarily inoperable for any reason, such as bad weather, a software glitch, or a momentary overload of signals to switch, calls that are in progress may disconnect and the user may find their phones flashing a “no reception available” or “dropped call” message. If a software glitch or a temporary overload of switching caused the problem, chances are the situation will be corrected in seconds, and callers can simply re-dial and resume their conversations with a new session. If weather conditions have taken the tower off line, it may take a longer period to restore service.

Many cell service providers establish what are called "service areas" with each of their plans. There will be a local calling area, an extended calling area, and then roaming service areas. For people who do not opt for extended and roaming services as part of their package, they may experience a dropped calls as they get near the boundary of the local service area. Often, they will see a message display to the effect that they cannot send or receive calls, such as “no reception” or “service not available.” Once the user moves back into the calling area, the message will disappear and calls can be made once again.

Just about every service area has locations where hilly terrain, trees, or other obstacles can interfere with the integrity of the connection. This creates what are called “dead spots” in the service area. The dead spots tend to be the major cause of dropped calls experienced while driving. Once out of the dead spot, the user can once again call out or receive calls.

Of course, there is one reason for this problem that has nothing to do with the service, the towers and software, or the calling area. Sometimes, people who own cell phones simply forget to recharge the phone in a timely manner. A cell phone operating with little power left is much more susceptible to dropping a call. Individuals can make sure that their phones have a batter that is at least half-way charged to help ensure that calls are not dropped due to lack of power to sustain the signal.

As most people can attest, dropped calls are a nuisance. At the same time, it is important for individuals to remember that, as the technology continues to advance, the incidence of this particular issue has decreased. In time, it's likely that people will be able to enjoy long stretches of time during which there's no fear of losing a call while using a cell phones, either due to technical issues, geographic obstacles, or running out of battery power.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon960138 — On Jul 08, 2014

I have a radio calling station. I use a fixed cellular terminal for this purpose. Recently, callers to this number have increased drastically, and with the introduction of lots of call drops, suggest to me the possible reasons for call drops apart from poor network, handover, low battery, dead area, etc.

By anon929152 — On Jan 30, 2014

I have been having some issues with the AT&T. I have called my family and friends but when I call them it's not me that they have on the other side. They have told me that when I call they were getting some other person on the other side instead.

If this is involved with the tower problem, then how can we expect to prevent it from happening all the time? You can never be sure who's on the other line other than a friend or family members that you are trying to get connected with.

By anon317883 — On Feb 04, 2013

My phone is always fully charged. Lately I've experienced frequent dropped calls using the same phone I've had for years. This used to not happen and it's in the same areas of town that used to have great reception. I now receive a No message or warning that the signal has been lost and the phone usually says I have service plus full bars.

If I redial it will just continue, so it's best to just text back and hope my messaging is working this time. Otherwise I'll wait or go somewhere else to make the call.

By anon244832 — On Feb 03, 2012

I get constant dropped calls with AT&T in San Leandro, CA. I live near the bart station, and when the train comes by, the phone hangs up. I can't call, receive a call, text, or email with my iphone until the train passes. Sometimes there is train after train after train, and it's very annoying.

At best, I get a max of two bars of signal strength. I've lived in this area for the past eight years, and I am sick of this AT&T service.

By anon221600 — On Oct 12, 2011

Every call I receive turns into a dropped call, which is very unique with my samsung diva, since it never happened to me when I was still using my nokia phone. The signal is very good, there's no electronic noise around, and the battery is full, so I don't know what's causing this problem.

By anon204069 — On Aug 08, 2011

You cannot use satellites. Otherwise, you should have dish antenna installed on your cellphone.

The technology itself needs multiple towers for creating cells for coverage. With a handful of antennas you can create e.g 10 big cells where it would be impossible to service millions of calls.

By discographer — On Apr 19, 2011

A friend of mine works for a cell phone company and he says that electronic noise is responsible for a lot of dropped calls. I guess when we are around other electronic devices, the signals get mixed up. It happens when I put my phone next to my computer's speakers. The speakers make a funny noise, so does the radio.

Apparently there are technologies that prevent this. My friend mentioned something about a chip that can be put in the cell phone which clears up the electronic noise. Or there is a kit that you can put in the house and it makes the cell phone signals stronger.

I don't know, I think I might just change my service provider, rather than paying for these devices.

By burcidi — On Apr 17, 2011

I wonder if it would be possible for service providers to send out the signals via an orbiting satellite rather than towers, just like they do with cable TV?

I think as long as we rely on service towers, it's always going to be difficult to have a signal as you are traveling or in an enclosed space where the signal doesn't reach.

I'm no expert on cell phone services but why not use satellites? The signal would be much stronger and coming from space and should be received easily everywhere. Can you guys think of any other way to prevent dropped calls?

By SteamLouis — On Apr 16, 2011

I experience dropped calls with my cell phone the most when I'm driving through a tunnel. It also happens when the subway goes underground or if I get into an elevator in a building.

I'm so used to losing the call in these situations that I have actually learned to tell the person what I'm doing, tell them I'll call them later and hang up the phone before the call drops.

I guess the signal just doesn't get through these barriers, but I hope they can develop a technology that can get past this. It is very annoying to have to hang up and redial, because we are in these situations a lot.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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