Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What Makes Cellphone Coverage Vary?

October 22, 2014

Pots and Pans

It seems I have been writing about cellphones for a few days, so I thought I would cover a question that I have been asked many times. I travel a lot and it’s not unusual to sit next to somebody and note that the two of you are having a very different cellular experience. One of you may be getting one bar for data and voice while the other might be getting four, sitting only a few feet apart. What explains this difference in cellular performance? I will start with the obvious explanations, but sometimes the differences are due to more subtle issues.

Who is your carrier? Both people might have an iPhone, but if one has Verizon and the other has AT&T the experience is different because both are connected to completely different technologies and totally separate networks. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM (Global System for Mobile) technology, the technology that is used in most of the rest of the world. But Verizon and Sprint use CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology. These technologies are so different that a handset that is made only for one technology won’t work on the other. This is why you can’t take your Verizon handset to most of the rest of the world when you travel.

Who’s on the nearest tower? I’ve often been driving with somebody and hear them be glad to see an upcoming cell tower because they assume this means they’ll get better coverage. But you can’t assume this because not every carrier is on every cell tower. There are a large number of cell towers in the country. Some of these are owned by the wireless carriers but many are leased. The cellular companies look at available towers and then cobble together the combination of towers that make the most effective and cost-efficient network for them.

This task has gotten hard for the carriers because of the fact that cellphones now carry data. The original cell tower network with all of the giant towers was created back when cellphones only carried voice. But now that the networks are deploying data and using higher frequencies it turns out that a more ideal network would place the towers closer together than the traditional locations. This is causing massive reconfigurations of the networks as the carriers try to improve data reception.

Cell sites get busy. Or said another way, any one carrier on a tower might get busy while another carrier might not be busy. As cell sites get busy they do a couple of things to handle the excess traffic. Most carriers still give preference to voice over data, so as more voice calls are added to a network the amount of bandwidth allocated to data is often choked down (but not always). And eventually the tower site refuses to add new customers. But when sites get busy the performance normally degrades.

You might be roaming. Roaming is when a customer is riding a different network than the one to which they subscribe. If you are an AT&T customer and are roaming on a T-Mobile site, you will not get the same priority as a T-Mobile customer. This might mean getting slower data speeds if the site becomes busy, and it could also mean being booted from the site as it becomes full.

Spectrum is not created equal. There is not just one spectrum being used for cellular data. There are already nearly a dozen different slices of spectrum being used and the FCC is going to be auctioning more over the next two years. Every time you move to a different cell site you might be changing the frequency you are using. Carriers not only cobble together a network of the ideal cell sites, but they also play a chess game of deciding which spectrum to deploy at each tower. None of the carriers owns all of the different spectrum available, and the spectrums they own in different cities can be drastically different. This means getting four bars at your home might not give you the same experience as getting four bars when you are traveling.

What your phone allows. Perhaps one of the biggest differences in reception is that each cellphone maker decides what spectrum a given handset is going to receive. It costs a lot of energy, meaning battery time, for a phone to always search on all of the different frequencies. So different handsets allow different frequency bands. This is why LTE coverage differs so widely because there are many sets that don’t even see some of the LTE frequencies. All handsets look for the basic cellular bands, but only the most expensive sets are designed to look for almost everything out there. And as more cellular bands are allowed into the mix this will get more pronounced. Of course, you have to read very deep into the specifications of your phone to understand what it does and does not receive. Good luck asking that question at the cellphone store.

Plain old interference. Every cellular frequency has a different propagation characteristic. If you and the guy next to you are talking on different frequencies then you each will be dealing with a different set of interference. This is one of the reasons that cellular coverage is so wonky in complicated buildings like airports and hospitals. Each cellular frequency is likely to find a different set of problems in a complex environment and one frequency might get killed in a given part of the airport while another is fine. This is why you might find yourself walking around trying to find a signal while people around you are still talking.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CompTIA Brings New IT Fundamentals Certification to Users

Oct 20, 2014Michael Cusanelli  The VAR Guy

CompTIA is introducing a new IT Fundamentals exam to help industry newcomers learn essential terminology and concepts.

Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive officer at CompTIA
CompTIA’s new IT Fundamentals certification exam is now available, the company announced, covering a range of IT topics and provide a solid understanding in the technology concepts and practices organizations use today.

The exam is designed for individuals looking to get a basis for the different types of terminology used in the IT field and to help new additions to the industry get up to speed with their coworkers. The exam covers five topics, including software, hardware, security, networking and basic IT literacy, according to the company. CompTIA also recommends the exam for companies looking to promote and verify basic fluency in IT terminology and concepts among employees.

WomenTech Proven Practices

Have you seen our free, National Science Foundation-funded Proven Practices Collection? The Proven Practices Collection brings educators a research-based blueprint for recruiting and retaining women and girls in the STEM classroom. You'll find over a hundred journal articles and proven practice case studies, all available to you at no cost.

Here are a few highlights from the dozens of articles, case studies and resources which are included in the Collection:
Women in Computer Science at Harvey Mudd College: Three Promising Practices (video)

Five years after introducing three key recruitment and retention strategies, women now make up around 42% of Harvey Mudd College's computer science program. In this Google Tech Talk video, Christine Alvarado shares the three practices Harvey Mudd College implemented to increase the number of women in their CS program: 1) new curriculum for CS1, 2) scholarship trips for female freshman to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computer Science, and 3) hands-on research projects for female sophomore CS students.

Watch Christine Alvarado's Google Tech Talk video


FCC Small Biz Cyber Planner 2.0

Information technology and high-speed Internet are great enablers of small business success, but with the benefits comes the need to guard against growing cyber threats. As larger companies take steps to secure their systems, less secure small businesses are easier targets for cyber criminals. In October 2012, the FCC re-launched Small Biz Cyber Planner 2.0, an online resource to help small businesses create customized cybersecurity plans. Use this tool to create and save a custom cyber security plan for your company, choosing from a menu of expert advice to address your specific business needs and concerns. The FCC also released an updated Cybersecurity Tip Sheet

Monday, October 20, 2014

RHT: Webinar: 2015 IT Hiring and Compensation Trends

by Robert Half Technology
October 20, 2014

Although the year isn’t over, it’s not too early to look into what 2015 holds for the IT job market – for both job-seekers and hiring managers. What’s the going starting salary for your current position? Should you stay put or move on? For hiring managers, what are job candidates looking for? How can you retain your top talent?
Get these answers and more at this special webinar:
2015 IT Hiring and Compensation Trends
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
11:00 am PST

John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology and industry expert, will explore new findings based on our 2015 Salary Guide. Gather insightful information on:
  • IT hiring environment
  • 2015 salary trends in the US and Canada
  • IT specialties and skills in demand
  • Industry trends
  • Retention strategies
Register online now to reserve a space. You won’t want to miss what he has to say!

— Robert Half Technology

With more than 100 locations worldwide, Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Visit our website at