Why cell service still stinks in the year 2017

I've rarely heard anyone say they're happy with their cell service, myself included. If you're reading this story, it's possible you're dissatisfied, too.

low signal 2

It's not just you or your friends and family; the entire country isn't getting good cell service. US carriers don't rank too well against other carriers abroad. According to the MobiNEX research report conducted by Aptelligent published in October of last year, the US landed in 10th place out of 25 for overall carrier performance, including reliability and speeds. Ahead of the US, in order: Japan, France, the UK, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Australia. 

Here's why your cell service still stinks in 2017, and how it'll improve over the next few years:

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As someone who regularly commutes between downtown New York City and the suburbs of Connecticut, I've personally experienced plenty of frustration with my carrier's performance, especially during the peak commuter hours. I get a decent three to four bars of signal strength of LTE, but music streaming cuts out intermittently, web pages take a very long time to load, and I can totally forget about streaming video.

It's not like I live out in the boonies. My commuter route is one of the busiest in the country, so I'd expect my carrier would make sure daily commuters get the access they want — and pay for.

Father and daughter watching video on phone

Why does cell service stink?

Joe Madden, the principal analyst at mobile consulting firm Mobile Experts, told me that carriers have "not built enough extra capacity into the network to deal with the kind of web traffic we have going on now."

It means that, if you're experiencing poor speeds and reliability, your carrier network can barely handle the sheer number of people using data-heavy apps, at least in the area you're in.

It's similar to your WiFi at home, where internet speeds drop as more and more people stream Netflix simultaneously over your WiFi network.

Congestion also helps explain why I get such poor performance during my train commute, where I can barely stream music even with good signal strength. Madden explained that the local cell towers in the towns along my route might not have much capacity left during peak hours for the 300,000 daily commuters to New York City. The majority of the local cell tower capacity is probably being used up by local users in those towns, especially during peak hours.

Battery, New York CIty

Indeed, congestion wasn't a problem back in 2011, when LTE first rolled out and there were relatively few people on the network. It was so fast and reliable that I could easily use my phone as a hotspot at home instead of using WiFi for streaming music, videos, and browsing the web and social media.

Back then, I could get 20+ megabits-per-second (Mbps) LTE speeds through my phone's hotspot. These days, I'm lucky to get 4 Mbps. 

The speed hasn't changed, but more phones can now use the LTE network, which means there's more congestion.

lte speed test in nyc

See the rest of the story at Business Insider