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Jens

Phones getting weaker in the mountains-Verizon?

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Would anyone care to shed some light on the current situations with cell phones in mountains?--

I don't make cell phone calls in the mountains but I carry one for a safety margin. I routinely turn mine on at summits to see if I can get a signal. I've noticed that some summits that used to have coverage no longer do. For instance after my Liberty Ridge and Willis Wall climbs this summer on Rainier, my verizon phone didn't get coverage either time on the summit and the weather was perfect. Back in the earlier days of cell phones, I remember they all seemed to work high on Rainier. Even in the last year or so, i've noticed my verizon phone works in less places than it used to. I went with Verizon because of beta from this site. Now, I am thinking about switching. Some engineer said something about it is not so much that the technology is gettting worse but instead different companies are trying to save money and selling out rights to former towers. Anyone know anything about this? I took the phone in and they reporgrammed it but it did nothing. Is Verizon no longer "King of the Mountains"? Should I go with t-mobile? Anyone else? The engineer said something like phones are gonna get even worse in the mountains. Could this be for real?

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Possibly even though no service is shown on the screen, a call to 911 might still go through using other companies towers? not sure how it works, just an idea.

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I am no expert on this but... I beleive it is a digital vs. analog problem Verizon still makes analog capable phones and has kept around most of their analog towers. If you want a phone to work in the mountains dont buy a digital only phone. I recently switched from t-moble to verizon because of this reason.

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Jens - most phones today are only digital; older cell phones are analog - the phones inbetween are both - but often times you had to manually switch them. Analog phones transmit using radio frequency modulation (FM) and are thus better for long distance (I've made calls with mine from remote peaks in the wrangells and in the ak range). On the other hand digital is clearer and better for chatting with your homies.

 

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Yes, it is indeed a digital vs. analog problem. I just talked with my Cingular guy about it the other day. I still have analog, but it's getting phased out and will be toast in Feb. '08. Pretty stupid, since he said 5% (and fewer by the month) of Cingular's towers are analog, but my service is often better than anyone else's. Why the switch? I wish I knew.

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Climbing Panther as I understand the switch is thanks to the fact that cell phones no longer are just for talking. The switch is so that they can put in more data signals for all those who like to surf the net and download stuff on thier phones. I am a Cingular customer as well and not happy that I HAVE to buy a new phone. THank you, all you Paris Hilton wanabes.

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Jens, You are still on with the Verizon. But Panther is correct as well. In the Digital/Analog struggle analog lost by federal declaration. There will be no more analog sold after Feb. 08. Some of the Analog tower gear will still work for a while. But it is all going away. Some of us are working on a next gen fix.

 

The good part. Most carriers have completely switched to digital. Verizon still has some phones that are multi-function commonly called tri-mode. Even these if you are purchasing new you will need to argue for as they are being phased out.

 

The science part. You sense a loss of power because of the brains of the phone. A tri-mode phone adjusts it's transmit mode and power output according to the level of signal that it is receiving. Most of the time this is fine as the incoming signal can be an indicator of output power required. Enter some guy who decided to wander up on to a mountain. They are high in the air and line of sight to a tower that is many miles away. Thus the phone sees a good clean signal. It automatically sets itself for digital and lower power. Now the phone does not have enough transmit to reach across those many miles. Most often this is seen and blown off as those moments when your phone tells you there is a new message but you can't call out to check.

 

If you have a tri-mode give me a PM with make and model. I can help you to access the program menu. From here you can get to a diagnostic "force mode" that makes the phone transmit in Analog at it's highest available power. It works good but use with caution as the battery goes quick.

 

Hope this helps.

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Ketch....sounds like you understand this a bit. From what I was told when I bought a Verizon Tri-mode recently, one of the main reasons for the Feds push to digital is safety.....for some reason they can trace the location of digital phones/digital signal more accurately than analog (think 911 call). Unfortunately, digital signals do not travel as far, so there will be some time period after which the towers are all converted to digital, and before more towers are added to effectively make up the coverage delta.

 

I'm anticipating a big problem in that carriers may not have economic incentive to add towers that provide coverage to predominantly wilderness areas.....Thoughts?

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ericb, I have a reasonable handle on it. Yes, what you were told is pretty good. All the facts are there although some of them are a little mixed. The end assumption is still valid.

 

In the old days (if you remember bag phones) the analog transmitters were fairly powerful, sometimes up to three watts. This gave them a good range but, due to saftey concerns the antenna was purposefully not at your head. This is for comparisson more power than a FRS walkie talkie but less than a licensed marine VHF. In those days towers only need to be on a 15 mile grid to achieve perfect coverage as the high powers allowed for reliable coverage of sometimes 100s of square miles per tower depending on terrain.

 

The drawback is that the airwaves were really polluted and cross talk is ineveitable between freguencys. As cells took off a solution was needed. Enter digital signals. More data (initially just voice on digi signal but data is data so really whatever) and closer controlled frequencys means we can drop powers. Also the prolifferation of phones made it reasonable (read profitable)to add more towers. A smaller grid means once again lower power. In urban settings now the grid can be often down to 1 mile and each tower only has to deal with 3-5 sq miles of terrain. Where we are at now is that many of the new digital phones have only 0.1 watt transmit in fact some of the the towers themselves are at a lower transmit power than the old school bag phones. This makes all the RF energy naysayers much happier and for the most part is cool as most cell use is close to a tower.

 

Now for the backcountry person you are exactly right. The phones can't reach the towers which operate at lower power. It is also, to tie into the current challenge on Hood, false hope. When a company "pings" a phone they can tell the reply came from a relative bearing at which tower. In urban settings with the small grid. It is very accurate due to the size of the partitions. Also that sometime three or four towers all return a bearing. In the back country that same 45 degrees from a 15- 30 mile grid to one tower is pretty crude. But, we tend to forget that things are differant out there. The same accuracy achieved downtown is expected on the hill.

 

Verizon tried to beat the game by using phones that automatically switch power and mode. This worked sweet until other radio wave users needed more frequencies. The Fed choked the cell analog market as almost no one is using it any way. Economics wise new style towers will probably not arrive in the backcountry and who wants a tower (even if they are the camoflouflage type) every few miles anyway.

 

For a quick and dirty this is still long enough but hopefully you can see where you are probably right cells are not likely to be reliable help in the backcountry and possibly not even in smaller rural. There are a couple projects on the boards for special market stuff but right now if you want reliable phone buy or rent Satellite.

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Wow! awesome post thanks.

 

It's pretty sad that are phones are gonna get worse or not work in the mountains.

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Oh don't worry. The phones are going to get better in the mountains. You just need to remember one secret.

 

Only climb in ski areas and along highway corridors.

 

:eek: money runs it all sometimes.

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Who cares? Why is this not in spray? Cell phone coverage has nothing to do with climbing!

Edited by kevbone

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And I actually thought about getting a cell phone after the recent events in Oregon. After reading this, I probably won't now. Thanks for saving me ketch.

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Wow! awesome post thanks.

 

It's pretty sad that are phones are gonna get worse or not work in the mountains.

 

But you won't get brain cancer now.

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And I actually thought about getting a cell phone after the recent events in Oregon. After reading this, I probably won't now. Thanks for saving me ketch.

 

If you are primarily looking at cell for backcountry saftey it is not so good. As I mentioned before there are some solutions that are on the boards. Some of which I am involved in but still preproduction so not much info to share. Even if these come to pass it will be one more piece of gear to carry just in case. Give it a while and maybe it will be worth rethinking

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And I actually thought about getting a cell phone after the recent events in Oregon. After reading this, I probably won't now. Thanks for saving me ketch.

 

If you are primarily looking at cell for backcountry saftey it is not so good. As I mentioned before there are some solutions that are on the boards. Some of which I am involved in but still preproduction so not much info to share. Even if these come to pass it will be one more piece of gear to carry just in case. Give it a while and maybe it will be worth rethinking

 

FWIW former Cellular One magnate Craig McCaw has a new venture afoot to launch a combined cellular/sat-phone network; won't be available before 2008 though.

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Cellphones still work in the mountains. Your particular phone might not.

 

If you hope to use you phone in rural areas, insist on getting a TRI-MODE. Salespeople will talk you out of it, saying that analog will be phased out. They've talked about this for years, but its still around.

 

You will give up some of the fancier features of some of the phones, as the ones with mp3 players/keyboards/etc etc are not TRIMODE.

 

If you are a verizon customer, the phones with the most features that still have trimode at the time of this post are the Samsung SCH-A870 and the LG VX5300.

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