CLEVELAND - Technology is great, but dropped cell phone calls and slow data speeds still frustrate consumers. So, what's being done to keep the network up to speed with our demanding habits? We went behind the scenes to show you what carriers are doing to help you, and how you can help them.
Texting, talking and surfing. Phones do more than ever, yet we still have that same old problem.
"The phone calls, they drop," Yvonne Cummings said. She said she has problems everyday.
Most cell phone users can easily name that spot where they ask over and over, "Can you hear me now? Ted Vance's own home is on the list.
"Here a call.. hello. Hold on. Hello. Hello," Vance said as he tried to hear the person on the other end.
He put the call on speakerphone because that usually helps reception. This time Vance still had problems with the connection. "I'm sorry I can't hear you," Vance said. Seconds later we heard a beeping noise indicating the call dropped.
While it may feel like your cell company is dropping the ball, they are listening and testing.
"I'm doing a ping or an upload or download," Clark Kent said. Kent drives around in a $350,000 vehicle to find signal soft spots. His vehicle is loaded with computers, GPS, antennas and cell phones.
"We're checking signal strength, and proper handoff from site to site on our voice calls," Kent explained.
"I'm out there mimicking the actual users such as yourself," Kent said.
He also checks data speeds everyday when he hits the road. He works for Verizon, but he's also testing their competitors. Audible cues and electronic data are gathered street by street.
App allows you to mark the dead spot
AT&T sometimes runs road tests, too, but says it also needs your help.
"If it's an area that's always been weak and they think we need a tower there we have an app on our iPhone and Android phones called "Mark the Spot," Stephen Evanoff of AT&T said.
It gives you a direct pipeline to AT&T engineers and you can use it for dropped calls, slow data, or voice quality issues. The app captures the date, time, location, and tower. If you don't have service when you have a problem, the app caches your information and sends it once you have service again. You'll get a text message confirming receipt of the information.
Alerting your carrier is key because no matter how much a company tests your street simply may not stand out from thousands of others as a signal soft spot.
We took Verizon's test car to Vance's trouble spot, and didn't have as many problems.
"I can't really duplicate what's inside their house," Kent said.
The construction of your home, the number of people using a tower, and geography all make a difference.
"Might just be in a hollow here," Kent said.
Carriers are increasing capacity, and adding new technology to boost signals. Verizon said it's aware of the need in Westlake and it's looking for the best location for a new site.
"This process involves many steps including working with local officials, property owners and the FCC to ensure that we're meeting all requirements while maximizing the coverage in the area. While we can't provide a timeframe at this point, the process is underway and we plan to have a new site in the area as soon as possible," a Verizon spokeswoman told us.
Carriers are also continually increasing the power of the network by adding 4G service.
In-home cell tower
Sometimes you need to pay the price, and boost your own signal.
"It's almost like having a small cell site in your home, but it works with WiFi," Evanoff said.
Most carriers offer a product to extend the network. It's a question of whether you want to pay the price.
We also reached out to Sprint for this story. For competitive reasons the carrier would not give us specifics on testing or give us a behind the scenes look, but the company said it's monitoring its system 24/7.
Become a cell phone tester
Want to know where your carrier's signal soft spots, or want to be a signal strength tester? RootMetrics is a third-party company that relies on users like you and its own testing to score the carriers.