Mobile phones were just starting to become accessible to all with the introduction of 'Pay as You Go' deals in the late nineties as I was finishing university.
After three years of making sure my student sized funds would keep me in beer (sometimes even food had to be bumped down the list), I'd entered the world of work and felt I could now stretch to a treat. I still remember my first phone call coming through. That sense of excitement and fear. Excitement because someone was calling, fear because I was filling up the car at the station at the time!
Still, I lived to tell the tale and years down the line, my phone is a constant and more capable than ever companion. I never take it for granted. I've left it at home before and know what a day without it feels like.
Phone technology has improved markedly. Rather than just making calls and texts, they're gadget sponges, absorbing the functions of other gadgets that used to need their own box and screen (for example, I think my current satnav will be my last) and network speeds have also increased. There remains though, one significant bugbear for me, my signal at home has always been poor. In fact I've been on three different phone networks and five different homes since my first mobile contract and I've always managed to be with a network where I lose the signal at home, or can only make and receive calls from one room.
At my current place in Hampshire none of the networks shine and until recently I had to stand by the sink in the kitchen in order to get an acceptable signal. I say recently, because the latest phone brought with it a solution and I thought I'd look a bit more in-depth at the options available to people who want to improve their mobile signal at home.
Not all solutions are available from all the networks unfortunately. The first solution I'd like to introduce you to is UMA, available on the Orange network. I don't like to get readers too lost in acronyms on this blog, especially ones like this where expanding the acronym doesn't make things any clearer, but for those who don't mind, it stands for 'Unlicensed Mobile Access'.
There are plenty of sites that will give you the full detail of how it works (see here), but in short, it allows you to use your home wireless broadband connection for your calls and texts. So long as your phone is connected via WIFI to your broadband, all calls and texts will be sent to Orange (and out to the world) via the internet. You'll still be using your allowances for calls and texts, or paying charges as normal, but you'll have a full signal and in my case, you can make calls from the living room, which feels like a miracle after the past few years!
There are some drawbacks. As I mentioned, firstly UMA is only supported by Orange in the UK. The second problem is, it's only supported by a limited amount of mobile handsets. I'm very happy with my 'HTC Desire S' at the moment, so I'm lucky. Orange list here the handsets they sell that will work.
Despite the drawbacks, I think UMA is an excellent solution. It also works on any WIFI broadband connection, not just your home one. I was staying at a hotel last night in the middle of the New Forest in Hampshire. No chance of a mobile signal there, but the complimentary WIFI meant that my friend's multimedia message of a cat able to scale a vertical wall got through. Where would I have been without it?!
Perhaps you're not with Orange though, maybe you're locked into contract with another network, are there any other solutions? If you're with Vodafone, you're in luck. They offer a service called SureSignal, which does a very similar thing to Orange and UMA, but it's perhaps a bit more cumbersome.
With SureSignal, you get a box that connects to your wireless router at home. Each of the mobile handsets you want to use with it must then be registered with the box and from then on, all your calls and texts will be picked up and routed over the internet to Vodafone and then the world.
Once setup, it's said to work just as well as UMA. I've recommended it to a few friends and they've been very pleased with it. Vodafone will often charge for it, depending on what contract you're on. This seems a bit cheeky as it's their poor coverage round your house that creates the problem in the first place, but it's still better than no signal at all or standing at that damned sink for a chat every time!
The good news is, nobody passing your house outside can use it, as the phones must be registered. You can also use any phone of your choosing, unlike UMA, but of course you can't take it with you to other places you frequent which have the same problem.
So that's Vodafone and Orange covered then. Despite limitations, it's possible to get round a lack of signal.
I'm afraid the news isn't quite so good for the remaining big UK networks however. 02 are closest to offering a market solution with their 'Boostbox'. According to rumour it's the same unit as the SureSignal from Vodafone, but in a different case. They've been running trials since the end of last year, so hopefully it'll be on the market before too long. In the meantime, CoolSmartPhone have got their hands on one and posted some thoughts here.
So that leaves Three. It took a while for me to find out anything about Three offering a signal boost service, but it turns out they do have one, they just don't like to talk about it. Basically, if you have a bad signal and make enough fuss about it to their customer services, the retentions department people will likely offer you a signal boosting box that does exactly the same thing as the SureSignal for free. I'm afraid I don't have any other source than this site, MobileEurope, to back this up, but I'd suggest if your signal is that bad, go make a fuss and see what happens.
Whilst losing your signal can be frustrating, particularly at home - it turns out there are solutions. The death of the landline has long been forecast, but those of us who turn to these fixes won't be able to ditch it anytime soon, we need the fixed broadband signal to carry our 'mobile' calls!
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