The vagaries of radio wave propagation

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 09:30:07 09/10/15

In Reply to: Cell phone question posted by Kent


I have actually had weak cell signal occasionally in certain spots proximal to Norris Geyser Basin, particularly high spots, like the road north of the campground or coming down Blanding Hill, east of the basin. On rare occasion, that signal has been strong enough to allow marginal voice communications. In the case of the LGB, including most of Fountain Flats, with the exception of the broad expanses to the west (Fairy Meadows and Sentinel Meadows), I know from personal experience that high end FRS radios occasionally pick up traffic from the UGB. On occasion, I have seen FRS radio transmissions between gazers in the UGB and others at or near Great Fountain Geyser.

We know that atmospheric conditions can impact radio wave propagation. Anyone familiar with CB radio has heard of "talking skip", whereby one can talk inordinate distances. I remember being at high elevations in the Cascades east of Seattle in the 1970s, and listening to traffic from the southeastern U.S.

Texting on cell phones is nowhere near as bandwidth dependent as full on voice communications, which is why texting can often be accomplished with sketchy cell signal, when voice is pretty much impossible. (You probably already knew that.)

My suspicion is that when we get "bursts" of receptivity around Norris, we are hitting a cell tower in or near West Yellowstone. In the case of the LGB, occasional signal could be acquired from a tower in or near West, or be coming from the tower at Old Faithful.

I am not current on cell signal reception booster technology, but I know that cell service is provided via radio waves, thus anything that amplifies weak signal without undue distortion should be beneficial. One of the less expensive options I have used to boost RF reception for my scanner in Yellowstone was a considerably larger antenna. (I'm not sure that ever really made much of a difference, unfortunately.) My recommendation would be to research signal boosting options with your specific cellular carrier. You can start with their website, but the best bet may be to go into the biggest retail outlet they have in your area. Try to find a real techno geek within the store. The best usually work as technicians in the back, as opposed to on the retail store floor, where all the sales folks are. You may find a suite of options, with a broad spread of prices.

If you do find something palatable, and try it in Yellowstone, please report back on your findings.


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