Dropped calls are one of the most annoying parts of day-to-day life, especially when it interrupts your workday, or worse, your bottom line. Today we’re going to unpack dropped calls, both on cell phones and internet-based calling systems.
We’ll walk you through what dropped calls are, why you might be losing your connection on cellular and internet networks, plus how you can troubleshoot and fix your dropped calls.
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What is a Dropped Call?
Dropped calls occur when you’re disconnected from the network. You might be talking to someone and realize that suddenly, there’s no one at the other end of the line. Or, you might be on a video call and notice that your coworker has frozen, and can no longer hear you. Then, poof, you’re booted from the application, or your browser crashes.
Getting dropped sucks, no matter the network, but the network is important when you’re trying to figure out how to fix the problem. The way you troubleshoot will depend on the tool you were using to place that call.
Why Does My Phone Drop Calls?
If you’re using a cell phone, the network you’ve been disconnected from is a cellular telecommunications network. Cell phones send and receive signals to cell towers using electromagnetic waves. These waves, and the success of cellular infrastructure, are subject to and barriers and natural obstacles like tunnels, mountains, or hills.
Distance is another factor that plays into dropped calls. For instance, if you’ve ever been out walking or hiking in a rural area and tried to use your maps or GPS to navigate, you’re likely familiar with the frustrating experience of a map that just won’t load. No matter how many times you refresh your search query, or close and relaunch the app, you just can’t get enough signal to load your map. This is why many people who are avid remote hikers make sure to download their maps for offline use before they head out on the trail. You can’t guarantee that you’ll be covered everywhere, especially in areas with poor cell tower reception.
There are several other reasons why your phone might drop a call. A busy cell phone tower can even be a cause of dropped calls when there are just too many signals being sent and received for one tower to manage. We’ll talk more about how you can troubleshoot dropped calls on your cell phone, whatever the issue, later on in this article.
The good news is, you don’t have to worry about cellular infrastructure and its limitations when you’re using the internet to send and receive calls.
Internet-Based and Virtual Dropped Calls
Virtual and internet-based calling makes use of an internet connection to place and receive calls. If you ever experience a dropped virtual call, the network you’re being disconnected from, in this case, is the internet.
While calls placed via the internet aren’t subject to the same limitations as cellular networks, and therefore won’t have the same causes behind dropped calls, the effects are still the same: frustration and annoyance. Overall, the internet is an incredibly reliable technology that can produce crystal clear audio and video, but there are moments, as with any tech, where some light troubleshooting will go a long way.
Why do Virtual Calls Drop?
As with calls placed over a cellular network, calls placed over the internet rely on infrastructure. For virtual calls, this means the stuff that supports your wired or wireless connection, including your router, Wi-Fi, outlets, cables, and even the device that you’re using to connect, like a phone or laptop. It also means the network at large, the miles and miles of fiber and cable that connect back to data centers across the country, and world.
Virtual calls drop when your connection speed, bandwidth, or latency can’t support the data being transferred and received on the call, whether audio, video, or both. They also drop when there’s a larger network issue, including infrastructure troubles.
How to Troubleshoot Virtual Calls
While we can’t solve for a downed line impacting your street or building, we can offer some suggestions for troubleshooting dropped virtual calls when the problem is closer to home.
There are many reasons why your speed might not be performing up to the level you expect. Our tips for troubleshooting virtual call drops will help you make sure your internet connection is functioning as efficiently as it possibly can be.
If you’re familiar with the steps for fixing your internet connection, you’ll notice that these five tips are pretty much exactly what you’d do if you experienced any kind of unusual lag, buffering, or total lack of connection.
1. Do a speed test
First things first, if you’re suffering from frequent dropped virtual calls, or if you’re finding the video or audio quality not up to the standard you expect, a quick way to start diagnosing and fixing the issue is to conduct a simple speed test.
A speed test will give you your current upload and download speeds. This is where you can start assessing any baseline issues with your connection. If you’re finding your video calls are dropping, make sure that you see speeds of 8 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload minimum. These are the speed requirements for video calls to run smoothly.
2. Restart your router
Many of us, were we to discover that our internet was performing well below the speeds we were paying for, might jump to call our internet service provider (ISP) right away. But there’s one simple thing you should do before calling customer support: restart your router.
Restarting or rebooting your router is a classic “did you try unplugging it?” IT fix that, while frustratingly simple, often does just the trick, and helps you avoid a potentially long wait on the phone for the next available service rep.
Consider the last time you rebooted your cellphone, laptop, or desktop computer. Has it been a while? It’s likely been even longer since you thought about rebooting the router in your home or office. Rebooting your router will clean out its short-term memory and allow it to run seamlessly again. A rebooted router is less bogged down by all the things it had to remember since you last restarted it. Most importantly, your refreshed router will re-select a channel for its frequency, which means a stronger connection for you.
To restart your router, just unplug it or power it off. Leave it that way for a minute or two, and then plug it back in or power it on again. Once it’s back up and running, you should conduct a second speed test.
3. Who’s sharing the bandwidth?
If you’re working from home, you may be sharing your internet connection with multiple people doing the same, high-bandwidth activities as you. Many workers and students are spending more time at home these days, which means your virtual calls are sharing bandwidth with your teenage gamer and your partner streaming a cooking video.
A single internet connection can only take so much activity, so if your family is all home using the internet at the same time, and your virtual calls are dropping frequently, a busy digital household might be the culprit.
Workplaces typically have higher bandwidth and enterprise packages, which means they’re better set up for multiple users making virtual calls all at the same time. One practice that workplaces adopt to maximize their internet capacity is the use of a wired connection. This is one tip that the work-from-home crowd can try as well.
4. Try a wired connection
Did you know Wi-Fi isn’t as reliable or fast as wiring into your router? While you may be used to using the internet to place calls exclusively over Wi-Fi, you’ll find that using a classic, wired-in connection will always yield higher quality results.
This is because Wi-Fi can be impacted by some of those physical issues we discussed earlier in terms of the cellular network. Like cellular, when your router is sending and receiving Wi-Fi signals, it’s using waves. Barriers like walls and doors can interrupt a Wi-Fi signal, and so can large floor plans. For instance, if your home office is on the third floor on one side of your house, and your router is on the first floor on the other side, you’d be pressed to get a solid, stable connection.
To see the difference a wired connection can make, grab an ethernet cable, plug your computer directly into the router, and run a speed test. Now, compare that result to the speeds you saw over Wi-Fi. You’re going to see an increase in your wired connection. This is why it can be beneficial to set your home office up in a place where you’re able to wire directly into your router.
5. Contact your ISP
If you’re still seeing upload and download speeds well below what is on your contract or bill, even when you’re wired into a freshly rebooted router, it’s time to contact your ISP. They may be having a network outage, or there is some issue specific to your connection.
How to Fix Dropped Calls on Your Cell
You didn’t think we’d leave you in the dark about how to fix those pesky dropped cell calls, did you? We expect our cell phones to be able to keep up with us and do it all, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. From video to streaming to accessing those maps we mentioned earlier, your network should be able to keep up and enhance the way you interact with the world via your phone.
So if you’re experiencing dropped calls, what can you do? Below we’ve included some common reasons why you might be getting dropped from the network and how to make sure it doesn’t keep happening.
On an old network or phone? Time to upgrade
Not all cellular networks are created equal. In the days of old, 3G was considered to be incredibly fast and reliable, but it’s not 2007 anymore and you’re not still using that first-gen iPhone.
Or are you? Older phones might not have the tech to access the latest and greatest in network evolution. One reason why you might be experiencing dropped calls on your cell is that you’re trying to do too much with too little.
To access the more contemporary 4G LTE network, and even the 5G network, phones require specific hardware. Newer components allow the latest phones to access specific network spectrums.
Remember those physical barriers? Get around them
As mentioned earlier, cellular waves and mountains, tunnels, buildings, etc..just don’t mix. Most of us have had the experience of driving into a tunnel or walking below ground to a subway only to find that the call we’ve been on is dropped mid-way. Most of us expect and even anticipate these barriers, and hop off the call before we drive through the tunnel, but now and then the physical world will surprise you, and throw something unexpected your way.
So the best thing to do with physical barriers, when you know you have an important call coming up, is to steer clear. Set yourself up in a familiar place, like an office or quiet coffee shop, and try not to book important calls when you know you’ll be on the road, say, in a particularly hilly or mountainous area.
In an area with poor coverage? Consider other providers
If you’re experiencing dropped calls a lot, then you’ll want to check your provider’s coverage map. A coverage map shows you where your network provider offers service. Maybe you checked your coverage when you first signed up, but it’s been a while and you’ve moved to a different area. If there isn’t a tower nearby, then your signal has to travel a long distance to connect. Cell signals degrade over long distances, and as they get weaker, they’re more likely to drop.
Different providers will have different coverage, and if your provider isn’t offering the best service where you live and work, it might be time to see what the competition is offering. Networks are expanding every day, especially in more remote areas that have been underserviced in the past. If you want to do a deep dive you can also find out exactly where cell phone towers are in your area on sites like cellmapper.net.
Busy towers? Try Wi-Fi calling
If you live in an area that’s recently seen a boom in population, the cellular network might not be caught up yet. Towers can only handle so many calls being placed at a time, and busy towers are one reason why you might be getting dropped. Towers can also get temporarily overcrowded during events or at specific venues. For example, if you and a few thousand other people have descended on a hotel for a conference, you might see calls drop because that influx is burdening the local network more than usual.
But the benefit of living in a highly connected world is that there is more than one network at your disposal. Cellular network getting you down? Switch over to the internet. Many phones have a feature known as Wi-Fi calling, where you can use your phone as you normally would, but over Wi-Fi instead of cellular data.
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