Testing mobile black spot solutions

My recent column on solutions to boost the mobile signal in your home or office produced quite a big virtual postbag.

Testing mobile black spot solutions

Several people asked about the Nextivity box, wanting to know where to buy one and which networks it will work with. So far as I’m aware it will be a T-Mobile exclusive here in the UK, for some time at least, and T-Mobile will initially only supply the kit to large corporate accounts.

I’m sure that later in the year there will be a more general roll-out, but I’m not sure whether the network will ever sell these boxes – I suspect they might just be given away as retention bribes for high-spending customers (don’t quote me on that!).

My test device has been working very well at home, where I have the receiver (Nextivity calls it the Window Unit) positioned in an upstairs room and the transmitter (officially known as the Coverage Unit) downstairs at the opposite corner of my house.

The way Nextivity works is that you get a “bubble” of coverage that emanates from the Coverage Unit at the centre, and whose radius is the distance between Window and Coverage Units. Essentially, the Coverage Unit throttles back its output so that it isn’t quite received by the Window Unit; otherwise, you’d get all kind of nasty feedback effects.

Good reception

In practise, I’ve found that in most rooms of the house I see rock-solid five-bar 3G reception on T-Mobile, whereas with the Nextivity switched off I see three bars at most and my phones constantly hunt between 3G and 2G in certain rooms.

As anyone who lives or works in an area with a strong mobile signal will know, the battery life of my phones has improved considerably, and I reckon I’m getting a good 25% longer.

With the Nextivity switched off I see three bars at most and my phones constantly hunt between 3G and 2G in certain rooms

So it’s been good news mainly. There have been a couple of minor niggles to date – there’s one room in the house (the, er, smallest room) where the BlackBerry 9700 I’ve been using for much of my testing sees three bars of 3G but isn’t able to make a reliable data connection.

For those of you who understand BlackBerrys, I’m seeing the small “I’m trying” data arrows at the top right of my screen, rather than the bigger “I’m talking” arrows. I wonder whether perhaps, at the edge of the Nextivity box’s range, there’s a zone where the phone can see the kit but the kit can’t see the phone, or vice versa?

The other problem I’ve had is that the two units fell out of love and stopped talking to each other, requiring a spot of counselling via the power switch before they’d resume their relationship. I’ll keep an eye on this, but I suspect it’s just one of those random glitches, and it has happened only once.

Orange service

As for Orange and its UMA solution for mobile black spots, I’ve been doing some unofficial testing using phones and SIMs borrowed from a couple of friends, but so far Orange’s PR team has seemed somewhat reluctant to provide any official support. Several requests for help have gone unanswered, including several “are you ignoring me” emails.

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