Which Cell Phone Has The Best Internal Antenna - Welcome to Further Details, a series dedicated to ubiquitous but overlooked details hidden in your favorite products. This week: the strips of plastic hiding in your smartphone.
For years and years, after the death of the flip phone and sliding physical keyboard, most smartphones looked a lot alike: smooth slabs of metal or glass, with a camera on the back and even fewer buttons. But there's an essential, subtle aspect to this simple, common design that you may not have noticed.
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Take a moment and turn your phone over in your hands a few times. Can you find some little lines of colored plastic around the edge? This is one of the most important pieces of engineering in your pocket supercomputer, without which it could not function.
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These pieces of plastic are "antenna lines" and you may know them from their prominent placement on phones like the iPhone 6 and, if you're an old Android fan, the HTC One.
Although they are opaque plastic, they actually act as small windows, not for light, but for the radio waves that come from your phone's internal Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE / 5G antennas and connect you to the internet. These electromagnetic waves that allow your phone to function as a true communication device can move relatively effortlessly through materials that don't conduct electricity (like plastic) but are blocked by materials that do (like metal). These thin little bars are the data in and out of your phone.
Not all phones need these lines, of course. A phone that is already made of plastic is very transparent to radio waves. Likewise, glass will allow radio waves through, but not as easily as plastic, and glass-backed phones often have a metal frame, which will still contain some small antenna lines.
Antenna lines are not a magic bullet for phone design and can be obstructed by your body, which blocks signals quite effectively! Perhaps the best-known example of this problem was Apple's glass iPhone 4, and the "antenna" that followed, where placing the antenna lines along the metal frame of the phone meant that the user's hand could pass through the gap is easy and intrusive. . with the mark.
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So the next time you're struggling to get your fancy, all-metal phone to make a solid internet connection, watch out for those little lines and make sure you don't cover them. They may be tiny and a little ugly, but that's why your phone isn't just a calculator.
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports the mission of our editorial team. Learn more here. By the end of 2019, over 83% of Americans will have a smartphone connected to the internet¹. While there are no official numbers, it's safe to say that only a small fraction of these smartphone owners know how their device works. It's hard to describe
You can carry on a conversation on your mobile phone while walking. All this for a good reason. It's insanely complicated.
However, with some basic knowledge you can untangle the invisible features on your device. This isn't just useful for a joke at a dinner party. Understanding the infrastructure that phones rely on will give you an understanding of the FCC's role in American society, the technological hurdles we'll have to overcome to fulfill our insatiable appetite for data consumption, and a better understanding of where the next billion lies dollars the telecommunications company (or not). ).
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Your phone uses it to do all the things we've come to expect, like making calls, downloading apps and browsing the web. The range of mechanisms covered here are:
When the word spectrum is used in a telecommunications context, the concept refers to the electromagnetic spectrum - which is abbreviated to spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum has certain properties that make it uniquely useful for transmitting "things."
The spectrum is best thought of as a large wave, where each segment has different wavelength and frequency properties. These two properties are always inverse of each other i.e. long wavelength short frequency, long frequency short wavelength. Depending on where you are on the wave spectrum, you can transmit different types of data. As a general rule, the low-frequency, high-wavelength properties (to the left of the spectrum) are excellent for sending small amounts of data over very long distances (ie, low bandwidth). The high frequency and low wavelength properties can send a lot of data over much shorter distances (high bandwidth). You can see the range below:
Many familiar objects that we use every day use a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum: (hint: we can't see radio waves because they are outside of the "visible light" spectrum. For most of human history, we thought that the visible light spectrum was the only part that existed. Shout out to James Maxwell, a Scottish scientist who revolutionized our thinking about it).
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We can look at FM radios for a simple example. When you tune your radio to 100.7 FM, you are actually tuning into the radio wave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum at 100.7 Mega-Hertz (Mz).
But in our radio example, what if another DJ wanted to play songs on the same frequency? There would be problems. If two DJs were transmitting song data at 100.7 Mega-Hertz (Mz) the waves would collide and cancel each other out. It's a rather annoying property called waves
The US government, specifically the FCC, stepped in to solve this. They created a system where the government would own (it feels weird that the government can own electromagnetic spectrum, but apparently the US is powerful) all of the "radio wave" spectrum and they would break it up into zones or "stations". Now, if you wanted to play country music on 100.7 FM (Mega-Hertz Mz), then you would be licensed for that frequency by the FCC and no one else could broadcast on your frequency. This largely solved the problem of interference for radio stations.
The mobile data market is much more valuable than the radio distribution and advertising market, making the stakes for cellular spectrum much higher.
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Now imagine you double-clicked on that FCC-owned spectrum box shown above. You would get something like this:
There are whole blocks on "Public Safety". That's why a 911 call will always work, even when you don't have service. It ensures that the channel is open and that there will never be an interruption. Source: Flintshire County Council.
Each of these "bands" of spectrum is auctioned off to the highest bidder by the FCC. Since 1994, the FCC has raised over $60 billion from licensing spectrum³. To understand why this is important, we need to take a quick detour back to 2002.
There is a good reason this man was the spokesperson for these two companies. These are two of the largest mobile network operators (MNOs) in the United States. In fact, after the TMobile & Sprint merger, there are only four MNOs in the US4. Basically... his options were pretty limited. The same is true with American consumers looking for a mobile data plan.
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You might be thinking: there are more than three options. There are providers like Google Fi, Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile and more. These companies are not MNOs. They are mobile
The main difference between an MNO and an MVNO is that the former can buy 'Spectrum' from the US government and the latter cannot. Essentially, this means that MNOs can buy all the spectrum from the US government and then resell it at whatever price they want to MVNOs. This confirms Sprint/TMobile and Verizon as oligopolies in the cell phone industry.
As a society we have become inseparable from our cell phones (Americans check their phones an average of 52-80 times a day5). Most people are shocked to find out that the FCC + Sprint/T Mobile and Verizon control the entire electromagnetic spectrum that governs the use of these smart devices. Pretty crazy.
The scarcity and importance of the electromagnetic spectrum is why AT&T, Verizon and TMobile (Sprint) spend billions upon billions of dollars annually to license the spectrum.
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Data. But data still has to come from somewhere (transmit) and go somewhere (receiver) to be useful.
If the telecommunications industry were a pong game, the ball would be the electromagnetic spectrum and each paddle would be hardware. One paddle is a consumer device and the other is a piece of industrial telecommunications equipment, e.g. cell tower.
Now we'll take a closer look at how the material holds up to its end of the bargain.
In the pong analogy, there were two paddles, or pieces of hardware. Your cell phone and cell tower⁶. We'll start by looking at your cell phone.
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At its core, your cell phone is a two-way communication device. When you contact a friend through a call, the following happens:
This sounds like a long and drawn out process, however the reason this process can happen so quickly is because these waves travel at the speed of light (186, 282 miles per second). So while
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