Smart Phones have become miniature computers, taking them outdoors has introduced a huge array of applications(apps) and information carrying ability never seen before.
Despite its functionality, the Smart Phone is still entirely reliant on two things to function well as both a phone and a app platform;
- Cellular signal strength: Hills, Valleys, thick Bush and even bad weather conditions as well as the lack of cell towers are all effective at reducing signal.
- Battery charge: With all that is going on in a smart phone, the battery charge is in hotter demand then ever before.
How Mobile Phones work
All Mobile phones are actually friendlier versions of the traditional 2 way Radio telephone(RT).
Your content, is transmitted and received from your Smart Phone via Radio Waves to and from land based antenna commonly known as Cell towers. The Cell towers re-transmit your content through the network and landlines (ie: oversea calls) to their destination.
Even in your pocket, your phone is constantly “talking” to the cell towers(*2) to make sure it has enough signal. When the signal strength(*3) form the nearest cell tower is;
- Reduced or obstructed the “conversation” continues but the phone has to use more battery power to “get through” to the tower.(bit like shouting)
- Lost altogether, the phone starts searching for another cell tower in “shouting mode” which also uses more battery power (The phone doesn’t like being alone with out a cell tower to hold its hand…)
Optimize the Smart Phone for the outdoors
- In areas of great signal and battery strength, voice call are fine.
- If the signal strength is poor, you can try improving it by climbing out of valleys to the ridge line or on to the summit of hill.
- SMS/Txt messaging conserves battery far better than voice or data, particularly if your battery is already low. Messaging however is lower priority on the cellular network so messages often don’t get through – always ask for important to be confirmed.
- Messaging Apps (ie: Kik, Facebook etc..) are more reliable then SMS for delivering messages, but require sufficient signal for data, and thus maybe harder on the battery. (particularly in low signal areas)
Flight Mode(Air plane Mode)
Flight mode, disconnects the phone from the Cellular network and stops the phone hunting for signal in no signal areas. This both preserves battery and allows you to carry on using GPS and Apps on your hike.
Personally I go hiking to get away to get back to nature and get away from the phone ringing, so Flight mode is most helpful!
Keeping your phone battery healthy is also an advantage if you require rescuing in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Police and Vodafone have developed a Rescue Helicopter based system that can generate 1-2km of cell phone signal, where there normally would not be any, so the person they are searching for can contact them via phone.
(If you are lost and hear or see a Rescue helicopter circling around, remember to disable flight mode and check if you have phone signal to ring 111 or receive a phone call(*4))
I always carry some form of phone battery charging system on Day or Overnight hikes. The two I use are;
- On Single Day hikes I carry a small fully charged Power Bank, (remember your phone cable!) which gives me about 1.5 extra charges( In flight mode my phone battery easily lasts 2-3 days)
- On Longer overnight / Multi day hikes I switch to carrying my Goal Zero Solar Panel and charger,(Guide 10 and Nomad 7) Which charges AA (or AAA) batteries to recharge my phone or to use in my GPS.
Smart Phones and often their protective cases contain powerful magnets that can corrupt your navigation compass, keep them well separated (ie: your compass in your Navigation pouch and your phone protected inside your pack.
(*1) Secondary Method of contact: Some people do still carry and old style phone only mobile handset because the battery life is the weeks rather than hours, but its important to remember these phones still require a good cellular signal to work.
(*2)Cell Towers Locations: If you want a look at where your see the location of the cell tower your connected to, the signal strength and the coverage for your area, have a look at the App OpenSignal, and use the Coverage and Dashboard tools (bottom left of screen)
(*3)Cellular Signal strength: The Bars of signal displayed on your phone screen are just a representation of the actually Signal strength (Radio waves) which is measured in Decibels. (dBm) This information is displayed in your phone settings, usually in the phone status
(*4) Leave your Phone No.: Always record your mobile number on your Intentions, even if you know there will be no signal where you are hiking, so rescue services can check that you have not return safely but also call you from a suitably equipped Helicopter.
- How Do Cell Phones Work?
- How Cell Phones Work
- What the police can get from mobile phone tower data
- Search and Rescue Network’ helicopter innovation – New Zealand
- The different parts of a compass
- How to get better Mobile phone signal in your home
- Guide to Cell Phone signal boosting
- How to check your actual phone signal