A mobile telephone service usually includes three types of communication service: messaging, voice and data.
These are supported on a cellular network run by a mobile operator covering most of a country. The network works by letting users connect throughout the network.
There are many different devices a customer can use to access service, including mobile phones, data dongles and routers.
Services are delivered by several different technology standards:
You’ll be using 3G, 4G or 5G (sometimes 2G) depending on the service you’re using. This depends on where you are in a mobile operator’s coverage area, and some of the factors below.
A mobile network is made up of masts throughout the country. These are tall structures with antennas that broadcast and receive mobile signals. They need to be in locations not obscured by buildings, mountains or forests. The further a customer is away from a mast, the lower the data service connection will be. This can mean lower speeds and inconsistent service.
Service can also be affected in hilly or mountainous areas. A mobile phone signal can get worse as it progresses across hills or mountains, or if the customer is in the shadow of a hill with the mast on the far side. This means you may need to move around to improve performance.
Building insulation can affect your services and speeds when using your mobile inside. This applies to newer commercial and domestic buildings. There may be indoor areas where you don’t have access to all services or where coverage is limited. You might need to change your location within the building, or go outdoors to improve performance.
High usage in your area might cause data speeds to get worse, or it may not be possible to send a text or make calls. This could be during morning and evening rush hours, or at events or gigs where thousands of people are nearby. Calls to emergency services are not affected by this.
Mobile operators offer services across 2G, 3G and 4G, with a number of operators also launching 5G during 2019 and 2020, but not all devices support all standards up to 4G and 5G. If your mobile operator is offering 4G (or 5G) but your device does not support 4G (or 5G), you will not be able to achieve 4G (or 5G) speeds. Also, the performance of your service may be affected by having pending software updates on your device or if the storage on the device is full.
Different applications need different speeds from a network to work properly. Sending or receiving emails can be done with lower speeds but uploading or downloading video needs more. The less speed an application needs, the less likely it is to be interrupted by network congestion or poor coverage.
Mobile phones can use nearby WiFi instead of the operator’s network. Once registered, users may not realise they’re using WiFi instead of the operator’s network. WiFi performance may not be as consistent as the operator’s network. You can switch from WiFi to your operator’s network in your device’s settings.
Your call quality can vary because of the factors above. Sometimes, a call may drop due to moving to, or being somewhere with poor coverage, eg. the basement of a building or a remote forest. Dropped calls can also be caused by issues on the other end of a call.
The plan you’ve signed up to with your mobile operator may include a certain technology, eg. you might have access to 4G but not 5G.
See the Commission for Communications Regulation (www.comreg.ie) for more on mobile services.