During the rare periods that Brits get to enjoy a spot of summer sunshine, most take to their gardens and local green spaces to meet with friends for BBQs and to comment on how hot it is. Many wish to stay connected via their mobiles and tablets, to organise social activities, to stream and to share their personal media. But can the UK’s networks meet this demand and support uninterrupted outdoor connectivity? If your answer is sometimes, occasionally, or hardly ever, then here are a few tips to keep yourself connected while outdoors this summer, and enjoy the full benefits of your smart devices at all times.
Tip 1: Check your phone settings so that you are accessing all available WiFi hotspots
While on the move or visiting public spaces, make sure your handset is set to automatically search for available WiFi hotspots provided by your operator and local establishments, such as cafes and train stations. O2, Vodafone and EE all offer free WiFi hotspot access as part of their service. Not only does this provide free internet access in areas of potentially poor network signal for services like web browsing and social media, it also gives users the ability to use WiFi calling features depending on their device.
There are two options for WiFi calling, depending on the handset. Users can either change the settings on their phone, or download a dedicated app to activate the service. EE, O2, Three and Vodafone offer integrated WiFi calling which allows users to manually activate the feature so when they enter a WiFi area with no mobile network signal, or a stronger WiFi signal they’ll be able to make WiFi calls. Most phones will automatically connect to a WiFi network that they have previously logged onto but for any new WiFi network you’ll have to sign in and connect first before you can use WiFi calling. The slight downside of this feature is that if you are on the phone when you leave the WiFi range your call may cut out, even if you still have a mobile network signal.
O2 also offers an app called Tu Go and Three customers can use the InTouch app. These apps use any WiFi internet connection and enable users to make calls and texts through them. Whether you are using one of these apps or the WiFi calling feature described above, your minutes and texts are deducted from your monthly plan as if you were using your mobile phone signal. If you are using a virtual network operator like giffgaff, Tesco Mobile or Virgin Mobile, these services unfortunately may not yet be available.
Tip 2: Location, location, location
When using home WiFi for mobile internet and calling, make sure your router is located at the optimal place in the house to reach your handset. If you find yourself in the garden streaming music with friends, for example, don’t expect uninterrupted WiFi signal if your router is located at the opposite end of the house. If you are unable or simply don’t want to relocate your router to suit that one specific need, then consider investing in a WiFi signal extender. The majority of internet providers offer their own bespoke extenders to increase home WiFi range; and many third party companies also offer devices for as low as £15. Make sure you investigate different options online to ensure you’re getting the best extender for your needs, and for your money.
Tip 3: Time for a tune up
Besides relocating your router or adding a signal extender, there are several other options available for your home WiFi setup. These include replacing obsolete hardware (still using an 802.11b router?). You may also want to update your router’s firmware and/or replace its antennas; and if you are feeling up to it – check your router’s settings to ensure that you are using an optimum channel and frequency. Have a look at this helpful article from PC Magazine to learn more details on optimizing your router.
Tip 4: Use a 3G signal booster
If you’re one of the unfortunate few who can’t maintain sufficient WiFi signal, even with a booster, then a 3G booster for your handset may be the best option to stay connected. These devices plug into your home router and can extend your signal by up to 15 metres. Provided you have approximately a 1 Mbps internet connection in your home from your service provider, these boosters will improve your home 3G signal. While streaming media over 3G may be slower than what many of us have become accustomed to with 4G and WiFi speeds, it will be a welcome solution to those currently unable to when out of range of their router or have a weak mobile signal.
Tip 5: 4G calling for enhanced clarity
Actually, this really isn’t a tip but an added bonus if the feature is available in your location and if you have the right smartphone. Several UK operators now offer automatic calling over 4G. 4G calling offers enhanced voice quality reception; and can expand your voice call coverage because it may be available in locations where 2 and 3G calling are not. In addition, the 4G calling feature generally allows live calls to move seamlessly between WiFi and 4G networks (your phone will automatically select the best possible connection to facilitate clear and reliable phone calls).
Conclusion: You’ve got options and when in doubt check with your operator
Widespread WiFi and 4G coverage is expanding – the future looks promising for those looking to stay connected outside this summer. Networks are constantly improving and operators are providing new technologies which can help ‘fill in the gaps’ when mobile network signals drop out. Although some of these fixes are limited to top end devices, they will become more wide spread among mid-tier handsets over the coming months.