Wireless Coverage Issues and Reports - 2019 Season

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
1,960
249
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39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
There has been a plethora of open complaining on the individual social media accounts of chasers this spring, particularly about the coverage or access speeds of Verizon Wireless (VZW) in traditionally favorable areas of the Plains and the Corn Belt. A few complaints have also trickled in about AT&T too. I'm genuinely curious what everyone else's experiences have been thus far. Have you experienced any coverage or speed issues with your carrier, including VZW?

Without using names particularly, I was told by one person close to the issue from a technical standpoint (i.e., works on the back end of all of this) that it's likely two-fold. First, the proliferation of unlimited data to the masses is finally reaching a critical point where network infrastructure is being overloaded. While this has long been an issue when large numbers of chasers converged on limited rural cell cites, they're now sharing those towers with increasing numbers of local users who are constantly pulling large quantities of data, including people who just a few years ago were probably using flip phones and getting most of their Internet data from rural satellite services. Second, with the phasing out of 3G, they are reducing the number of towers due to the change in frequency usage and, fitly, concentrating more on the "Micro cell" model whereby coverage in more urban or suburban areas (and even small towns) focuses on the use of more numerous towers to boost coverage in those concentrated areas whilst turning down the taller, more numerous towers spaced out to cover wider areas, especially in rural locales.

What has everyone's individual experiences been this season with your carrier(s)?
 
Jan 6, 2019
82
29
6
Tyler
There has been a plethora of open complaining on the individual social media accounts of chasers this spring, particularly about the coverage or access speeds of Verizon Wireless (VZW) in traditionally favorable areas of the Plains and the Corn Belt. A few complaints have also trickled in about AT&T too. I'm genuinely curious what everyone else's experiences have been thus far. Have you experienced any coverage or speed issues with your carrier, including VZW?

Without using names particularly, I was told by one person close to the issue from a technical standpoint (i.e., works on the back end of all of this) that it's likely two-fold. First, the proliferation of unlimited data to the masses is finally reaching a critical point where network infrastructure is being overloaded. While this has long been an issue when large numbers of chasers converged on limited rural cell cites, they're now sharing those towers with increasing numbers of local users who are constantly pulling large quantities of data, including people who just a few years ago were probably using flip phones and getting most of their Internet data from rural satellite services. Second, with the phasing out of 3G, they are reducing the number of towers due to the change in frequency usage and, fitly, concentrating more on the "Micro cell" model whereby coverage in more urban or suburban areas (and even small towns) focuses on the use of more numerous towers to boost coverage in those concentrated areas whilst turning down the taller, more numerous towers spaced out to cover wider areas, especially in rural locales.

What has everyone's individual experiences been this season with your carrier(s)?
It is not hard to believe about the infrastructure being overloaded.
This season data feed db has dropped or lost where it should not have. I blamed it on the storms, maybe it's not.
That area i was in, don't remember losing feed like that from last summer.

In SW Louisiana about a month ago, i did not have any coverage for about 30 miles. Think that was more due to the damage
from tornadoes that had come through there. Miles of power lines down, but still thinking that the towers should have backup.
Maybe there were no towers there.

I have 4 VZW and 1 AT&T feeds. AT&T seems to be the worst on degraded or lost coverage at times.
One feed of the VZW and the single AT&T have separate external roof mounted antennas.
But then that goes back to the statement above about having been in that area before and not losing it.
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
1,960
249
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Hadn't had any new issues with Verizon. Worst coverage gaps for me still western Illinois (north of St. Louis west of I-55). I'm not running an amp.
It was explained to me, as someone who lives proximal to this zone, that this has something to do with a longstanding licensing issue and antitrust legislation that prevents VZW from extending home coverage here. Thus, it's essentially left to being covered by AT&T, US Cellular and Sprint (secondary coverage). I don't work in the industry, so I can't speak to the specific reason beyond that, but yeah, it's a horribly problematic hole for those of us that end up chasing there several times a year. At least you can usually pull 4G from the towers on the MO side of the river when you're close to the border.
 
Sep 7, 2013
571
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Strasburg, CO
I use VZW and an amp. The most consistant dead zone I've found locally is in and around Last Chance, CO. It behaves like a black hole where I'll have full bars anywhere up to two or three miles away in any direction, but when I get there, nothing at all. As soon as I get that 2/3 miles out in any direction, full service returns.

*Cue X-Files music*
 
Jun 16, 2015
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
I use Verizon without an amp. While I did notice a few issues when there was extreme chaser convergence this year, I haven't noticed a significant change in comparison to recent years. I am also grandfathered into the old unlimited plan "without throttling." Once in a while I feel as if I'm being throttled, but it's so random and short-lived that I think it's more of an issue with the network being used more over time.

I have a long list of towns/areas that I have had limited or no cell reception in. I eventually want to convert that into a map form. Would this be of interest? Although I have covered a lot of ground over the past few years (since I started logged cell coverage issues), I haven't been everywhere. I think after a few more trips later this month, where I'll have more of an opportunity to track coverage issues in the Northern Plains, I'll start putting the map together.

The biggest gaps I've had with Verizon in the Plains/Midwest are around west-central Illinois (most glaring due to population), north-central Nebraska, parts of the Texas panhandle/Caprock, eastern Colorado and eastern Montana.

In general, although I've hit some issues with Verizon, their coverage seems to be fairly consistent across most of the Plains. Most of the gaps are relatively small and limited to very rural/remote areas. It is rare that I will drive more than 10-15 miles with absolutely no service, except for a few of the places mentioned above. When there are over 100+ chasers in a small area, I take coverage issues with more of a grain of salt.
 
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Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
1,960
249
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
I have a long list of towns/areas that I have had limited or no cell reception in. I eventually want to convert that into a map form. Would this be of interest? Although I have covered a lot of ground over the past few years (since I started logged cell coverage issues), I haven't been everywhere. I think after a few more trips later this month, where I'll have more of an opportunity to track coverage issues in the Northern Plains, I'll start putting the map together.
I think this could be an asset, and that there might be a role for something bigger to play a part in a special section of the site. This could possibly include regularly updated official coverage maps from the cell providers themselves, coupled with actual user reported coverage issues where those two sources of data might conflict. I don't see too much information as being a bad thing.

@Dan Robinson thoughts here?
 
Jan 16, 2009
563
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Kansas City
I had a lot of issues with Verizon this year unlike previous years even with a cell phone booster. I have always thought that they dial back the signal when new phones come out. I have had Verizon for years and I always have issues when a new phone is available like the S10 5G is now.

Note I just upgraded to the S10 5G so they got me lol!
 
The data pipeline to each tower likely needs to be boosted. They didn't make enough bandwidth available to each tower, or certain towers are being overwhelmed. In reality, this shouldn't happen with current day technology, creating a reliable mesh network with the fiber and microwave cell technology. Maybe they are spending too much time trying to roll out 5G, that they still have unreliable 4G the carriers should look at fixing first.
 
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Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
1,960
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11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Clarification on some of the specific, major VZW data holes where there never was and likely won't ever be service there:
Typically the holes are created because VZW did not have an old A or B license from back in the days when that was all there was. So whoever had the A or B license in a place got first rights to the LTE spectrum again locking Verizon out. In some situations like SW Iowa the company makes a deal with Verizon to assign their LTE frequencies to Verizon to run the network with a promise not to use it against them... Or they give VZW the bird which is what appears to have happened in Illinois...Verizon did not grow organically they bought networks from companies who had the A/B licenses. Like Nebraska was Lincoln Telephone/Nebraska Cellular and a company called Telebeep and Cellular One.... they bought all of them
 
Mar 8, 2016
176
257
11
Bloomington, IL
I use VZW with a signal booster and the only notable dead zone I've come across chasing in the plains(besides the obvious W IL one) while running the booster was near Saddle Mountain, OK just north of the Wichitas. I did have my booster manage to unplug itself while driving the dirt roads in SE Colorado and did notice that area is pretty rough for getting VZW data. Area was pretty manageable with a signal booster at least.

I'm probably going to invest in an AT&T mobile hotspot at some point to deal with the Western IL issue. While my signal booster does actually get me a VZW signal there, it's barely useable and it takes about 8-10 minutes to load a single frame of radar data on it lol.
 
Jun 18, 2015
14
3
1
58
Denver
I have a long list of towns/areas that I have had limited or no cell reception in. I eventually want to convert that into a map form.
Why reinvent the wheel? I have found the Root Metrics app to be accurate with one minor caveat, the unshaded areas on the map are not areas of no coverage rather areas that have not been tested. As often as not I have had coverage in unshaded areas.
 
Jun 18, 2015
14
3
1
58
Denver
Zero issues with ATT. In fact, best ever coverage. Just remember, depending on your data plan's small print, they may throttle you after you reach your limit. Remember that "unlimited" does not always mean "un-throttled." Always get an un-throttled plan.
Ma Bell here as well, no complaints on coverage. I chalk it up to two things: First is their partnership with Viaero which covers E WY, W NE, E CO, W KS and OK PH. Second is the roll out of their band 14 FirstNet. AT&T users with a FirstNet capable phone are suppose to be able to use band 14 on a secondary basis but during an emergency you’ll be kicked off the band unless you have a FirstNet sim. AT&T also claimed that during the FirstNet roll out band 13 will be up graded as well (bands 13 & 14 are the 700 MHz “long range” bands). With my experience during the last 2 years I believe this to be true.
 
Jun 18, 2015
14
3
1
58
Denver
Ma Bell here as well, no complaints on coverage. I chalk it up to two things: First is their partnership with Viaero which covers E WY, W NE, E CO, W KS and OK PH. Second is the roll out of their band 14 FirstNet. AT&T users with a FirstNet capable phone are suppose to be able to use band 14 on a secondary basis but during an emergency you’ll be kicked off the band unless you have a FirstNet sim. AT&T also claimed that during the FirstNet roll out band 13 will be up graded as well (bands 13 & 14 are the 700 MHz “long range” bands). With my experience during the last 2 years I believe this to be true.
Band 12 not 13
 
I actually felt like this year was better than last year. But of course that's extremely subjective. It depends upon where you chase, what carrier you have, and whether or not you have a signal booster. I have Verizon with a SureCall Fusion2Go 3.0. I also carry multiple phones with me so that I can swap them out whenever each device hits it's 20GB limit (you can buy a used phone for around $50. Activation is another $50 per device each year, and the cost for each additional device is only $10 - $15 per month). Finally, as far as where I chased this year, I spent a surprising amount of time in the Texas Panhandle, where I only lost signal in the Palo Duro Canyon.

I think the most difficult areas to get cell signal for me are in remote parts of Colorado (such as Last Chance, CO and Punkin Center, CO), canyons, and mountains. I did notice KPUB having issues delivering radar during the Lamar, CO tornado. I heard someone on the radio say to switch to Goodland, and sure enough Goodland radar was being delivered just fine, while Pueblo was still lagging, sometimes only delivering data once every 15 minutes. Someone else on the radio thought they were having cell signal issues. Turns out it was a radar data feed issue.

That said, I did notice people on the radio complaining about not getting good cell signal with AT&T in the exact same spot where I was perfectly good with Verizon. Daniel Shaw actually has service from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. He decided not to turn on his T-Mobile coverage this year because it was so worthless. And this year, he hasn't used Sprint yet. Although, he did switch between Verizon and AT&T quite a bit.
 
Jul 5, 2009
877
602
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
AT&T user here, I can only comment anecdotally, I didn’t document specific coverage losses and sometimes my impressions just depend on the aggravation level - for example, even a one-minute period without coverage in the heat of a chase or at any moment I happen to need/want any information sticks in my mind more than a 10-minute loss of coverage that I may not have even known about because I wasn’t online... I’ll say in general I didn’t think it was any worse than last year, but remember commenting to my chase buddy that I was surprised it still didn’t seem to be getting much better either. I remember in particular being really frustrated in areas east of Lubbock; terrain is part of the reason, but I couldn’t even get coverage when actually in the town of Crosbyton. Again subjective/anecdotal, but I also felt like Kansas in general seemed to have more dead zones then other states, even in places you would think you were close enough to a town.
 
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Jan 7, 2006
507
456
21
32
Norman, OK
www.skyinmotion.com
VZW here, and I've been more frustrated with coverage in rural areas this year than the previous 3-4 years. However, I've also spent more time chasing W of 100°W than in any of those years (likely by a large margin), so I'm not making any specific claims. Still, it's raised my eyebrow to see "No Service" on my phone screen only 5-8 miles outside towns like Dalhart or Clayton. Jesse's blurb about 3G being phased out could very well explain some of this. I've been on 3G at times in remote areas, but it never seems to last more than a couple minutes. For reference, I don't use an antenna or amp.

You have to appreciate modern technology and how transformative mobile data has been to chasing. Even still, as I went 30 minutes between updates the other day, I couldn't help but think about it this way: ten years ago, on smaller carriers like Alltel that had roaming agreements with most of the big guys, you could get Plains coverage as good or better than anything available today. That's not a statement of fact, but speculation based on my subjective experience. Does that sound right to anyone else who's been at it for that long? It's rather depressing, if so. Needless to say, average data speed has gotten much better over that timeframe, but coverage is really all we care about once above ~1 Mbps (unless you're streaming, I guess).
 
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Jun 16, 2015
460
1,057
21
32
Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
Here is an initial map of the observations I've made about Verizon cell coverage, over the past two chase years, or so. It's far from comprehensive. I've done a lot of chasing across the High Plains and Texas in recent years, so I've sampled the most there. From what I recall in previous years, I have generally not had many issues with Verizon anywhere in Kansas. (at least I have not traveled long distances in Kansas with little/no service)

Basically, if I was in an area or county that had inconsistent service, but there was enough of a data connection to view radar and browse the internet at least some of the time (roughly >25%), I colored in the county yellow. For areas that have absolutely no service, or were only able to occasionally pull data (maybe a stray radar frame or two), then I shaded red. Yellow means service some of the time, but not complete and red means essentially no reliable service.
verizon_cell_190615.gif

If I've been through small areas (generally the size of a town or smaller) that briefly lost service, I did not add them to this map.

At this stage, this map is very incomplete. As I do more traveling next week, hopefully I'll have more data to update this.

The note about 3G being phased out is interesting. I know I've had a lot of issues in eastern Colorado, for example, where my phone says I have a 3G connection, but I'm not able to load anything for long distances and/or periods of time.
 
Jan 6, 2019
82
29
6
Tyler
If I've been through small areas (generally the size of a town or smaller) that briefly lost service, I did not add them to this map.

At this stage, this map is very incomplete. As I do more traveling next week, hopefully I'll have more data to update this.

The note about 3G being phased out is interesting. I know I've had a lot of issues in eastern Colorado, for example, where my phone says I have a 3G connection, but I'm not able to load anything for long distances and/or periods of time.
I am wondering about that 3G going away.
Verizon told me that when 5g rolls out, then the fall back is 4G.
That brings up the question about in areas we only get 3G, i don't see how 4G is going cover that area.
Seems like more areas with no service to me.
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
1,960
249
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
I am wondering about that 3G going away.
Verizon told me that when 5g rolls out, then the fall back is 4G.
That brings up the question about in areas we only get 3G, i don't see how 4G is going cover that area.
Seems like more areas with no service to me.
Those areas seem to be few and far between and limited to desolate areas, but my understanding is that yes, they will be forced to put 4G/LTE on those towers that are presently 3G.
 
I have phone and data through AT&T and use that primarily for chasing, but purchased a Verizon jetpack last year to help when AT&T coverage is poor. Verizon worked well for me last year when chasing in western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and western Kansas. This year, however, we had a lot of issues with Verizon when chasing in roughly the same areas in addition to western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. AT&T seemed to handle these areas well, though. Sorry I don't have specifics on exactly where these issues took place.

Regarding western Illinois, I chased there in 2016 and lost AT&T completely for at least an hour, but when chasing there late last year, I had no issues.
 
May 18, 2013
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I have a Verizon jetpack and use 2 external antennas and had almost no problems this year. I chased all over TX, a lot of OK, and even some AR and LA. My chase parter has AT&T on his phone, and the biggest hole was in Concho Valley (San Angelo) and Big Country (Abilene) even in towns. That was intereating given that is some of the first areas in the country to get cell phone coverage given the old GTE R&D presence in San Angelo. I suspect it has to do with that area being dominated by a local carrier West Central Net.
 
Mar 30, 2008
1,188
897
21
Norman, OK
www.benholcomb.com
Verizon here, coverage has still been pretty good just like in the past. Once in awhile I will lose service, but sometimes logging in to my hotspot and restarting it helps.

I've got mine mounted to my windshield near the top behind the UV protection and hardwired into a USB cable that's hardwired into my battery. No boosters, no external antenna. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out some of you people have noisy ass chargers that are causing signal degradation. I also pay for the premium unlimited plan thingy with vzw and use very little data.

Also, stop %@!$!ing streaming and you will notice much better performance.

Also, Windows updates, adobe updates, chrome updates, nvidia video card updates, dropbox/onedrive/icloud etc all run automatically and perhaps those are also filling up your pipe and slowing you down. Even May 20th in Mangum I had no problems with data. I'm not sure why everyone else is complaining but all of the above makes me think it's a problem on their end, and not the cell infrastructure end.
 
Jun 16, 2015
460
1,057
21
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
Verizon here, coverage has still been pretty good just like in the past. Once in awhile I will lose service, but sometimes logging in to my hotspot and restarting it helps.

I've got mine mounted to my windshield near the top behind the UV protection and hardwired into a USB cable that's hardwired into my battery. No boosters, no external antenna. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out some of you people have noisy ass chargers that are causing signal degradation. I also pay for the premium unlimited plan thingy with vzw and use very little data.

Also, stop %@!$!ing streaming and you will notice much better performance.

Also, Windows updates, adobe updates, chrome updates, nvidia video card updates, dropbox/onedrive/icloud etc all run automatically and perhaps those are also filling up your pipe and slowing you down. Even May 20th in Mangum I had no problems with data. I'm not sure why everyone else is complaining but all of the above makes me think it's a problem on their end, and not the cell infrastructure end.
You were also sniping from the east (I assume) before the gridlock arrived. I rarely have longer than brief data issues if I’m in an area with a strong signal.

All in all, much like traffic convergence, the issues with cell data while chasing are few and far between, I’m my recent experience, unless I’ve been in a remote area with a known lack of cell reception.