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The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, recently carried out a study and found that up-to-date smartphones from manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have weaker signal performance than old 2G mobile phones that are now rarely seen on the market.

The tests conducted in laboratory conditions led to the conclusion that although packed with multiple functions, smartphones are not as good as the old handsets that people used to own ten years ago in terms of signal reception for voice calls and text messages, which is widely considered to be the most basic function of the devices.

The Ofcom research findings also disclosed that on average, the tested smartphones need a minimum signal that is at least seven times stronger than the requirement of the non-smartphones on the 2G network. Some smartphones even have to receive a signal that is ten times more powerful than what is required by old mobile phones before they can make phone calls or send texts.

As for 3G and 4G networks, several smartphones are found to demand a basic signal that is multiple times stronger than the minimum level suggested by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), the standards body for the mobile industry.

In addition, the research backed up the claim that metal and glass, materials now commonly used to produce smartphones, are accountable for weaker signal reception. Old cell phones usually don’t have this issue because they are mostly and mainly made of plastic.

The study, which will be a valuable reference for creating detailed mobile coverage maps, also provided evidence showing that how we hold our cellphones and the position of the antenna will affect signal reception. If our fingers happen to cover the part where the antenna is installed when we talk to others on the phone, we might very well experience poor connection quality.

Smartphone manufacturers sometimes compromise the quality and stability of signal reception in order to create more appealing designs. When launched in 2010, Apple’s iPhone 4 was often criticized for its bad connection quality of voice calls, which resulted from the antenna being placed inside the phone’s frame.

However, Ofcom, whose goal was not to rank smartphones of different brands based on signal performance, did not identify the specific brands and models in the report due to the limited number of smartphones they tested.

Compiled by Bing-sheng Lee
Edited by Olivia Yang