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Common misconceptions about cell phones

My EVO 3D met the floor with me on top of itThis week I’ve had major cell tower problems in my neighborhood, and what this has lead to is a series of conversations telling people that unless they’ve talked to me to not assume I have any idea they’ve tried to contact me.

Yesterday I got a phone call from someone at my front door (nobody knocks these days for fear of waking up the baby tyrant), but about twenty minutes after he left I got a text message from him saying he was at my front door. It took that long to get there.

The day before that was a day of no calls, just voicemail. Even attempting to call my wife’s phone, which is on the same network, sent me straight to voicemail.

So with these issues fresh in mind, I expanded on them to a decently long list of common misconceptions about cell phones. Here it is:

A text message goes from my phone to theirs

When you press send on your text message, the text goes to a server that handles text messages on your carrier. From that point it is routed to where it needs to go to be recorded for law enforcement, run through a text spam checker to make sure you’re not sending text spam, sent out to the destination network’s SMS server where it goes through the same tests/recording, and finally the destination phone is notified to pick up the message.

That’s not exactly how it happens, but close enough. If you want to post the specifics in the comments section you’re welcome to. The back end relies on computers, network connections, etc. A serious internet issue among many other things can delay a text message.

Text messaging is instantaneous

No, it’s not. A text message gets there when it gets there. It’s usually in the right order and reasonably close to the sending time, but problems at a network level can prevent the text from showing up for hours, days, forever.

Sitting next to someone on the same network I see on average a 15-30 second delay. Your network experience will vary. Best I’ve seen this week was 20+ minutes delayed.

Text messages always get there

Nope. They usually do. There was a carrier study I read a while back that significantly less than 1% of SMS get lost, but that’s without factoring in that your text messaging client on your phone can screw up a message or lose it, you could dismiss it, delete it, or your phone might reboot right at the time of retrieval.

The number on the text message is the number that’s sending me spam

There was a story recently about someone sending all of Shakespeare’s work via text message to a number that a spam appeared to originate from. The spam-e decided that several hundred thousand texts are what the spammer needed, and so they send multiple megabytes of text spam so the number displayed as the recipient.

Unfortunately SMS originating numbers can be spoofed, and phones can be hacked or a malicious app installed that causes a person to unknowingly be a spammer. All that guy did was either attack a hijacked phone or send to an SMS sending machine that’s never going to pick up inbound texts.

Someone will see it if I’ve called them

No, this is a bad assumption. It relies on the believe that the phone call made it to their phone, which a large number of calls don’t. Just because the caller heard a ring doesn’t mean the recipients phone ever rang.

If your cell phone doesn’t register an incoming call, it doesn’t record it in the last called/history list. That ringing sound is generated by the carriers, not by the person called. Their phone could be dead and if the network thinks it’s alive somewhere it’ll ring.

At the current time there’s something wrong with the Sprint tower near where I live. The wife and I have not received many calls in two days, although several people have attempted to call us and reached voicemail. Evidently someone called me infinity times expecting I would see it, and I didn’t until I checked the Sprint website for inbound phone calls.


(What you send is what they get)

You take a beautiful crisp multi-megapixel picture and send it to your friend, you expect your amazing photo to go through and be extractable. What they get is a jaggy compressed photo that looks like it was taken with a cell phone in 2004.

Many carriers modify their MMS to do lossy compression on the image. Your picture may be fine but when you send it it’s bad looking. Carriers do this because your image takes space on their MMS server for a while, and bandwidth to get there.

Someone will see that I’ve left a voicemail

I’ve got a voicemail service that requires the internet to work to notify me that I’ve got a voicemail. If my internet is down on Sprint and I’m not connected to WiFi, I don’t see a notification.

Similarly, when I used the carrier’s voicemail application, it just sometimes wouldn’t know I had a voicemail.

Or if your voicemail application crashes, it probably won’t restart until you restart the phone.

A person calling will know I’ve sent them to voicemail instead of answering

I guess this depends on your network. There’s no different in ring times when I choose ignore or let it go to voicemail. There are, however, differences in ring times for no reason. You can test this using a landline and your cell phone, let us know if your carrier shortens the ringtime if you send them to voicemail.

Having five/six/umpteen bars means I’ve got a perfect signal

You’ve probably heard the phrase that communication is a two way street. Having five bars means one of the directions of that street, cell tower to your phone, is wide open and perfectly clear (not really, but I’m not getting into loud signal loss).

Unfortunately, that second direction – your phone to the cell tower – may not be.

Simplified: A cell tower screams at you with all the might and fury that a large set of electrical cables can muster. Your phone yells back with the might and fury of a couple of AA batteries. One of these goes through walls and trees better than the other.

This signal indicator means anything

Other than that your phone can hear a tower, a signal indicator is generally a useless indicator of performance. You can have a great connection to a tower for data, but find that the tower only has a couple of 1.5mb T1 connections backing it up, thus making your downloads slow as Christmas as everyone in the neighborhood is sharing.

More megapixels = better photo/phone

Some camera photo sensors pick up light better than others. Some camera lenses work better.

Unfortunately things aren’t simple. If you need to zoom in on your shots, higher megapixels are where it’s at. If you need low light, fat pixels (like the HTC One) are where you want to look.

Don’t take a number and believe it’s the end all of everything.

MHz = performance

In ye olden days, you could judge a processor by the MHz. Now we have multiple cores, which act as separate processors, and although you can compute the effective processing power by multiplication, unfortunately a computer (or phone) is as slow as the slowest component, which these days tends to be the internal SD.

If you can’t get data to the processor to process, you can’t do anything but sit and wait.

If I use the phone to talk to someone, I will catch on fire

While today’s generation seems to think a cell phone is for anything but talking on, if you pick it up and talk to someone, your head will not spontaneously burst into flame. Neither will Agent Smith from the Matrix be downloaded into your brain.

The number on the caller ID is the number calling me

Nope, it’s the number they’re displaying as the number that’s calling you. It really doesn’t take much to spoof a caller ID number.

At my office, I just log into the NEC phone system, and change the displayed outbound number, and I could be calling from Dominoes for all that the person I’m calling can tell.

That requires a CLEC that will let you do that, however.

Apple, Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry is better

Almost entirely subjective, although you can probably make a call that Windows/Blackberry being significantly newer are worse in terms of marketplaces for the moment.

It really depends on what you want to do with the phone. I want to tinker, I like an open development platform, Android is for me.

Any more?

If you’ve got anything, let us know. I’m assuming this list is not complete, but this was just from three days worth of issues and conversations.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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