Still, different brands boast an impressive lineup of feature-rich, water-resistant devices.
These handsets present exciting possibilities, especially when it comes to receiving a cell phone signal underwater.
A mobile device produces electromagnetic waves used to relay calls and messages.
The ability to transmit and receive signals depends on your phone’s distance to nearby cell phone towers.
The waves typically move in a straight line and are affected by various physical features.
For instance, hilly landscapes and forests will give you poor reception unless you get to higher ground.
Fortunately, strategically placed cell towers improve signal strength and counteract poor reception.
Mobile communication has come a long way ever since phone lines hung in the air.
You can make and receive calls even from some of the most remote corners of the Earth!
However, this ease of communication changes once a significant mass of water is involved.
So, just how far underwater can a cell phone get signal?
Seawater has more dissolved solids per unit than the atmosphere. These particles significantly impact how well radio waves can cross the medium.
This article dives deep (pun fully intended) and explores some of the qualities of water and their unique effect on underwater phone reception.
There are more water-resistant phones on the market today than ever before.
Currently, you can take breathtaking underwater pictures inside your pool (or your bathtub/shower– no judgment here!).
However, can you receive a call or message while submerged?
Cell phones transmit calls and messages via electromagnetic waves.
These signals regularly distort while passing through water and result in the jamming of cell phone reception. A similar distortion occurs when light appears to bend while crossing a water medium.
As such, you’d be fortunate to get any reception inside a submarine (if you ever found yourself in one).
For starters, a sub’s steel hull has multiple electrical components that will distort any mobile signal. Additionally, there are practically zero cell towers at sea!
Therefore, the submarine would have to be close enough to a terrestrial cell phone tower to receive a phone signal.
On the flip side, you can still make a call through a satellite phone. In this case, the submarine needs to rise to the surface to avoid the jamming effect of seawater.
In the past, submarines communicated through low-range signals effectively. However, the limited bandwidth would require larger antenna cables.
In contrast, sound waves travel through water better than radio waves. Sonar is an invaluable tool underwater, even with its slower transmission speed.
There’s very little chance of receiving an internet connection underwater. In the best case scenario, signals would only penetrate a few centimeters below water surfaces.
Only low-frequency waves can cross a reasonable distance beneath the water’s surface.
Data signals are a form of electromagnetic waves with a higher frequency. As such, they behave differently when passing through different media.
The strength of wave signals diminish when transmitted through various interfaces. This reduction depends on the medium’s permittivity.
In the case of seawater, the reception will weaken drastically, and you won’t be able to receive any data signals!
Wi-Fi signals travel through radio waves and are routinely subject to blocking and interference from physical structures.
Unfortunately, your phone’s internet wouldn’t work underwater as the waves would destabilize the connection significantly.
The conductive state of water significantly influences the strength of Wi-Fi signals underwater. Even with their unique profiles, saltwater and freshwater significantly affect radio waves from Wi-Fi.
This means you unfortunately won’t be able to browse your favorite websites when underwater, and will most likely be met with “Not reachable” if you tried to use Facebook Messenger!
Cell phones send calls and message signals to nearby cell towers or a base station.
In ideal situations, a cell phone can pick up a signal from a tower over 40 miles away.
However, the reception strength will vary depending on several factors such as the tower’s height, terrain, and prevailing weather.
Ideally, your device can be at maximum 25 miles from the nearest cell tower and still receive a signal.
Sometimes, the range could extend further if the underlying factors are favorable. In the same vein, you can also plausibly get good reception from an offshore tower if it is within range.
Multiple factors can affect your phone’s reception while out at sea. Seafarers will usually install cell boosters to amplify cell signals and counter the distance from cell towers.
Cell boosters are devices that improve your phone’s reception.
These gadgets work with an antenna outside your home or vehicle.
The antenna scans and picks the best signals from nearby towers and transmits them to a rebroadcasting device.
A cell signal booster is a handy device to reduce dropped calls and low sound quality. They amplify cell phone signals and improve the quality of voice calls.
Additionally, they’re pretty small and can go unnoticed inside your living room!
Even with their multiple advantages, cell boosters are useless below the water surface. Radio waves would still weaken as soon as they hit the surface of the water.
Just like other radio waves, water molecules will weaken Bluetooth signals.
Bluetooth has a shorter range, with a maximum distance of 400 meters. The connection is lost once you are a few inches below the water surface.
Dense water molecules thin the connection till it is almost nonexistent. Still, Bluetooth can work if the two devices are only a few inches apart.
This small allowance allows swimmers to enjoy music relayed via Bluetooth from wireless headphones or devices attached to their caps!
Cell towers are conspicuous on land, especially in places with a significant population.
Typically, a cell tower covers a specific area, as besides the tower there are usually a handful of antennas that bolster reception.
Network providers establish network infrastructure like cell towers where there is a need for mobile services.
As most mobile users are on land, there is close to zero mobile reception at sea! This is why seafarers usually rely on satellite phones for efficient communication.
Satellite handsets transmit signals to a satellite in orbit. The radio signals are then sent back to Earth to a telephone network.
Once on the network- either via the internet or local network- the call can then reach the recipient.
While network providers won’t construct cell towers on the ocean anytime soon, the military may have other ideas.
The US Navy is looking into installing communication buoys at sea. These mini-transmitters will be designed to link up with satellites and create a secure communication network.
Traditional cell phone transmission won’t work if you’re out on the open sea.
Nevertheless, you can still browse the internet with some assistance and technical know-how.
For starters, the absence of terrestrial towers means that you’ll be using satellite internet.
Therefore, you’ll need to install a satellite dish on your boat! Satellite communication is pretty expensive though, and you’ll have to consider your internet needs critically.
For instance, internet use while out at sea could mean minute-by-minute billing. Therefore, you should decide whether you need an around-the-clock connection.
Another factor to consider is how long you’ll be traveling at sea.
Finally, it may actually be a better idea if you just mainly utilized the port center’s internet to save on costs!
5. Can I get a cell phone signal underground?
Ideally, you need a direct transmission path to a cell tower if you want to make a call. You won’t be in the tower’s direct line of sight while underground.
Concrete structures and soil typically impede a cell phone’s ability to receive or transmit signals.
Consequently, it usually won’t be easy to receive calls and messages from an underground station.
Fortunately, a network of repeaters below the ground level can help maintain cell reception.
Low and medium-frequency waves can pass through concrete. However, high-frequency radio waves such as cell phone transmissions cannot cross a concrete barrier.
Cell towers send signals horizontally and downwards.
Therefore, vertical connectivity would be weak and mostly no-nexistent.
If you are several miles above the ground, you won’t be able to call or send a message via cellular signal.
Even if your cell phone can get reception, it will rapidly switch towers because of the aircraft’s speed.
The metal body of the plane can also further prevent your cell phone from receiving signals. Nowadays, airline operators instead install satellite antennas for passengers to utilize while in flight.
Currently, you cannot receive a clear phone signal underwater because of the effect of water on radio waves.
You’ll unfortunately also have to get by without Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. Might be better to just focus on the fish instead!