back to article No mobile signal? Blame hippies and their eco-friendly walls

Mobile networks are losing as much as 88 per cent of their bandwidth thanks to energy-efficient walls and windows, we're told. The insulation seals in the heat and keep out the coverage, according to a company flogging a solution. The Spectrum Research Group compiled the figures at the behest of SpiderCloud, which hopes that …

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Anonymous Coward

Yes.

A friend has a fairly new build house, the only way to get a mobile signal iss to hang out of a wide open window or leave all the doors open. Even WiFi and cordless phones are badly affected inside the house if close all the internal doors.

Still, his heating bills are low.

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Re: Yes.

Sounds like a Faraday cage. Is he perhaps called Brill?

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Alert

Re: Yes.

A modern house having internal walls that block something? Wow that's a change. Normally houses built after the 80s are stud-work and plasterboard that doesn't even block sound.

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Re: Yes.

Agreed - it's not the new builds blocking radio, it's the fact that they're built in areas with no coverage anyway. Unless the aforementioned house-owner gets 5 bars by pushing the phone out the window? More likely he's on a massive development that never had coverage cos it was a farmers field until last year, and - apart from those sheep fitted with SMS units - not many farm animals need phone coverage.

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low-e window coatings

These are what block the signals, regular glass is pretty transparent to cellular frequencies, which is why usually going near a window helps you get a signal in typical steel beam construction buildings that are hard to get signal in elsewhere. It's also why old lath-and-plaster buildings, which are essentially a Faraday cage, don't block cell phones except in interior rooms (unless you replace all the old windows with modern ones, then you're screwed) The low-e coatings are typically very thin layers of tin and silver, which in addition to reflecting IR do a pretty decent job of reflecting (or at least attenuating) cellular frequencies.

Even the apparently cheaply built houses may have fiberglass insulation with a reflective foil layer on it. That thin layer of metal that also does a pretty good job of blocking cellular. Even if the walls are so thin you can hear people talking outside you might go from 4-5 bars outside to 1-2 bars inside even though you only moved six feet. If you care, use the expanding foam type of insulation instead. It costs more but has a much better R value per inch and leaves no air gaps so you don't need Tyvek wrap on the exterior (which can create problems of its own when condensation occurs between the wrap and the exterior coating)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Yes.

Don't know about modern (UK) houses, but having lived for 3 years in Silicon Valley in the late 90s then my impression of housing there is that its al timber frame, plaster board walls (and doors with gaps at bottom) so as a result of this and attempts to get wifi to work in a 1890s solid wall UK house has led me to the conclusion that wireless networking has been design on the assumption that walls don't block signals!

(N.b. part of reason for this style of design there is that - for one storey houses - its more resilient to minor earthquakes + from a DIY program I saw over there another major factor in US house design techniques seemed to be the idea that "your house *is* going to fall down in an earthquake/tornado/hurricane/etc but if you build it this way it will be much easier to rebuild afterwards!" .... also US tax code assumes that houses can be fuly depreciated over 40 years!)

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Trollface

Re: Yes.

N.b. part of reason for this style of design there is that - for one storey houses - its more resilient to minor earthquakes

Seems reasonable. In the UK it's because it's cheaper and faster to build and the construction industry doesn't give a shit. It's not like they have to honour warranties or anything.

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Re: Yes.

That's not entirely true. Certainly with the big builders there's a certain incentive to go cheap, but interior stud walls offer significant advantages over alternatives. For one they're quicker to build, they're lighter (you want to suggest building brickwork on a second storey floor with no support underneath?), they allow a certain flexibility when pulling wire and - believe it or not - they actually block sound better than other wall types as long as they're constructed right.

Solid walls carry sound like nobody's business. A properly built stud wall deadens it with the use of air gaps and insulation. They also hold heat in better. I should know, I'm living in a small block of flats I helped build and I can often have trouble hearing the wife just one room over when she's shouting at me.

Now it's possible we built to a higher standard than the rest of the industry, but I doubt it. We built to the regs as written.

You will not see exterior stud walls in this country ever. The closest you'll get is SIPs but those require cladding, either in the form of external decorative cladding or a regular brick skin with a minimal cavity.

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Facepalm

Re: Yes.

It might help if modern phones had decent antennas like those of the 80s and early 90s. You're not going to send or receive much of a signal from an antenna an inch long if that and often partially obscure by a metal cover.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "wireless networking has been design"

Are you deliberately trying to sound like Borat?

Actually, even in Kazakh they have heard of this concept called 'tense'.

In almost all languages verbs are inflected to show when the action occurred. See, in the highlighted examples we are showing that the action took place in the past.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Yes.

It is the new build blocking it, he's in the middle of a town that's been established for centuries and has good coverage.

Every internal wall is fitted with a foil coated plasterboard, the floor cavities are filled with Kingspan foil coated insulation board and I would assume the exterior walls are too. Open a window and the mobile signal appears, close it and it goes.

WiFi and cordless POTs phones work in the house if internal doors are left open, close them and WiFi/Cordless stops working.

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Law
Happy

Re: Yes.

"I can often have trouble hearing the wife just one room over when she's shouting at me."

If only all married men were so lucky!

Joking aside, I agree with you on benefits of other walls over solid brick - our solid brick 1900 house leaks heat, has zero sound proofing (even between us and our neighbours). It's also annoying as hell to put pictures and mirrors up on.

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Re: "have trouble hearing the wife"

Sure that's not just selective hearing?

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Re: Yes.

"Agreed - it's not the new builds blocking radio" - I think it's largely down to the type of insulation used, and this varies depending on the application. When I dry lined and insulated my bathroom I used the foil backed foam type insulation (thickness was an issue and this stuff is more efficient for a given size) this caused the loss of the wireless signal to the garden. I would assume it's the foil backing that's doing it.

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this is standard north american housing construction

I live up in Canada and typically we have exterior walls framed with 2x6 lumber, interior walls framed with 2x4. Interior walls are generally covered with drywall (aka plasterboard or gypsum board).

My parents' 2-storey house is framed this way and is over 100yrs old. Shows no signs of falling down any time soon.

Note: in construction, a "timber frame" actually means something different, where you use large (8 inches square or even bigger) timbers spaced quite far apart as the load-bearing structure. This is typically not used as much any more except when explicitly chosen as a design statement.

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The real problem is ...

... steel wall studs where they are not needed ... and not cost-effective, either.

Suggesting it's the insulation causing lack of signal borders on stupidity ... I suspect I have better insulation than any of the campuses involved. Pull all insulation & take the same readings. In fact, pull the interior & exterior walls, and all the windows & doors, & take the readings at "framed, ready for plumbing & wiring" stage. I'll bet you a nickle it's the metal framing that's the cause of the issue.

There is a reason I built this place using proper doug-fir framing ...

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Re: The real problem is ...

> Suggesting it's the insulation causing lack of signal borders on stupidity ..

Except when it's the foil-lined plasterboard or polystyrene that seems to be cropping up a lot more often these days. Gives a nice heat-reflecting layer, which also of course blocks lots of other EM radiation.

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@Phil (was: Re: The real problem is ...)

I used the foil-lined stuff in the guest house. (Purchased at 1% of retail from a failed building project ... I figured "what the hey, it's only for guests ... how long, exactly, do I want 'em to stay, anyway?")

None of my guests complain about lack of signal. Not even ifad users.

They also don't complain about indoor ambiance ... might be the GSHP ;-)

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Re: The real problem is ...

Metal stud has little effect on mobile signals in a house or smallish building. The real killers for mobile, dect and wi-fi are foil-backed wall-boards (as mentioned above), reinforced concrete, fire-resistant doors, and metallic-coated glazing. Some loft/roof insulation also uses aluminium foil. In a large house with wooden floors, placing the Wi-Fi access point, Dect base station and any Femtocell, etc on the top floor usually helps.

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WTF?

Re: The real problem is ...

"Except when it's the foil-lined plasterboard or polystyrene that seems to be cropping up a lot more often these days. Gives a nice heat-reflecting layer, which also of course blocks lots of other EM radiation."

Err, polystyrene does NOT block RF. No plastic does. Not unless it was about 10 metres thick anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Boltar

You're an idiot.

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Facepalm

Re: @ Boltar

"You're an idiot."

Am I ? Oh. Well in that case presumably you'll be able to provide a link that shows that polystyrene is a significant RF absorber.

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Headmaster

Re: @ Boltar

Standard use of English:-

"..."Except when it's the foil-lined plasterboard or polystyrene that seems to be cropping up..."

The descriptive 'foil-lined' refers to BOTH plasterboard AND polystyrene.

i.e.

"..."Except when it's the foil-lined plasterboard or foil-lined polystyrene that seems to be cropping up..."

OK?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ Boltar

It's not the polystyrene that blocks the signal, it's the thin aluminium foil stuck to it that does that.

Perhaps next time read all the words in the sentence?

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WTF?

Re: @ Boltar

"Perhaps next time read all the words in the sentence?"

I did. It reads:

"Except when it's the foil-lined plasterboard or polystyrene"

That doesn't read like "foil lined polystyrene" to me. There's an "or" inbetween. Perhaps you people should learn to read.

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FAIL

Re: @ Boltar

"Standard use of English:-

"..."Except when it's the foil-lined plasterboard or polystyrene that seems to be cropping up...""

"The descriptive 'foil-lined' refers to BOTH plasterboard AND polystyrene."

Oh right, so like when someone says "I'll go by the 12.30 train or car" one of the options is to take the 12.30 car? On yer bike son.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ Boltar

> one of the options is to take the 12.30 car?

Indeed. If the car was not tied to a timetable the speaker would have said

"I'll go by the 12.30 train or by car"

or possibly

"I'll go by car, or the 12.30 train"

I'll go by the train at 12:30, or by car".

etc.

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Facepalm

Re: @ Boltar

Clutching at straws? Much?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ Boltar

Pot, meet kettle.

Mate, you made a mistake and then you argued the toss when your mistake was pointed out rather than admit you were a bit hasty. The OP's meaning was abundantly clear and everyday use; yet you were determined to make an argument out of it.

You lost. Now go home.

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Stop

Re: @ Boltar

"Clutching at straws? Much?"

No, they're just pointing out your obtuse reading comprehension.

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Re: @ Boltar

Sorry, Boltar - your only excuse here is if English is not your first language. There is no real ambiguity in the statement as originally posted, because the two things being referred to are of the same type (both insulation), and so the modifier "foil-backed" applies to both. Perfectly natural use of English language, unlike "I'll go by the 12.30 train or car", which I have never seen written, and if I did see such a thing in something I was marking, there would be a down-mark and correction note. If spoken, however, there would be non-verbal cues that the modifier "12.30" doesn't apply.

Basically, you seem to want an argument, but you are in the wrong room - all you will get here is contradiction.

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Leaky Feeder

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaky_feeder

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Mushroom

Reinforced concrete

1970's vintage reinforced concrete computer centers have the same problem. On the plus side they are probably bomb proof.

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Well isn't that a surprise?

"The insulation seals in the heat and keep out the coverage, according to a company flogging a solution"

That's about where I lost all interest in reading further. Whether it's an accurate report or not I can't take it seriously when the findings helpfully back up what they're selling.

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Re: Well isn't that a surprise?

At least I know it won't be a problem on this side of the ditch - going by temperatures in my last few flats there's seldom any insulation present!

Although yes, the concrete and multilayered brick construction is a bit of a pain.

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am I the only one

who sees the RF blocking capabilities of construction materials as a benefit ?

I want just enough signal in my house to be reachable. I don't need no high speed mobile internet access - I've got FTTH and a RJ45 socket in every relevant room. The less radiation in my house, the better.

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Re: am I the only one

The trouble is that by attenuating the signal from the macro cell outside, your mobile phone will ramp up its TX power to overcome that same attenuation, therefore undoing your careful work.

For me it's also annoying - I live in a new build property near a city centre. Full five-bar signal outside, a flickering feeble bar indoors. A Three HomeSignal has fixed the issue there, but given the postcode they were certainly reluctant to give me one! What forced their hand was that the advisor asked to phone back on my landline midway through the call as the call was breaking up!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: am I the only one

And the local shop sells bacofoil?

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Re: am I the only one @PhilipJ

And what's the problem with EM radiation? Why is it better to have less than more?

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Any self respecting hippy would use straw and lime wash

which provides phenomenal insulation and you can build a 2 story 5 bedroom for less than 50K so long as your furniture doesn't have to be anally rectilinear.

And lets the signals through very well - especially when you open the double glazing to cool the place down cos you like a log fire.

If I had one I'd line all the rooms but one with foil so the people in the house could talk to each other. I've had to phone a friend, who stayed for three days, after he left to see how he was cos work wouldn't leave him alone!

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Re: Any self respecting hippy would use straw and lime wash

That was sort of my thinking too. The vendor is pitching at institutional customers, not domestic, so we're talking about the sorts of building materials used in larger buildings, not houses, and a purely economic desire for insulation, not an ideological one. Hippies just don't come into it.

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Re: Any self respecting hippy would use straw and lime wash

I'm contemplating building a house of straw at the moment, though I wouldn't use lime-wash - too fiddly. I'm also finding that it might be difficult to insure because of the non-standard building material which seems to shout "Fire" to anyone I've spoken to.

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Aluminium foil insulation

I live in a 2007 conversion of a 1896 house. The Building standards required the developer to use foil backed 1" urethane plasterboard on ALL internal walls. Even the voids between floors was filled with urethane blocks with foil backing. So it's a UK building standard requirement. Needless to say I can't get much of a signal for mobile phones and FM radio is impossible but surprisingly DAB seems fairly strong when using a simple indoors wire antenna. I have added a Vodaphone Signal Booster (use my BB to connect to the mobile network) and that solves the problem.

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One of the first job interviews I had just after leaving Uni was for an engineer at a local ISP.

One of the questions I was asked was "What conditions could hamper a good wifi connection", in my answer I mentioned certain types of wall. My interviewer, who was a "seasoned" member of staff (I later grew to understand that this means people like him had never worked anywhere else", laughed me out of the door.

I feel vindicated now.

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Modern walls

Never ceases to amaze me how the sound of the neighbour's microwave going ping will reach the other end of your flat and picture hooks and curtain rails need about half a tub of polyfiller behind them lest they fall down at some ungodly hour of night yet you can't get a damn phone signal for love nor money.

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Mushroom

My house was built in the 50s and has 2 foot thick pink granite walls. Absolutely no chance of a signal but bloody handy if there's a holocaust :)

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Mushroom

Errr, have you SEEN the levels of radiation from granite!!!!

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Mushroom

Indeed, he has built up a tolerance. ..Or will have mutated beyond the point where it matters my the time the nukes fall and the sky burns.

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Are they still preparing for the Welshman crossing the border where you live? Sounds like Shropshire :)

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