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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  1. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: Yes.

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

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      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.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. JetSetJim Silver badge

        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.

        1. boltar Silver badge
          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.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          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.

        3. fixit_f
          Thumb Up

          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.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        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!)

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          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.

          1. Graham Dawson

            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.

            1. 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.

            2. wikkity

              Re: "have trouble hearing the wife"

              Sure that's not just selective hearing?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          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.

        3. cbf123

          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.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      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)

  2. jake Silver badge

    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 ...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      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.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @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 ;-)

      2. vagabondo

        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.

      3. boltar Silver badge
        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ Boltar

          You're an idiot.

          1. boltar Silver badge
            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.

            1. Ted Treen
              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?

              1. boltar Silver badge
                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.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  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.

                  1. boltar Silver badge
                    Facepalm

                    Re: @ Boltar

                    Clutching at straws? Much?

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      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.

                    2. Psyx
                      Stop

                      Re: @ Boltar

                      "Clutching at straws? Much?"

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

                2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

                  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.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              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?

              1. boltar Silver badge
                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.

  3. tomban

    Leaky Feeder

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

  4. Stephen Booth
    Mushroom

    Reinforced concrete

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

  5. PaulR79
    Thumb Down

    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.

    1. Mayhem

      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.

  6. PhilipJ
    Thumb Up

    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.

    1. Corin

      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!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: am I the only one

      And the local shop sells bacofoil?

    3. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: am I the only one @PhilipJ

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

  7. Tom 7 Silver badge

    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!

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      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.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      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.

  8. dms05

    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.

  9. 1Rafayal

    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.

  10. Dan 55 Silver badge

    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.

  11. djstardust
    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 :)

    1. Velv Silver badge
      Mushroom

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

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        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.

      2. Graham Dawson

        Have you seen the levels of natural background radiation over most of the planet? We were born in a sea of the stuff. All this bizarre panic over "TEH RADIATIONS is based on the assumption that any radiation at any dose is dangerous without any threshold which would, taken to its logical conclusion, require us to forgo sunlight entirely and live in a lead-lined faraday cube for the rest of our natural lives.

        Except we need sunlight to produce vitamin D - specifically the mild ionising effect of UV radiation on cholesterols in our skin.

        It's all in the dose.

    2. mmeier

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

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

        Granite in Shropshire? I doubt that.

  12. JaitcH
    Happy

    Gyproc/plaster board/drywall has gone high tech

    Innocent looking is often the cause of signal reduction as you can get it with rear lines in water proof, steam proof, foil covered and even ballistic - the latter capable of stopping bullets - kind of handy if you live in an American 'hood which have a high frequency of bullets.

    Then there are the metallic 'tinted' windows such as the Royal Bank Building in Toronto which is also a very effective attenuator.

    But you do have peace/freedom from cell rings.

    1. Rukario
      Pint

      Re: Gyproc/plaster board/drywall has gone high tech

      But then, the "metallic tinted" windows in Royal Bank Plaza (both buildings) are gold.

  13. Wize

    Depends on your coverage in the area.

    From the front to the back of my house, I get two different base stations. It doesn't jump between 50 of them because there are only two. And if I'm not at the window, I get neither. Bloody Vodafone coverage map says I have a strong signal too. Pfft.

  14. MJI Silver badge

    Land line

    I use that in the house!

  15. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Various people are right - the foil lining in walls makes thinghs worse - but more importantly it's metallised windows and fire-resistant doors which deal the death-blow to indoor propagation.

    Even back in the days of 800MHz analogue it was pretty clear that anything other than stud walls already blocks so much signal that what's seen indoors is a result of what's leaking in via wall voids (ie, windows and doors). Once you start limiting what can propagate through those then you may as well plug into a wall outlet.

    As for standalone femtocells - they used to be called "rabbitnet"

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPS

    The "K Glass" in my conservatory completely blocks GPS reception on my hiking GPSr, but then those satellite sigs are a bit on the weak side :)

    But it works in the car by the windscreen, so the glass at home must be doing a fair job of screening.

  17. Lone Gunman

    walls aren't my problem ...

    its all the poxy BT routers that keep interfering with the wifi at our place. Fast as we change frequency, another bunch pop up. Pain in the arse doesn't quite cover it!

    Really old walls can be a serious issue though when they are around 2 foot thick and solid stone. You have to find some creative ways of getting wifi round the house.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: walls aren't my problem ...

      This, A million times this.

      I had major wifi issues a few months back, seems that BT had literally spammed most the channels with homehubs. Annoyingly they seem to switch every so often which makes me think they are on a "use the best channel" sort of mode. I feel your pain.

      I've had mobile data issues for a long time, which is strange as I never used to before all this 4G malarkey.

      1. Lone Gunman

        Re: walls aren't my problem ...

        We've noticed it more in the last few months since BT put Infinity live in the area, so maybe you are right with the "use best channel" settings. Whatever it is I wish it would stop it.

  18. teapot9999
    WTF?

    so what about outside?

    O2 reception is poor outside most of the time and Vodafone is not much better !

  19. ecofeco Silver badge
    FAIL

    Back to the Future!

    Multipath and big buildings blocking signals.

    ...and they still haven't figured it out after 100 years.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Back to the Future!

      As does building density. And that's another factor with new build: the tiny gardens and proximity of other houses and garages. To an extent the proximity of a neighbouring wall may create localised reflected signals that help some people, but in the wider scheme of things the building density must hinder reception.

      Who'd want to buy a new house? No garden worth sitting in, neighbours a few centimetres away, rubbish mobile signals, dark from the pokey little windows most of 'em have. But warm.

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