The Unexpected Effect Heatwaves Have On Your Phone's Signal

<span class="copyright">miljko via Getty Images</span>
miljko via Getty Images

We’ve written before at HuffPost UK about how you should adjust your phone’s brightness when it’s sunny out.

But it turns out that extremely hot weather can affect more than just your device’s hardware ― it can change the signal your phone gets, too.

Signal specialists UCtel write on their site that while it can be avoided with proper maintenance, “Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can damage electronic components in cell towers, potentially leading to overheating and signal disruptions.”

But that’s not the only effect heatwaves, like the upcoming one in the UK, can have on your signal.

What else happens? 

Let’s start with the fact that hot, but not dangerously hot, temperatures may actually make cell tower signals travel better.

“These conditions are generally favourable for maintaining a strong and stable connection,” UCtel writes. “Clear skies and minimal atmospheric interference, such as rain or fog, contribute to stable and consistent coverage.”

However, humidity, which can come with heat, does have a detrimental effect on our signal.

Additionally, we tend to gather around places that don’t usually have a high signal demand, like beaches, when it’s sunny out.

“This demand means your phone may be trying various cell towers to get the best signal, heating it up in the process,” ITV writes.

In fact, even being around loads of other people at a sunny festival or a packed lake is likely to lessen your signal ― whether or not they have their phones out.

“Bodies absorb mobile signals,” The Guardian wrote based on information from Izzat Darwazeh, a professor of communications engineering at UCL ― so “your phone connection becomes exponentially weaker the more people you are around.”

Is that all?

You might choose to visit the quiet countryside on a sunny weekend, thinking the signal-busting effects of a crowd will keep your bars bountiful.

But ITV shared that while better-connected, more modern signal towers use something called a backhaul to communicate “some more rural and isolated locations may use a microwave dish or have older copper cabling.”

That can cause your phone’s signal to suffer, especially if you’re far away from a tower.

During the dreaded 40-degree day of 2022, the Met Office warned that the sweltering heat could affect even the best-connected towers.

There was a “High risk of failure of heat-sensitive systems and equipment, potentially leading to localised loss of power and other essential services, such as water or mobile phone services” at the time, they said.

Unless temps get that high again, though, your biggest risk is likely to be the throngs of sun-lovers lining your nearest beach.