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Cell phone coverage in the Adirondacks

Glenn MacGrady

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I was thinking of getting a Google Pixel phone and transferring my cell carrier to Google Fi, which auto switches between T-Mobile (which includes Sprint) and U.S. Cellular towers, but I see very spotty coverage in many of the canoe areas of the Adirondacks.

What is your experience with cell coverage in the Adirondacks? You can break down your answers by different canoeing places, different carriers, or even by 3G, 4G LTE, or 5G service coverage. There really are only three primary nationwide carriers now: AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
 
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I get Sprint/T-mobile roaming coverage in the St. Regis canoe area. Enough to send and receive texts and check weather if I stand on one foot and wear my tinfoil suit.

Bob
 
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I have gotten service (Verizon) on Hoel Pond which is on the southern fringe of the St. Regis Canoe Area, as well as on St. Regis and Clamshell Ponds. No tin foil hat!
 
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I originally had a flipphone from work that operated on Verizon that I had heard worked best in the Adirondacks. It did, compared to my wife's teerrible At&T service whenever we traveled through the region. After I retired, I got a Tracfone. I told Tracfone that my zip code was in Inlet NY, which only supported Verizon cell service. So Tracfone sent me a new flip phone coded for that zip, which I loved, and was set to operate on the Verizon tower signal. I had great service everywhere, but my wife on At&T did not.

When I recently built a new cabin in the western Adirondacks, the contract builders only had AT&T phones which did not work there at all, although my Verizon Tracfone at the same location worked great. Then later Tracfone told me my flip would go obsolete at the end of the year. So I went with At&T to get its offer of First Responder Firstnet with unlimited data limit service, that I qualified for since I am a SAR first responder. Unfortunately, as expected, it did not work well from my camp location. The wife demanded good phone service at camp. So after some research I bought a "Weboost" antenna signal booster that boosts the power of all cell signals. I installed it at my camp and now everyone can easily get 3+ bars on all cell signals where previously I had one bar or less. It is now strong enough to receive and view ROKU streaming video and movies from my Firstnet phone hotspot at camp.
 
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I had excellent service on Lake George, Silver Bay with Verizon. It used to be a dead area, but now (2019) is very good. I didn’t check service at Jabe’s Pond.
 
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T-Mobile user for over 20 years. I have useable to good service around Five Ponds Wilderness, Wolf Lake State Forest, and Fish Creek Pond area.
 
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Pretty general question. In hilly or mountainous country a hundred feet can matter. We get great reception a mile away. Here at home in the shadow of a cliff.. Nothing. Our phones only work with a Web booster. The Internet goes down and we have no phone.
 
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I'm no help. One of the highlights of a canoe trip for me is leaving the phone in the truck. Lately, I'm happiest "unplugged". We do carry a Garmin Explorer+ for emergency contact and weather reports though.
 
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I have an iPhone 10 and Verizon. Here's what I have experienced on some recent trips:

Lows Lake: signal strength ranged from spotty to strong enough for full internet connection & data uploads. I found I got the best signal towards the western end of the lake around Virgin Timber Land and the vicinity. I also got pretty good signal strength near the upper dam. However, I have also found that signal strength varied over the course of several Lows trips in the past two years.

Lake Lila: occasionally enough signal strength for texting, depending on where you are on the lake but I found it can be spotty, and also seemed to vary day-to-day. Very strong signal on the summit of nearby Mr. Frederica.

Little Tupper Lake: similar to Lila

St. Regis canoe area: St. Regis Pond: good signal with enough strength for internet connection, though signal strength varied around the pond; enough signal for texting at various locations on Little Long Pond, Hoel Pond, Turtle Pond, Long Pond; limited signal to none at all on the interior ponds (Fish, other Little Lond Pond, Lydia Pond, Clamshell, etc.).

Hope this helps.
 
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Both a good friend of mine and I had old LG flip phones with Tracfone and had good service throughout the Adirondacks when working for an outdoor program on Raquette Lake. She changed her old phone to a Smartphone, still with Tracfone, but her service dropped off considerably. I loaned her my flip phone so she could use it while up there since her new phone was so unreliable. Not sure if it was the change in phones or what the issue is but I've had to move to a Smartphone myself now that the old phones are being phased out. It will be interesting to see if my new "better" phone (Samsung A21) continues to work for me or not.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

snapper
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Both a good friend of mine and I had old LG flip phones with Tracfone and had good service throughout the Adirondacks when working for an outdoor program on Raquette Lake. She changed her old phone to a Smartphone, still with Tracfone, but her service dropped off considerably.

My wife and I have used Tracfone for about 8 years now. It is an MVNO that historically has rented cellular network access from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint, depending on the particular phone model. Our LG feature (dumb) phones were on Verizon with Tracfone. My first Moto X smartphone was locked to Verizon, so that's the network Tracfone used for that phone. My second, current and dying unlocked Moto X phone was put on AT&T by Tracfone. Your friend may have experienced a carrier switch by Tracfone when she switched phone models.

Tracfone has now been bought by Verizon, so one can assume that all its customers will be induced or forced onto Verizon over time.

I have decided that Google Fi's purchase deal on the Google Pixel 5a is too good to pass up. I like that phone very much, and getting a $450 phone for $216 ($9 a month for 24 months) is unbeatable. Google Fi's $20/month flex plan will probably cost me somewhat more per year than I was prepaying for Tracfone minutes—I rarely use texts or data—but at least I will get unlimited minutes and the ability to phone from 200 countries. Since Google Fi switches automatically between the towers of T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular, or the nearest public wifi hotspot, I was encouraged to read here that T-Mobile provided signal in some parts of the Adirondacks.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Yikes. The very definition of unsecured!

Maybe not. As described HERE . . .

"Anytime you're in range of a publicly available Wi-Fi network that Google has determined to be "high-quality and reliable" . . . your Fi phone will switch over to that instead of using your regular mobile network. You'll see it happen in retail establishments with open Wi-Fi networks or anywhere else that has Wi-Fi available without the need for any sort of sign-in.

"Fi automatically encrypts your data anytime it's connected to a network in that manner, using a special Google-provided virtual private network (VPN) — which means no one else on the network could snoop on your connection and see what you're doing (in the way you often hear described as a risk of using public Wi-Fi networks)."

Reading the fine print, it seems this automatic switching to partnered wifi networks is not available on my low end Google Fi plan, but I decided to elaborate on it for the benefit of anyone else who might in the future be interested in Google Fi.
 
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This is not my area of expertise. Ye pays yer money and ye takes yer chances as they say. VPN is reputed to be a good thing. Tech companies are not. Interesting predicament.
 
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I don't rely on cell service, but have gotten it in some weird places. When I do, I make a point to text my wife and let her know I'm doing well... places I have gotten coverage are almost always high...
  • Hitchens Overlook on Lows/Bog River,
  • Mt Fredrica on Lila,
  • Grass Pond Mountain on Lows,
  • Long Pond Mountain in the St Regis Canoe Wilderness.
I've also hit the cell towers on Hwy 30 from a lean-to on an island in Follensby Clear Pond, but only at night (didn't work during the day.)

I've had similar experience on the Appalachian Trail in TN, NC, VA, MD, and PA.... if you're up high, you can hit a tower.
 
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and if you are down low you are outta luck.. Around me are things called mountains on the map though in reality big hills would be a better description. There is scarcely 800 feet between bottom and top. I live at the bottom of one of these. The cell tower is one hill over on the top of a 1200 foot hill one mile away. No service at home! Up ta the top of a nearby ridge about five miles from said tower is great reception. Its a dirt pull off by a cow pasture.. Er bull pasture. Sometimes the bull is not friendly.
 
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We bought iPhone 13’s in March, and we noticed that we weren’t receiving 5G service. So after a month I called my carrier AT&T and they said for an additional $35.00 a month, $135.00, I could be enrolled in their 5G plan. I explained to them that I was a 20+ year customer and now being retired and not using my phone as much as I use to when I worked, couldn’t they give me 5G coverage at my present rate? No, but I will switch you to our customer loyalty department, great, oh yes Mr. ……, you have been a long-standing loyal customer BUT it will have to be an additional $35.00 per month, good bye.
So I investigated what cellular carrier offer the most 5G coverage in the United States, T Mobile 50+%, AT&T 24% and Verizon in the mid teens. We switched to T Mobile Magenta 55+ plan, according to T Mobile‘s coverage map they offer pretty good mobile coverage in the dak’s but actually being there and having cellular coverage is another thing. Well I am happy to report that we just spent a long weekend at Fish Creek Ponds campground and we actually had 5G coverage at times. We paddled to Floodwood pond and was able to text. We were able to use our phones as a hotspot for our iPad’s, were able to stream videos, very pleased with T Mobile, so far and $70.00 per month for two phones.
 
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In times past, Forest Rangers and trained searchers during a lost person SAR incident would follow drainages down slope from the subject's last known place (LKP), because most people tended to travel downhill and also expected following waterways would take them out of the woods or to civilization and assistance. But now in recent years, we find that more and more people are traveling uphill toward summitsinstead. Why? Simply because they expect their cell phone to begin working from higher locations.
 
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