FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Download gigabytes at 65mph

You’re driving along at highway speeds and (ahem) your passenger is safely using a mobile device. Perhaps watching a movie, updating an app, crushing a candy, whatever.

So let’s get this straight. Since the average range of a suburban cell tower is about 1.5 miles, you’re connecting to a different radio tower about every minute and 20 seconds, using a phone that broadcasts using about half a watt of power while you’re encased in a metal box. Somehow this actually all works to give you the power to find out anything, download anything, or play anything seamlessly.

You may be connecting using two or three radio frequencies at the same time, seamlessly changing from one encoding technology to another, and to add even more complexity, you may be talking, typing, e-mailing, tweeting, and even video chatting while your device quietly downloads the latest updates.

Then you switch to streaming a movie, and your device not only downloads and buffers, but decodes and displays all that information at 60 frames per second.

Mind: blown.

There are whole PhD-level disciplines that talk about how you can correct for errors in super-low-power broadcasts, how you can connect to multiple towers and still have all the information re-assembled properly, and how one tower knows that it’s ok for you to go out of range. But you don’t have to worry about any of that. For you, it just works.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.