eli5 Why does cell phone service sometime get worse in areas with more people?


We went to Disney World and my phone showed that I had full bars of 5 G and nothing would load. I’ve heard that it has something to do with the amount of people in the area but that doesn’t make sense to me. Can you please help me understand?

In: 2

When you are drinking a drink through a straw only a little bit of the drink gets through at a time. Get a bigger straw more drink gets through at a time. Get a bigger drink and it takes longer to drink it all through the straw. Cellular networks are the straw. The people on their phones are the drink. The networks can only handle so much traffic at once before they get bogged down making it slow for everyone.

Even though you have 5 bars that’s just the strength of the connection. Like the drink knows there is a straw but still has to wait for its turn to go through it.

Taking a different perspective, let’s say you’re in a big room with only one other person. You guys can talk to each other all day long with no issues.

Now let’s say you’re in the same size room (for argument sake let’s say it’s the size of half of basketball Court) and there are now 10 two person groups in the room. That’s OK, remember how big the room is… Everybody can still have a good conversation.

If you keep adding people to the room, sooner or later it’s going to be very difficult for anybody to concentrate on their conversation. And yes, in this example there are ways to alleviate that problem. With cell phone service, there’s a finite amount of communication media (the total bandwidth) and eventually your service will degrade.

Imagine you are at an ice cream stand. If you are the only one there you can get an ice cream cone (this is the data you want) as fast as the server can give you one. So you cone after cone as fast as you request one.

If another person comes along you can only get half as many cones – because the server has to alternate between you.

If more people come along, you have to form a line, with each person going to the back of the line before their turn comes again.

The longer the line, the longer it takes to get your next cone, which is why it takes so long to download something.

The cell tower has to split its speed between everyone connected to it. The more people, the slower each person’s speed