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problem

Increasingly, recipients of my phonecalls complain that audio quality is too poor, mostly (but not entirely) when I'm calling from one location. I'd appreciate assistance identifying and fixing the cause(s): do I need to modify or replace my phone? or change carrier? or Something Completely Different?

details

I currently use a make=LG model=L34C

  • which runs Android version=4.4
  • with MNO=Verizon via MVNO=TracFone

This L34C is fairly old and getting beat (top left corner is duct-taped), but it WFM: I do most communication/computing on laptops, and use very few apps on my phone. That being said, the one thing it's gotta do is make/receive phonecalls, and it's not doing that all the time, particularly at one location (more below). I'm considering replacing the phone, but because

  1. I'm the kinda guy who fixing to buying (i.e., I'm cheap :-), and
  2. some possible etiologies would influence my choice of replacement phone || replacement provider, so I'd like to know more about the problem {causes, factors, mechanisms} before choosing replacement {hardware, service}

... I'd appreciate assistance debugging the current problem.

data

Some aspects of this problem that may (not) be relevant:

  1. Recipients of my phonecalls sometime complain that {my outgoing, their incoming} audio quality is too poor, sufficiently that they request I call back after relocating (or using another device, or both).
  2. This problem is intermittent: it does not occur all the time, even at the most problematic location (more below).
  3. The problem is not specific to one recipient: i.e., I have experienced this with more than one destination {phone#, recipient}, though not many (10 tops, but I'm just guessing--I haven't logged this problem well :-(
  4. This problem does seem to be location-related, in that
    • (4.1.) from some locations I sometimes get complaints, others never.
    • (4.2.) from one location--aka the "most problematic location" (MPL)--I most frequently get complaints ... but not every time I call from that location.
    • (4.3.) this problem seems to occur much less frequently when I'm "in civilization," much more frequently in lower-density areas, which I assume correlates to distance to nearest {tower, base station}.
  5. At the MPL,
    • I always have Bluetooth off: I use the phone's built-in microphone, and headphones via the phone's mini-stereo jack.
    • I always have Wi-Fi off. Given the alternative I always use a laptop for communication/computing; at this location, I have that alternative.)
  6. Even when recipients are complaining about my audio quality, I have no problem with the quality of {their outgoing, my incoming} audio.
  7. I started to notice this problem ~1 yr ago: before that, it was very infrequent even at the most problematic location.
  8. This problem seems to be (slowly) increasing over time.
  9. Currently, I very much want to be able to make calls from the most problematic location.

etiologies

Some problem {causes, factors, mechanisms} I have considered, in no particular order:

  1. microphone. Obviously plays some role in quality of outgoing calls :-) but

    • when I playback items from Voice Recorder I never notice endogenous-sounding audio-quality problems.
    • I mostly don't get complaints from phonecall recipients.
  2. signal strength. Running the phone in fieldtest mode (Settings > About Phone > Network > Signal strength) from various locations inside and outside/around the MPL vary from worst={-110 dBm, 4 asu} to best={-95 dBm, 1 asu}. I can never make calls from the worst location, which seems reasonable for -110 dBm. But, IIUC (which I may not--please correct if needed) -100 dBm should be quite good enough for phonecalling (esp given the terrain and (usually) very low humidity--see next item) ... and yet I get this phonecall problem even when fieldtest is showing signal >= -100 dbm. (FWIW I am enough of an engineer to ignore the "signal bars" as indicators.) Hence I'm unsure whether the problem is with my phone's antenna or ...

  3. {locations of, distances to} MNO {tower, base station}s. The MPL is NE of the Phoenix metro area, where human settlement collides with a national forest to the north and a wilderness area to the east. That being said, the MPL is suburbia (not exurbia, much less wilderness); particularly, I know the locations of (and have personally seen) 2 cell towers within {2 mi, 3.5 km} of the problem location, one due south, the other SxSE. (However I don't know which MNOs these towers service--not sure how to determine that.) Not only does the distance seem reasonable, but also the terrain between the problem location and both towers is ~flat, and there are no multistory intervening structures.

TIA

If there's an obvious solution, please answer; if there's anything I can do to better isolate the problem, please comment. Your assistance is appreciated.

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