cell phone service

The past several RAGBRAI events the group has overwhelmed to available cell towers in these small communities and have crashed their systems. Even when systems are working, service is intermittent. Can temporary cell systems be set up so phone service is functional for the riders and the local residents. ( Hoping someone in charge can see this)

20 Replies

Uncle Kraig, March 9, 2019 at 2:23 pm

I read recently that multiple counties along this years route are considering an outright ban of cell phones/wireless devices for all RAGBRAI riders. Anyone caught in violation would be required to turn in their bike and wrist band causing all kinds of problems for folks with charters, RAGBRAI baggage truck, etc. This was being considered so as not to impair cell service and reception (caused by 20,000+ devices searching for a signal) for the locals who would be negatively impacted by the loss of wireless service for minutes or even hours during that day.

Many of the county supervisors considering the cell phone ban are in favor of it. We may need to mobilize our efforts to thwart this.

P.S. On a cold, dreary, rainy day in Iowa, I thought I would lighten the mood a little with a joke. This is all news that you would find in The Onion 🙂


jdeutmeyer, March 9, 2019 at 6:43 pm

To clarify I like to detach from work. We have brought teen daughter and friend on the ride and need phone access to reconnect. It is easy to loose others when the bike traffic is thick.


Andy Jelagin, March 10, 2019 at 7:58 am

About midway through last years ride (our first) our group discovered that many of the local “phone companies” offered fast, free, wifi service, just outside their locations. This became a reliable means of checking in a few times a day. not only with home but the rest of our gang.

Needless to say, we’ll be scouting out these spots once all the towns are announced.


Jboz, March 10, 2019 at 9:50 am

While most riders understand that cell service is a ubiquitous need in modern society, I’ve encountered a few fellow riders over the years who have a purist, almost judgmental tone that RAGBRAI should be a no-phone zone. I agree with some posters who state the very real need for phones for periodic communication. It’s true that it might be therapeutic to shut off phones for the entire ride, but not everyone has the luxury of completely disconnecting. Family & friends riding and the potential for separation is a big reason for most. For us, we unfortunately have an aging family member with Alzheimer’s who is in a steady state of decline in a nursing home. We have been waiting for “the call” for over 2 years, and while we do need to get along with our lives (including RAGBRAI), we simply can’t shut down completely. All that said, riding while operating the phone is a definite no-no for me. It’s easy enough to just pull over.


jwoodrum, March 11, 2019 at 6:49 pm

VZW engineer here. Allow me to dispel a few myths and inaccuracies that we all usually hear regarding cell service on RAGBRAI.

There are two primary reasons for not being able to post to Instagram or checking your Facebook. First is not having enough resource blocks (LTE) available on a radio/baseband unit at a given cellsite. (too many devices = congestion) Since many of these small towns may only be served by a single cellsite, the local cellular operators would need to add additional radios across different spectrum bands – which is only possible if they own those licenses. Iowa isn’t terribly populated, so the need for these radio/BBU upgrades isn’t probably that much of a concern for a single day pass thru event. If it’s a 3-4 day long event with the same amount of people in one place, then yes, an additional COW/COLT (Cell On Wheels/Cell On Light Truck) would likely be deployed.

The second issue would be having a large enough ethernet backhaul pipe to allow the massive influx of user traffic. Most of these rural sites may only have 50Mbps backhaul links. Upgrading the backhaul is by far the easiest part for a cell carrier to do, but having this larger pipe is useless if the existing radio/bbu capacity isn’t upgraded as well. Upgrading the radio/antenna hardware requires a lot more time and hands in the pie. And upgrading the backhaul would likely trigger a new lease agreement with their fiber provider. If they’re normally good with 50Mbps, then they’re not going to lock themselves in to pay another +$1000k a month for 300Mbps service just to get a bump for a day.

One suggestion I have would be to make sure your phone is set up in advance for wifi calling. Many places along the way will have wifi. If you can get on wifi, use that for voice calls if the cell network is congested.

Feel free to ask any other questions


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