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Super Cell Reception
"I hope trans-dimensional calls don't hurt my phone bill..."

With the advent of the computer age, writers still don't quite know how to work cell phones into a story. Half the time, the mere existence of the cell phone breaks the story entirely unless the author invokes some rationale to lose, break, or disable them.

This trope covers the other half, when writers have cell phones function like crazy James Bond-esque communication devices. Except when the plot demands, they work in places that no cell phone should — such as in a sewer, a cave system, Antarctica (which would only be viable with a very expensive and large satellite phone), or even other worlds and dimensions. They might probably come equipped with flawless webcams to boot.

A sub-trope of Plot Sensitive Items. Futuristic communications not working have a Phlebotinum Breakdown. Such a cell phone could be a Supernatural Phone, if it's justified in-universe.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the anime series Gate Keepers 21, many characters use specially designed cell phones to activate "Gates", the source of the series' magic-like abilities.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne has a pager (remember those?) that works on an invisible moon orbiting the Earth. This is debatably justified via Your Mind Makes It Real (or that could just be Fan Wank), but this still resulted in a lot of jokes.
  • Voices of a Distant Star
    • The film is all about a mecha pilot and her boyfriend keeping in touch via SMS messages, which take longer and longer to reach the farther from Earth she travels. She eventually travels outside our solar system, and is still able to send the messages. That's some pretty amazing reception.
    • This is even played with in the anime short as the cell-phone displays the time it will take for the message to reach earth (8 years) and little note indicating she's in super-duper long distance mode. The manga fills in saying that she's really piggybacking on the fleet's communication grid, and thus her non-vital message takes a back seat to official communiques. And at the very end of the story, a newspaper article revels in the discovery of FTL communications. Too little too late for our heroine.
  • Pretty much everyone in Hunter Hunter, from the 12-year-old protagonists to the gang of bandits that Shalnark's a member of to the Chimera Ant commanders, have and use cellphones to communicate with each other over distances. Gon and Killua's beetle-shaped phones, in particular, are described as being able to get service nearly anywhere in the world.
  • Played with in Futari wa Pretty Cure. The protective forms that Mipple and Mepple have to take on during their stay on earth resemble girly cellphones, resulting in everyone assuming that Nagisa and Honoka already had cells and didn't need new ones. However, Mipple and Mepple only look like cellphones, and can't be used to communicate.
  • Astarotte No Omocha: Naoya manages to receive a text message and picture from his sister... after he's been taken to the Youkai Realm. More bars in more places, indeed.
  • The Human Aliens of Lyrical Nanoha have always remarked on the usefulness of earth cell phones in the earlier seasons and have co-opted this technology by the time of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid. However, being from a much more advanced MagiTek society, their cell phones are a lot more powerful, as shown in the first chapter of ViVid when Vivio uses a standard Mid-Childa cellphone to instantly send a picture to her family and friends, even though some of them are living in different planets and dimensions.
  • Madoka's cell phone in Rinne no Lagrange somehow has reception while in her mecha AND a few dozen meters deep underwater AND several kilometers off-shore. Not even the leader of the organization operating said mecha knows how that is possible. On the other hand, the battle takes place near a floating island fortress that does have reception (being the other end of Madoka's phone call).

    Comics 
  • I Can't Believe it's not the Justice League! has the Super Buddies sent by Booster Gold to 'the deepest, darkest pits of Hell! (muahahaha!)' and are able to call their headquarters. It's lampshaded when Max Lord immediately demands to know what service they have.
  • Operatives on the Global Frequency had really cool phones that appeared to use their own satellite network and give users access to any electronic resource Aleph could hack into. They also had audio/video capabilities that were terribly advanced when the graphic novels came out, but in late 2009 seem roughly on par with high-end iPhones and the like. This proves that writers don't need to bypass cell phones to create tension; these geeks kick ass, but they still get into trouble the phones can't gimmick them out of.
  • In Planetary, the Drummer receives a cell call while on the Authority's extradimensional spaceship/headquarters. Possibly justified in that the Drummer's superpower is control over information and information transmission.
  • Dick Tracy's first and most famous gadget is his Two-Way Wrist Radio, first used in the 1940s. Thus, the detective had a wrist communicator that was incredibly small and powerful for its day and the strip took maximum advantage of it for the heroes to get themselves out of sticky situations.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Lampshaded in the Curious George movie. Ted's phone go off in the depths of Africa and he comments about the "strong signal" before answering it. Then again, the movie seems to enjoy lampshading and breaking the fourth wall every so often.
  • Lampshaded in Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius when Jimmy asks for Libby's cellphone with Libby replying that she doubts her phone reception exceeds their solar system (they were on an alien planet several million light years away). Inverted a moment later when Jimmy was just ringing his robot dog in a room not too far away.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In the 2006 remake of Casino Royale, Bond is issued a super-awesome Sony Ericsson phone that could make calls from the most isolated places in the world, browse the Internet like it was plugged in with a 1024 kbps data link, with a GPS map that could follow tracker bugs. It follows in the tradition of Bond's obscenely advanced gadgets.
  • In the sequel Quantum of Solace, the phone is able to transmit tons of high-res, multi-angle headshots from the Austrian Opera theatre to London MI:5 almost instantaneously.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • The third film has a satellite phone working perfectly quite some time after being eaten by a dino. Early in the film Dr. Ian Malcolm is trying to contact some one with a satellite phone, he can't and several reason are suggest why it won't work ending with "or she could have turned it off"
    • The Lost World novel has sat phones that are explicitly extra-durable and specifically made for the island.
  • Most people took issue with how one of the main characters could use his cell phone in the subway station in Cloverfield. This, however, was a savvy case of Truth in Television (and Reality Is Unrealistic), since the MTA is actively wiring subway platforms for cell service, specifically so riders can use their phones during emergencies. Indeed, after much of Manhattan had been smashed into oblivion, the subway station might be the only place where you can still get cellphone service.
  • The 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth had a cellphone that works at the center of the Earth. Worse yet, not only is it just a joke that's not essential to the plot, but there was a scene in the same movie where a cell phone won't work inside of a normal cave.
  • The Dark Knight:
    • Sonar emitting phones.
    • A cell phone that works inside a guy. Inside a prison cell. It arms a bomb. Boom. This is justified because phones are often used by terrorists to arm bombs, because they are relatively cheap, and the other phone can simply be thrown away or destroyed once used. The cell was in a police station was in the centre of Gotham, so it is hard to see how it wouldn't have cell reception, and the human body is nowhere near dense enough to block signals. Finally, all Joker needs to do to stop the phone being damaged by being inside someone is pop it in a plastic bag. Simples.
  • The 2008 Iron Man movie:
    • The title hero's cell wired through his armor. Maybe the armor is Bluetooth compatible.
    • Then there's the video chat on the non-armor-based cell phone in the middle of Afghanistan at the start of the movie.
    • In the sequel, the phone gets an upgrade to be able to instantaneously access projection screens. It also appears to be as big and transparent as a piece of plexiglass.
  • The Jami Gertz character in Twister had a cell phone which was immune to atmospheric conditions, such as giant tornadoes.
  • In Three Kings, one character manages to make a phone call to his wife, on a cell phone, in the middle of Iraq just after the First Gulf War, from inside a fortified bunker.
  • In the 2009 film Moon, Sam is able to make video cell-phone calls from the Moon to Earth once he gets past the signal jammers, at least.
  • Empire Magazine's review of 2012 includes this response to Emmerich's "wilfully ignoring science to keep the plot boiling": "For future reference, sudden continental drift probably will affect your cellphone reception." And even if it doesn't, good luck getting through when literally the whole world is trying to call someone.
  • In Buried, Ryan Reynolds's character manages to make calls to the USA with a mobile phone, while buried in a wooden coffin in Iraq. He only loses one or two calls to a bad signal, and the battery manages to last the entirety of the film. Of course, since the action never leaves the coffin, he has to be able to call people, otherwise we'd be treated to an hour and half of him gibbering to himself in a pine box.
  • Averted in Dead Snow: the characters are stuck high in the mountains in Norway, and when they DO manage to get reception, the emergency dispatcher thinks they're kidding.
  • A few years ago there was talk of the "discovery" of a time-traveller in a Charlie Chaplin film from 1928 who looked to be talking on a cell phone. Apart from the ability (or lack thereof) to travel in time — there weren't any cell phone towers to make it work.
    • It turned out to be an ear trumpet.
  • In Enchanted, Nancy gets cellphone reception in a magical fairytale kingdom. The bizarreness of this is lampshaded right before she destroys the cell phone.
  • A plot point in Thor: The Dark World, Jane recieves a phone call while she and Thor are stuck on Svartalfheim. This lets her find a portal back to Earth.

    Literature 
  • Artemis Fowl once received a text message in the Arctic. Sent from a laptop inside the Earth. One could speculate that the fairies have set up underground Internet and cell phone service providers... but it was Artemis' own laptop, so it probably ran on a plain old human-run ISP. Then again, it was Gadgeteer Genius Foaly at the keyboard, though Artemis himself notes that it should have been impossible for him to receive the message.

    The story adheres more to actual physics when, asked if they can send a reply, Artemis nonchalantly quips, "Certainly. Just give me six months, some specialized equipment and three miles of steel girder." Foaly himself mentions how hard it was to patch into the human networks.

    Live Action TV 
  • During the finale of the 4th season of LOST Keamy is wearing a heart rate monitor set to transmit a signal to detonate C4 back on his ship should he die. When he dies far undrground at the Orchid station, somehow the transmitter is capable of transmitting through dozens of feet of earth and out to sea to trigger the detonator.
  • In the season two finale of The X-Files "Anasazi", Mulder makes a cell phone call, while stranded in the middle of a desert inside a boxcar buried underground.
  • 24's cell phones can do anything. Anything. This is subverted for humor in a parody video that claimed to be the "lost pilot" of 24 from 1994:
    Jack: Chloe, can you send the schematic to my cell phone?
    Chloe: ... No.
  • In Charmed, cellphones work in the underworld, which is a different dimension. Good reception.
  • The Mighty Boosh had one character receiving a phone call on an expedition somewhere in the arctic. We can safely suspend our belief to include it, considering that at the time the expedition, comprised of two zoo-keepers, was trying to defrost the frozen last words of an explorer killed by Jack Frost.
  • Naturally, the communicators in Star Trek: The Original Series came before cell phones, but they look much like them (having arguably inspired their modern look), and were often subject to both ends of this trope.
  • The writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer purposefully avoided using cell phones much, as it would ruin too many of the plots. However, for the first episode of season 7, they broke down and let Buffy get herself and Dawn cell phones, which work in the school basement (Dawn at least makes an enthusiastic comment), a place where the laws of reality don't quite work right. It seems Sunnydale finally got a tower (which nobody complained about before). The phones are rarely seen again.
  • In the first Story Arc of the second season of Read All About It, the characters have a portable communicator created by an eccentric inventor that's bulky and transmits only text, but has an astounding range that can transmit not only over vast distances, but also into different time periods. It's a handy function to have when you've been whisked to 1812 and you are desperate to contact the coach house in 1983.
  • The students, crew, and passengers about the S.S. Tipton in The Suite Life on Deck all seem to have phones that get reception anywhere in the world (including remote locations in developing countries and at sea), are standard models that aren't at all bulky or complex (as one would expect from a satellite phone with such capabilities), and never incur any sort of roaming charges.
  • Doctor Who takes this trope to absurdly extreme levels: with the help of the Sonic Screwdriver and some alien tech a phone can be upgraded to Universal Roaming, allowing you to make a call from and to anywhere in space and time. Without any special dialling code or anything. Also, people who know the Doctor's number (such as Winston Churchill and Clara Oswald) can call directly into the TARDIS, which also can be anywhere and anywhen, being a sentient, telepathic time machine... in a phone box. Only interference either from Satan or the nearby black hole in "The Impossible Planet" was able to put it out of range.
  • Zig-zagged in Teen Wolf. The cell phones that almost every teen carries have never fallen into any of the usual dead battery or no service cliches. It would be completely implausible, seeing as how they are in the middle of the suburbs. Oftentimes, the phones worked into the plot without breaking it, with missed and interrupted calls taking the places of complete silence.
  • Justified in an episode of Time Trax. Lambert takes a cellphone into an Amazonian swamp area, and his companion-of-the-episode gives him grief because it won't work where they are. He claims it's a satillite phone, but it's really SELMA, his computer-on-a-credit-card.
  • JAG: In "Tiger, Tiger", Harm's cell phone starts ringing, despite being onboard a frigate out in the Mexican Gulf somewhere between the Florida Keys and Cuba, and he had tried to use before to no avail. Moments before it started ringing, Harm told the terrorists holding the ship's crew as hostage something to the effect that "It won't work out here." The caller is Mac, but she plays the role of an ignorant tourist. After the non sequitur call is over, Bud explains it away as an atmospheric distortion, which the terrorist buy for lack a better explanation.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The episode "Threads" has Carter's cell phone ring in the SGC briefing room. The briefing room is 28 floors underground inside a mountain. (See also Rule of Funny, given that she thought she had it turned off.)
    • In "200", Martin Lloyd complains that his cell reception is terrible in the SGC briefing room. As above, the fact that he gets any signal at all is a miracle. Again, Rule of Funny may be in play given the mostly parodic nature of the episode.
  • Averted in Journeyman, where Vasser's cell phone fails to work even ten years in the past, as it's incompatible with the cell networks existing at the time. So, he finds his old huge phone from ten years ago and carries it in case he ends up in the past.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the Relics in the Scion Companion book is the iGjallahar, based on the ancient horn of Nordic myth that summons the glorious dead from Valhalla for Ragnarok. It's a special cell phone that gets a signal anywhere because it transmits to a tower in the Overworld.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VII:
    • There was a PHS (Party Hensei System, a pun on Personal Handiphone System) which allowed you to summon your comrades from anywhere — in the middle of the desert, on a mountain, in a cave or underneath a giant metal plate. However, it didn't seem so much cellular as Save Point-ular, and only worked when on one.
    • In Crisis Core, Zack has access to a far better phone as a member of SOLDIER which allows him to recieve e-mail and shop online and — apparently — fuse materia. And it even continues to work as if the game's four year Time Skip never happened even though Zack himself was out of commission.
    • Before Crisis, the other Final Fantasy VII prequel which seems to be mired somewhere between No Export for You and Development Hell as far as an international release is concerned, lets you use your own cellphone to make materia in the game via snapping pictures. The dominant color determines the element and grade of the materia - for example, a majority yellow picture produces Thunder materia.
  • City of Heroes cuts both ways. On the one hand, you can get a signal in the sewers, or alternate dimensions, or ancient Rome (this one's Hand Waved as being something the Midnight Squad set up). Inside a mission - even one in an outside area of Paragon City - your phone is useless. And there are plenty of times where you have to go talk to someone whose phone number you have, but nooooo, you have to go see them in person - which is sometimes justified as needing to deliver something to them or the person being paranoid and wanting to meet face to face, sometimes not. Conversely, sometimes a MacGuffin is given to you over your cellphone.
  • In Super Paper Mario, the Queen of the Underworld makes a phone call to the King of Mario's-equivalent-to-Heaven. That's not a normal phone whichever way you look at it.
  • Scarface: The World is Yours. Having one of the very first satellite phones ever, stolen from a rival crimelord, is vital to the plot and many of the gameplay mechanics. It always works, from inside any building to remote island dirt roads. Possibly handwaved in that if you're a millionaire drug kingpin, you can afford the best.
  • In Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, the Pokegear's phone can receive or make calls anywhere. Including deep inside Mount Silver, an area so remote that there are only three people in it and the route leading to it, one of whom is the nurse in the Pokemon Center.
  • Starcraft: Whatever communications systems are used by Terrans work perfectly, no matter the terrain or distance. The closest it comes to Cell Phones Are Useless is in Brood War, where Duran claims Admiral Stukov's signal is breaking up, and that he can't see the Zerg swarms supposedly attacking the base, possibly due to a sensor malfunction. He is, of course, lying, as the player sees the Zerg attacking.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible:
    • The Kimmunicator has never once failed due to signal interference, unless it was deliberately jammed. It works anywhere on Earth or in near-orbit space, even deep underground. At one point, the Kimmunicator sprouts wheels in order to get Kim. According to Wade, it also has its own satellite. She has, however, lost it a few times, and when the writers got sick of that plot, they gave her a compact wrist-mounted version. Justified, though, because Kim has helped so many people and done so many favors for others, that everybody helps boost the signal worldwide for her.
    • In the Christmas Episode, Drakken's cell phone was able to make calls from the North Pole.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • The title characters use Candace's cell phone in prehistoric times and on Mars. Candace lampshades this in "Unfair Science Fair Redux" by asking "How is it we have bars here?" on Mars.
    • In "Candace Disconnected", Candace's new cell phone is broken and her mother wouldn't buy her a new one because she's already lost so many of them. The last one bought couldn't be used for anything other than making and receiving calls. Phineas and Ferb then built one that could even be used as a teleporting device.
  • Averted in an episode of Teen Titans. Cyborg tries to make a call while the guys are in another dimension but gets concerned when the call doesn't go through. Robin is quick to point out that they are certainly outside the coverage area.
  • Double subverted in Transformers Prime. When the kids are stranded in another dimension, they try using a cell phone to call for help, and while the call reaches the Autobots, there's too much interference for it to be legible. They try to get around this problem by sending a text message, which works.
  • Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines. The candlestick phone Dick Dastardly used to communicate with the General had to be cellular. It appeared in the air sans landline and even as far as Arabia.

    Real Life 
  • There are special systems for miners which allow to them make calls from deep mines; however they consist of not only the phone itself, but also a set of "picocells", or routing relays placed all over the mine. Many cities have installed similar devices in metro systems and traffic tunnels to ensure continuous cell phone coverage during their citizens' commutes, and there have even been a few experiments with installing them in airliners.
  • Normal-looking phones communicating with a mobile satellite relay (e.g. on a van).
  • External mobile phone antennas and modded internal antennas may extend range significantly.
  • The state of the art in satellite phone handsets are comparable in size and weight to a regular cellphone from about 1989. Their sound quality is pretty poor but they can make and receive calls from just about anywhere on Earth's surface. Some of them can even be tethered to a laptop and provide internet access, albeit painfully slowly.


Status Cell PhonePhone TropesSupernatural Phone
Super Breeding ProgramSpeculative Fiction TropesSuperhero Speciation

alternative title(s): Magic Cell Phone
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