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Cell Phones Are Useless

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"The widespread adoption of mobile phones must be one of the worst things to ever happen to horror movies, since now every movie now has to include a bullshit explanation for why they can't use their phone, like losing their battery or their signal. It's become a laughable cliché."

With the advent of the computer age, writers still don't quite know how to work Cell Phones into a story. It used to be all you had to do for a survival adventure story was plop a bunch of people away from electricity to completely strand them at the mercy of wild animals/serial killers/zombies — but cell phones are making that harder and harder for writers to do believably. Even in comedy situations, there are some plotlines (such as Locked in a Room) that only work if the characters don't have cellphones. This means that cellphones are lost, broken, stolen, run out of power, jammed, intercepted or tampered with far more than they should. The range of cellphones is also ridiculously reduced from what they are in real life even if elsewhere in the story reception is better than normal — maybe writers are confusing them with two-way radios, or don't realise that most modern phones allow long-distance and international calls. Or they're deliberately using Artistic License to artificially preserve the drama.

Note that during widespread disasters, such as the London bombings or 9/11, cell networks often fail for several reasons: overload due to everyone trying to reach each other, cell towers being damaged, and civilian phones being locked out to let emergency personnel have all the capacity. However, in many situations where this trope takes place, the problem is far more localized; being lost in the werewolf-infested woods isn't a national emergency.

A simpler solution is to mention that cell phones are not an available option: the guy has just lost it, forgot it at home, or even refuses to have one to begin with (such as those Hopeless with Tech). Note that, for those cases to be a valid example, the reason is merely mentioned as a Hand Wave and no further developments come from them, such as trying to locate the cell phone. Another explanation could be that the-monster-of-the-week's eldritch powers or the cursed-land are somehow jamming the signal, giving a more plausible (if not logical) explanation of the loss of signal.

Often watching older sitcoms, from the early days of cellphone use ('80s'90s), the time of the cellphone's primitive ancestor, the car phone ('60s'70s) and the days when mobile phones were not available ('50s and before — early mobile phones existed as far back as The '40s, but were not available for civilian use) you may suffer many a facepalm as you count how many situations could have been prevented with just having a cellphone (Larry David and others have commented on how prevalent this is in Seinfeld — the plots of almost half of the episodes in the series simply wouldn't work if the characters had cell phones). You can even make a Drinking Game out of it.

The period the work is set in or created in, the lifestyle of the characters involved, as well as the setting have a major influence over when this trope applies. A rich character living in a major metropolitan area could reasonably expect to have a cell phone on their person (and coverage in the metropolitan area) by the early '90s or so. By 2000, 50% of Americans owned cell phones; and by 2015, 93% of Americans owned smartphones. Coverage steadily increased from major metropolitan areas only in the '80s to near complete coverage except in some extreme rural areas/wilderness by 2015.

A Sub-Trope of Plot-Sensitive Items. See also The Radio Dies First for this trope applied to military or naval communications and Cut Phone Lines for deliberate sabotage of landlines. Futuristic communications not working have a Phlebotinum Breakdown. See Sudden Lack of Signal for when it happens due to being transported to another world. See Fake Static if someone pretends to have a bad connection in order to avoid an inconvenient conversation. See Super Cell Reception for when the cell phone does not fail when it rightly should. See Useless Without Cellphones for the opposite problem.


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  • One justification for not using a cellphone was shown in an old campaign from the early 2000s by T-Mobile for their unlimited plan. This was before all companies even had unlimited plans, and had a set amount of "minutes" that you could talk on the phone for free. After that, you'd have to pay-per-minute. In these commercials, with Jamie Lee Curtis as the spokesperson, some sort of emergency would be presented and a group of people would argue over whether or not to risk wasting their minutes. This would make it a Justified Trope if the party in question isn't using their cellphone because they're out of minutes.
    • Many people are still using pay-per-minute plans, as they generally don't have contracts with high early termination fees and they can work out to be cheaper than unlimited plans if you don't make many phone calls. But even on a phone with no SIM card or any minutes, as long as it has power and a signal, you can dial 911 in North America or 112 in Europe (in some cases, both of those numbers work, with one redirecting to the other), and even a locked phone is capable of making an "Emergency Call" to these numbers.
    • In fact, United States and Canadian Federal Law requires ALL cell phones to be able to dial 911, even if there is no sim card installed, the phone was never assigned to a carrier, and even if the phone is registered as stolen.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In a Bleach side omake, the sewing club is in panic since they can't find Orihime or Uryu, when someone asks why don't they have cell phones, they comment that Uryu is too poor and Orihime can't use technology.
  • The Buso Renkin of Doktor Butterfly, Alice In Wonderland, acts as a cellphone jammer. This was done deliberately so that the school he attacks could be totally isolated.
  • Case Closed:
    • There are numerous times where a cellphone doesn't work right as the characters found out they were locked in a creepy old house with a psycho killer.
    • Conan was also almost caught by Ran when she found his "Shinichi" cell phone.
    • On the other hand, Conan solves cases as Shinichi long-distance via cellphone all the time without issue.
    • An in-universe novel contained the old misunderstood tragedy of a couple waiting on opposite sides of a pillar for the other, thinking they've been stood up. It's mentioned that, in this age, such a problem wouldn't exist anymore because cellphones are such a common thing. This is the first clue Conan got about the author being someone who doesn't know how the outside world has advanced in the last fifteen years, since said author also has delinquents be the only ones with bleached hair in his story. Turns out, the author was his writer brother's ghost-writer, locked up in the attic, after he was lead to believe that he accidentally killed his girlfriend—it was his own brother who was the true murderer, finishing the job after he went to check on the girlfriend, who he was having an affair with.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou is often unable to get reception in alleys or the underground mall. Other characters don't seem to have any problems.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children uses phones as a metaphor for emotional contact. The result of this is that Cloud and Vincent's reluctance to use phones (Cloud only uses his voicemail, and Vincent doesn't own one at all) is a symbol of their inability to integrate themselves into normal life, and so when Cloud refuses to call for back-up it's all right, because it's all a metaphor. Tifa lectures Cloud about how not getting rid of his cell phone shows he still cares about people deep down, and Vincent later announcing his surprise arrival to help the heroes out after all with the line "where can I buy a phone?" At the end, Vincent buys a phone and Cloud starts using his again properly.
    • Made funnier when Vincent tells Cloud to pass on a message telling Yuffie to stop calling his number.
    • Of course, the fact that they're symbolic doesn't mean they aren't also Product Placement.
    • Also, the funniest moment in the entire film: after a long fight, Tifa defeats Loz, and the Final Fantasy victory music is faintly heard. It's Loz's ringtone!
  • Cell phones often aren't mentioned in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex because every member of Section 9 has radio implants (or an always-on Internet connection) and they're used about like cell phones would be. However, one episode does show that Section 9 is capable of jamming civilian model phones on short notice.
  • Green Box: Subverted. Sena has his smartphone with full internet access, but Green Box somehow makes his location unknown. His phone eventually gets traced to a green structure in Ibaraki.
  • In Gundam Build Fighters: GM's Counterattack, when the Gunpla Mafia take over Yajima Stadium with the main protagonists trapped inside, Nils discovers his phone has no signal, which the Meijin figures is a jamming device being used.
  • In Hayate the Combat Butler, Izumi gets her cell phone stolen in a scene that doesn't seem to have any effect on the overall storyline. She ends up getting lost on a class hiking trip and unable to call anyone because of it, which then leads to her own arc.
  • Initial D: When Iketani decides to go to his date with Mako, after debating on whether he should pursue a relationship or not, he gets stuck in the traffic, and his cellphone fails him when he tries to call her. By the time he arrives to the meeting spot, she's already gone.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Kaguya's cell phone doesn't work during the fireworks arc when she tries to call the rest of the student council. She briefly wonders if it's either due to a lot of people making calls at the same time or if her 11 year old phone is simply having trouble getting a signal (most likely a combination of the two). Notably, she didn't have any trouble sending a text to Fujiwara in the previous chapter, though there would have been a lot less cell phone traffic at the time.note 
  • Subverted in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. A villain had been hibernating for 20 years to run out the statute of limitations on a crime. When the heroes found out, he locks them in his hibernation vault. The fact that he hadn't considered their cell phones is taken as evidence that he really was 20 years out of touch.
  • No one in Maria Watches Over Us has a cell phone, despite it being set in the present (though the original novels began publication in 1998, when it was realistic for most students to not have cell phones). The author acknowledged this in Word of God, stating this was one of the reasons the show is best viewed as a fantasy story and not as a school drama.
  • My Hero Academia: Midoriya averts this in his fight against Stain (he sends his location to Todoroki, who arrives as backup), but he can't repeat the trick in his fight against Muscular, since the villain's first attack pointedly destroys his phone.
  • Lampshaded in My-HiME, when several characters are stranded in a cave.
    Yuuichi: Kanzaki-senpai!!! (draws out cell phone) Cell phones won't work either? Seriously?
  • Hilariously subverted in Negima! Magister Negi Magi, when Negi is shown that pactio cards can be used to communicate with his partners, but its only one way. Negi quickly surmises that cellphones are better.
    • Played straight when everyone gets trapped in the magical world.
  • Penguindrum manages to avert this, where all main characters (except for Himari) has a smartphone, where the characters in more than one occasion have attempted to call someone for help, send their GPS ubication in case of peril or sending emails. There's even a scene showing live internet streaming over a smartphone, something unusual in 2011.
  • In Project ARMS, Katsumi lampshades this when she, Hayato, and Ryo are trapped in an abandoned building with Egrigori agents rushing in to capture them and she had no way of calling for help ("I'm never leaving the house without my cell phone again!") Of course, given how much influence the Egrigori have over everyone, it probably wouldn't have done them much good even if she was able to call for help.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka and Sayaka find an unhatched witch in episode 3, and Madoka realizes she can't call Mami because she doesn't have her number. A similar problem comes up in the next episode, but with Homura instead of Mami. Besides the weirdness of Mami not giving her number to either of her student Magical Girls, the cellphone avoidance is unnecessary, since there aren't really any situations where being able to call someone would have made a huge difference. In fact, if Madoka had called Sayaka in episode 4, that would have helpfully explained Sayaka's Big Damn Heroes moment a few minutes later.
    • This is, of course, assuming that cell phones would function well in or near witch barriers — technology is notoriously spotty when the supernatural rears its head.
  • In Saitama Chainsaw Shoujo, Kirisaki Fumio disables the local cell towers around her school and cuts the phone lines to ensure that nobody can call the police while she goes on a killing spree.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has a character who only communicates through text messaging on a cell phone. When she's intentionally moved to a seat where her cell phone is out of range, she goes berserk.
  • Uzumaki features an early example. Although it would be believable for cell phones not to be present at all in the graphic novel's setting (given that it's set in or around 1998), a reporter is seen attempting to call out of town only to find that her cell phone doesn't work after the town of Kurozu-cho has gone full Closed Circle.
  • In the visual-novel based series White Album, a significant portion of drama comes from people waiting around for calls on their land line phones. Keep in mind that the anime was produced in 2009 which is well after cell phones achieved ubiquity in Japan.

    Comic Books 
  • All-New Ultimates: Cloak and Dagger can not be texted, because they don't have cell phones. They are officially dead, so it may be difficult for them to get in a cell phone plan.
  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales is having an Enemy Mine team-up with Rhino. He insisted to Rhino that it would be easy for them to keep in touch if they text each other. Rhino loathes cell phones, doesn't have one, and doesn't want to.

    Comic Strips 
  • Funky Winkerbean:
    • In 2010, the series' title character was seriously injured in a car accident, caused by a young woman whose car veers into the path of Funky's car while she was talking on a cellular telephone while driving. He then appears to readers in the following day's strip as though he simply drove off the road and was uninjured. He attempts to call for help on his cell phone but is unable to get it to work. He then realizes he is in Westview as it appeared in 1980, and had seen (and in some cases, visited with) teen-aged versions of himself, Crazy Harry and Holly Budd (Funky's wife-to-be), and a younger Mr. Dinkle - all as they appeared in Funky Winkerbean strips in the early 1980s. It is only several days later that readers realize the seriousness of Funky's injuries that had rendered him unconscious, and that he was dreaming.
    • As late as 2011, Les Moore (Funky's best friend and one of the main characters) did not own a cell phone, causing situations such as him not realizing that his daughter was injured during a game.

    Fan Works 
  • The author of the Glee Slash Fic Clouds Between Their Knees, in which Kurt and Dave Karofsky are lost in the woods after a plane crash, actually asks the reader to ignore the fact that Kurt would probably be able to use his phone to at least find out where they are.
  • In The Cries of Haruhi Suzumiya, there's no contact between Hinamizawa and anything outside it. Whatsoever. Justified, because Hinamizawa is actually in 1983, and cell phones don't exist yet.
    • The first phone call from a truly portable handset (still the size of a brick, though) to the general phone network was made on April 3, 1973, by Motorola's Martin Cooper, and by 1979 the world's first mobile network appeared in Japan, though initially only around Tokyo. So it's possible that by 1983 it reached Hinamizawa (the nationwide coverage was achieved in 1984), but it's still unlikely that modern phones (most of which are 2G systems like GSM) would work on this 1G system.
  • The Total Drama story, Legacy mentions that cell phone coverage in the vicinity of the camp is "spotty". This is presumably why the show's staff used two-way radios.
  • In The Fifth Act, Cloud tries to call Tifa for the the call not to connect. It turns out its because the number doesn't exist yet due to him being in the past.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Almost Christmas, Rachel meets Jasmine, the girl her brother may be having an affair with. In order to cause trouble, she invites the girl to Christmas dinner. When she later regrets the choice, she leaves a message on Jasmine's cell to uninvite her. But Jasmine, like many millenials, rarely gets voicemails and ignores them when she does...
  • The Accountant (2016). When Wolff learns that Dana is going to be killed, he tries to warn her by calling her, but since she didn't exchange numbers with her, the call comes up as an unknown number in Dana's phone, so she ignores it.
  • In Alien Abduction (2014), the Morris family doesn't think much of their poor cell reception, as they are camping in the middle of the woods. It's when their GPS signal starts going wonky that they (and the audience) start to suspect that something is truly wrong.
  • Bacurau: We never see how the village loses its previously excellent signal, but it is obviously a deliberate act by the people who are Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
  • Berlin Syndrome: Clare tries to call for help using hers immediately after learning Andi's locked her inside his apartment. He already took her SIM card though to prevent this.
  • In Big Driver, Tess's car gets a flat tyre on a remote country road in a spot where there is no cell phone signal. Justified as the nails on the road had been laid deliberately as an ambush, and Lester had deliberately picked a spot with no reception.
  • Black Rat: When the Black Rat initially confronts the six teenagers in the school at midnight, she infects their phones with virus: disabling them so they cannot call for help.
  • The Blair Witch Project supposedly took place in 1994 because if it took place in 1998, it'd be too implausible that none of the main characters has a working cell phone, even if cell phones were still hard to come by in 1998. Of course, with all the implications that supernatural forces were at work, it's doubtful they would've functioned properly even if they were present.
  • The Book of Henry: Despite some examples of retro tech, such as Henry using a Polaroid camera, the film is set in the Present Day and characters are seen with cellphones. As consequence, it's never explained why Henry couldn't have simply recorded video of Frank abusing his daughter, which is witnessed both Henry and his mother Susan repeatedly. This is likely an artifact of the screenplay being written over 20 years ago.
  • The Bridge Curse: When two female students in the 2016 storyline are running through a hallway, one asks the other to try using her cellphone. She responds that she's not getting a signal.
  • Burning Bright: Kelly tries to call emergency services, but, the film taking place during a hurricane, she can't actually get them on the line due to the large number of calls.
  • In The Butchers, the bus breaks down in a valley where the mountains block cell phone signals. Bill briefly manages to get half a bar, and no one else can get anything.
  • Inverted in The Call. The majority of the film is driven by the conversation between a 911 operator and a kidnapped girl locked in the trunk of a car.
  • Camel Spiders: When a bunch of people hole up in a house from the camel spiders, they try to call for help on their cellphones. Unfortunately, none of them have any bars.
  • Justified in Chernobyl Diaries: while the stranded tourists might very well have cell phones, there weren't yet any cell towers at the time Pripyat was abandoned, and nobody left to keep them operational even if there had been.
  • Claw (2021): After their car gets a flat tire in the desert, Julia and Kyle try to see if they can get a signal on their cell phones. They have no bars.
  • In Cloverfield, Rob's cellphone battery runs out just as he is trying to call Beth after the monster attacks. He takes a new one from an electronics store, which has just enough seed charge to contact her and find out she's in trouble. He then leads the group on a rescue.
  • In Coherence, the characters are isolated in the house with no phone reception or internet, which they suspect is due to a comet flying overhead.
  • In Color Out of Space (2020), the titular Color is capable of causing electromagnetic disruptions that render cellphones all but inoperable, transmitting only sounds of garbled screams, effectively isolating the farm from the outside world. For some reason the Internet connection works slightly better — for a while.
  • The Crazies (2010): The cell phone signal goes down as the virus starts to spread. At least here there is somewhat of an explanation, seeing as the military likely cut off phone connection in the town.
  • Double subverted in Dead Snow. The cottage has virtually no reception but near the end of the film, Martin manages to get enough signal to call the emergency services. Unfortunately the respondent doesn't believe that the Nazi Zombie attack is real and hangs up. The others promptly chew him off for not making up a more plausible scenario.
  • In Derailed (2002), the engine compartment is hijacked by two men who take control of the train. They install a cellphone jammer to prevent people from calling authorities.
  • Deranged (2012): When the girls arrive at the villa, they discover there is no phone signal.
  • In Domino, the title character is on the phone getting instructions, and thanks to poor reception she hears "remove the sleeve from his upper right arm" as "remove the right arm", with predictable results.
  • Drag Me to Hell had the protagonist pull out her cell phone during a haunting. The demon performing said haunting responds by draining her cell phone battery and making a scary zombie face appear on the phone's screen. Oh Lamia, you are such a card.
  • Erin Brockovich. Whilst in a late-night diner Erin comes across a rather creepy man who seems to be making overtures, though it turns out he has access to crucial documents that could help the case. When Erin steps out to her car to call her boss for advice she finds her cellphone isn't working, so she makes a rush for a nearby payphone instead. This is justified though, since the film takes place in the early 1990s and many small towns or rural areas didn't have cell phone service yet.
  • In Ex Machina, a close-up on Caleb's phone reveals that there is no network in the area which adds to the isolation of the place.
  • In Force of Nature: The Dry 2, Ian tells the group that the corporate retreat is a social media free zone and forces them to hand over their phones before they set off on the hike. Alice secretly keeps a second phone with her, but it turns out there is no signal in the mountainous terrain. She briefly manages to get a signal and make a call to Aaron, but all he can make out from her garbled message is that she is in trouble.
  • In Funny Games, the killers "accidentally" knock the cell phone into a sink full of water thereby killing it, very much truth in television until recently.
  • Godzilla (1998): In the third act, immediately after finding the Godzilla progeny (and running away from them), Philippe Roache gives Nick Tatopolous a cell phone and tells him to call the Army and use the term "Code Firefly" to request an air strike on Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately at that specific moment thousands of angry New Yorkers are calling the base asking when are they going to be allowed entry into Manhattan and the lines are swamped. Nick's call does not goes through, either through the cell phone or a nearby phone booth, forcing the crazier plan to broadcast the Godzillas' location from one of the Garden's TV station booths.
  • In The Haunting of Whaley House, the kids do try to use their cell phones to contact outside help, but the ghosts catch on and disrupt the reception.
  • In Hellfighters, one of the few films of the 1960s to show someone with a mobile phone in their car, the phone is unable to receive a call from the company secretary and they have to wait until they can get to a land line to discover why she is calling.
  • In The Hills Run Red, the protagonists' phones work just fine. It's just that they're lost in the middle of miles of unfamiliar forest and can't give any useful directions that would allow the authorities to rescue them from the slasher that's hunting them.
  • Hold Your Breath has one of the teenagers confiscating the cell phones at the beginning of the camping trip and another dumping them during a stop.
  • Realistically treated in The Host (2006), where Hyun-seo is trapped in the sewer without a recharger and with terrible reception. She's able to get one call through, which is what starts off much of the plot.
  • In House on Haunted Hill (1999), after the house has mechanically sealed itself, beginning the game of murder, Chris Kattan's character gives the classic line informing the guests that the phones are dead. Many simultaneously respond, "I've got a cellphone." All of them reach for their phones, but none of them can get a signal. Again, it's presented as a sign of supernatural interference.
  • Subverted in Hush: the killer confiscates all of the cell-phones.
  • Husk: After their car crashes into the cornfield, none of the protagonists can get a signal on their cell phones. (Only Scott is shown trying, but it can be assumed the others did as well.) Undoubtedly a property of the curse that lies upon the field.
  • Jack the Reaper: After the bus crash, none of the teens can get a signal on their phones.
  • Averted in Jurassic Park III. The protagonists spend a good deal of time chasing after a satellite phone instead. Any cell phones that they might have had would have been useless; they were on an island far from any towers. This is mixed with a Behind the Black moment, when they hear the sound of the phone but not the freaking huge dinosaur approaching in whose stomach the phone is. Clearly, the phone is quite louder than the dinosaur itself!
  • In Jurassic World, cell phones function perfectly right up until the plot demands they not for dramatic convenience. It seemingly has worse radio coverage than the original park, much less the cell reception. No wonder they needed Verizon sponsorship.
  • Kruel: In the area where Willie is keeping Elliot, and later also Jo, prisoner, he has a cellphone jammer set up, which keeps Jo from sending her dad much information. However, Jo's dad gets help to triangulate where the jamming is taking place, and narrows down the area where Jo might be.
  • The protagonists of Lemon Tree Passage discover that their cell phones stop working on Lemon Tree Passage Road.
  • The Locals: After witnessing a murder in rural New Zealand, Grant and Paul attempt to call the police but discover that they have no signal.
  • In Lockjaw: Rise of the Kulev Serpent, none of the kids' cell phones can get a signal at the camp in the swamp.
  • Lone Hero: Some expository dialogues in the barroom, where Tim is showing off the mobile pone he won in a poker game, explains that there is no cell service in Profit, and he would have to travel more than 100 miles before he could pick up a signal. This explains why none of the locals have a mobile phone and cannot call the state police when the Iron Bandits cut the phone lines and take over the town.
  • Main Street Meats: After running her car off the road to avoid hitting a cow, Cherry checks her cellphone, only for "No signal" to flash on the screen.
  • A deliberate example shows up in Miami Vice, where signal-jamming tech is used to ensure every cell phone for a few blocks around the transmitter is useless. The main characters comment that this is "what the CIA does in Baghdad", and its presence at a drug deal is their first hint that who they're after is a major kingpin.
  • Midnight Movie: Once the cinema has been sealed, everyone trapped inside finds that their cell phones no longer work.
  • In Night of the Demons (2009), the mansion where the protagonists are trapped has no cell phone reception.
  • Nite Tales: The Movie: In "Storm", after the storm knocks out the phone lines, the students find that their cell phones aren't working either.
  • One Night in October: When Marcos, Brittany, Kate, and Charlie try to use their cell phones to call for assistance after their car breaks down, they find they lack bars. Marcos' phone gets bars, though... for a few seconds.
  • In P2, the heroine tries to use her cell phone to call the police after she's been kidnapped. Unfortunately, there's no reception, and when she finally does manage to make the 911 call, the call disconnects within seconds. Justified, since the heroine is locked in an underground parking garage.
  • In Panic Room, the heroine and her daughter are trapped in the panic room while the house is being robbed. They immediately go for the land line, only to remember that she never hooked it up, thinking it was unnecessary. In a suspenseful trip outside the room, she manages to get a cellphone, only to find there's no reception in the steel-plated walls, which essentially turns the panic room into a dead zone.
  • Riddle of Fire: There is no cellphone reception in Faery Hill Forest for the kids to contact their parents. However, late in the film, Alice gets an internet connection on her phone once they have escaped the Enchanted Blade Gang's clutches.
  • Part of what drives the drama in The Ruins is that regular cell phones can't get reception in the middle of nowhere in South America, but one of the characters claims his brother, lost at the site, has a "world phone" that would connect (presumably satellite based). Unfortunately, it's in the middle of the eponymous ruins. And it's been broken the entire time. It was the plants that were mimicking a ring tone, to lure the tourists in. To their credit, the tourists do check to see if they have cell phone reception earlier in the film, but the person checking their phone lies about getting reception because he knows that otherwise, the girls wouldn't agree to go with them.
  • Save Yourselves!: While Jack and Su both have their phones with them, their isolated location means that they barely get any signal, essentially rendering the phones useless.
  • In the first Saw movie, Jigsaw leaves a cell phone in order to inform Lawrence that his wife and daughter are being held hostage. Naturally, the first thing Lawrence does when he finds the phone is to attempt to call the police, but it turns out that the phone is somehow modified to only receive calls, and not even dialing 911 works.
  • Inverted in Scream where the existence of cell phones makes things harder for everyone. The police question Billy because he has a cell phone and he points out "everyone has one": a chilling revelation when the murderer targets people via phones and everyone having cell phones means you can't rule potential suspects out because they were on a landline while killings happened.
  • In Shrooms, a bunch of teenagers go into the wilderness to eat shrooms and do wacky teen stuff. Then people start dying and they want to call the cops. And all of a sudden all their phones are missing. Turns out the killer hid all of them right before starting the killing spree.
  • In Siren (2010), the yacht runs aground in what seems to a black spot for cell phone reception. Later on, Rachel checks her phone and finds that the battery is completely dead. Both of these effects are implied to be a property of the island itself.
  • Subverted in The Strangers; the victims' cell phones work fine, it's just that the killers destroy the first, take the battery out of the second one, and the aforementioned victims are too stupid to think to check the body of their friend for the third. This creates some Fridge Logic, as you can't help but wonder what the killers would have done if they had been able to call the police.
  • Justified in the film 30 Days of Night after The Renfield steals and burns the cellphone of everyone in town. It doesn't break the Willing Suspension of Disbelief because of how it's presented: the opening scene is a pair of policemen finding a pile of melted plastic with a few recognizable satellite phone bits. That, and Barrow is small and remote anyway, so it's comparatively easy to do.
    Cop: I can understand [teenagers] burning cell phones — rebellion against your parents and all that. But who the hell steals satellite phones and burns them?
  • Tiger House: After considerable effort, Kelly manages to retrieve her cell phone from her bag and drag it into her hiding place under the bed. She composes a text message requesting help and and is about to send it when the battery dies.
  • The film adaptation of Tomorrow: When the War Began sets up the fact that the main characters can't get cell phone coverage while camping as they are too isolated early on. When they return to town to discover that everything seems abandoned, they all check their cell phones, only to discover that they still can't get coverage (presumably as the invading army has in some way caused the towers to go down). This circumvents the issue of why no one tried to contact them to warn them, and why they can't later use their cell phones to contact each other. The novel was published before cell phones were as ubiquitous as they are now.
  • Parodied in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, where one of the Wrong Genre Savvy characters smashes a cell phone because he knows it won't work in a horror movie - before even checking if it works.
  • In The Way of the Gun, various characters have difficulty reaching each other due to their junky cell phones failing to work.
  • After the bus breaks down near the haunted mill in The Windmill Massacre, no one can get a signal on their phone.
  • You're Next has this with one character outright figuring out that the villains are using a cell phone jammer and stating that they're illegal, even how much they cost. Said character is working with the killers to murder everyone else, so this actually counts as Foreshadowing of his involvement.
  • The heroine of While She Was Out chose exactly the wrong time not to keep her phone charged.
  • Justified in Zombeavers - they chose the cabin specifically because there is no cellular reception.

  • This concept is explored here; basically, Romeo and Juliet would have had a much happier ending if the two of them had had cell phones.
  • Played with in Crazy City, which takes place in present-day Miami. The protagonist has a cell phone, but anytime he tries to use it, he runs into problems: the people he wants to talk to are in a noisy place, or crazy, drunk, hate him, jerks, stupid, etc. The protagonist is only able to communicate with a small number of people that he has to stay close to, several of whom are beautiful underdressed women, a problem because he's in Miami to get married and he's desperately trying to find his lost ring.
  • Justified in the case of Cell by Stephen King: The people become savage and zombie-like because of a mysterious signal spreading through the cellphones, so using them is automatically out of the picture if you don't want to become one of the crazies. Landlines are safe, though (established by the hotel manager's account of a phone call to his wife), but as Clay quickly finds out, the phone system as a whole is drastically overloaded. He can't even complete dialing a number before getting an error message and a disconnect.
  • Ciaphas Cain: The title character deals with this problem on a regular basis. However, it's justified: due to his origin note  he is very competent at orientation in closed spaces and thus constantly gets assigned to missions that deal with such spaces. Such as tunnels or caves. Which are, you know, underground, so it's hard to keep contact. In For the Emperor, for example, it was a major plot point, since he managed to find out the true reason behind the conflict and must find his way to the surface as soon as possible to prevent a large-scale war, since he can't just tell that over the radio.
  • The Dresden Files: magic screws up advanced technology like computers and cell phones, thus ruining cell phone reception whenever a wizard is around. The effect worsens exponentially when when a wizard (or other magic user) is actively casting magic, and that's not even taking into account "hexing", which is a direct magical attack with the intent of destroying technology. Dresden himself compares cell phones to a canary in a coal mine or "those guys in the red shirts on Star Trek" because they die the instant trouble hits.
  • In Good Omens, Crowley and two Dukes of Hell describe what they have done to aid the spread of evil that day. One Duke corrupted a politician. The other tempted a priest. Crowley disabled every cell tower in Central London for 45 minutes... during lunch hour.
    • The other demons don't understand. Crowley figures that spreading low-level frustration to thousands of people on a regular basis is much more efficient in the corruption of souls than the one-on-one approach — a thousand grouchy people spread a lot more misery around than one awful person.
    • In the TV series, this ends up biting Crowley in the butt. He tries to call Aziraphale from the car, only to be unable to reach him due to the disruption.
  • Zigzagged in A Grimm Quest; as Amy’s phone is useful (she looks up the time, gets a convenient text message, and calls a cab) until the screen breaks when she falls through a floor. Cody also uses it to track her down when they're in Las Vegas. They cannot use any of the phones to call the Mound, however, as everyone there uses messenger orbs and they burned their emergency call saving Tyghanire.
  • Harry Potter: The absence of Cell phones when they could have solved a lot of problems is justified. Not only do high concentrations of magic canonically play merry hob with transistorized devices, but all but the last chapter of the last book take place in the 1990s (each book is set approximately ten years behind its publishing date, though the textual indications of this aren't obvious and the films don't explicitly point this out either). While cell phones existed, people have a tendency to forget that they didn't really become ubiquitous until the next decade, and service was patchy at best (Hogwarts is someplace very deep in Scotland, which even in 2023 is plagued with cell phone dead zones). Franchise fans are understandably upset about having to explain this tidbit again and again.
  • In Hush, Hush, Nora's phone constantly goes out while she's with Patch, even when she specifically notes she thought she charged it. She never finds this suspicious. She and Patch later end up in a motel that had its power lines knocked down in a storm, with the explanation that the motel clerk/owner simply doesn't have a cell phone because it costs too much.
  • In Another World with My Smartphone plays with it given its basic premise. Touya Mochizuki initially notes that he'll be unable to recharge his smartphone in the fantasy world as he would in the real world, but he can use magic to recharge it. Additionally, he is no longer able to use it to communicate with anyone in the real world, but can use it to communicate with God. However, he can still use it to access the real world's internet and keep up with its goings-on. God also tweaked the phone's map function to display maps of the fantasy world instead of the real world.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, cell phones aren't so much useless... as just a very good way for demi-gods to have monsters jumping down their throats to tear them open. Either way, they're not used until The Last Olympian, where the 'monsters-tracking-you' problem is moot because New York is faced with an outright invasion.
  • Peter Grant from Rivers of London faces a similar problem to Harry Dresden's, except that his power only trashes electronics if he actively uses magic without disconnecting their power supplies, first. In later novels, he subverts this trope by getting a phone with a cut-off switch that he only flips "on" to make a call or check his texts. (It's still often played straight with his Airwave [police radio], though, since it doesn't have a cut-off.)
  • Cell phones are only used once in Shakugan no Shana, by an odd pair of villains, with the normal-looking one trying to coordinate activities over it and complaining about the terrible signal, only to find out the the problem was that his partner had turned its phone off. (Well, can't expect a centipede with a flaming skull on top to have much appreciation for modern technology, anyway.) The good guys use spell charms to communicate, but the one dangerous occasion where everyone thinks to carry one before hand, they all get disabled in their enemy's first attack.
  • In Tricky Business, the villains have a jamming device activated before they board the ship so nobody's cell phone can place a distress call (and the heroine does try).
  • In the Twilight book New Moon Edward conveniently smashes his phone in grief because he thinks Bella is dead, thus enabling a dramatic flight to Italy solely to demonstrate that she is, in fact, still alive.
    • In the first book, James never would have gotten away with pretending to have kidnapped Bella's mom if Renee has owned a cell phone for Bella to call. The movie justifies this by establishing earlier that Renee lost the cable charger for her phone, then having Bella leave her a voicemail while figuring that she lost her phone. James also uses it to his advantage by lying that Charlie called Renee and told her that Bella was heading home, handwaving the question of why Renee just happened to be home early.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel is really bad at using phones, and there are several occasions in the series where he lets the charge run down, just forgets he has one with him, or can't work out the voicemail. Being about 250 years old, he loses patience with modern technology.
    Angel: These things were definitely cooked up by a bored warlock.
  • In the second episode of American Gods Shadow buys Mr. Wednesday a burner phone, but he tosses it and Shadow's phone out the window to prevent the Technical Boy from tracking them. Their "bank robbery" con might have gone more easily if Shadow hadn't needed to hang around a specific pay phone waiting for a call, and the 1990s novel had a fair number of chapters where they're out of communication for extended periods.
  • Babylon 5: In one episode, Marcus Cole (who doesn't wear a hand link because he's not part of the station crew) finds another person's communicator. However, he can't use it to call for help, because the communicator will only work for authorized crew members. Given that the hand link is a military communicator, this could be considered justified, though one would think that even a civilian (or, for that matter, Ranger) would carry at least a civilian communications device—and we never see him use one.
    • Word of God says that Marcus chose not to carry a communications device, because it draws too much attention and his responsibilities had him dealing with a lot of shady people who DON'T want that attention.
    • Of course one would think even a military communicator would have a 911 equivalent given the likelihood a soldier might be incapacitated while protecting a civilian.
      • The scripts and business imply that authentication works by verifying the identity of the person touching the back panel (which when worn is molecularly bonded to the skin and hairs, explaining why Jerry Doyle's hand has been depilated). Anyone can press the call button provided they don't take it off the authorised wearer. On the other hand, that doesn't explain why the apparent use of a stolen communicator doesn't automatically summon a security patrol.
    • Babylon 5 has a fixed-line civilian videophone network (Babcom, which links to the galactic Stellarcom network) as well as the military communicators, and the videophone and communicator systems can be linked, but although portable civilian communication devices are frequently shown they are mostly used by spies and criminals (and never tapped or triangulated). All but once they are treated like walkie-talkies, and the only mobile phone shown in he series appears on Mars.
  • Burn Notice loves this, though it's good about justifying it; anyone meant to be incommunicado will have their cell phone jammed, taken away, or secretly sabotaged. The villains are usually portrayed as pretty smart about this as well, further justifying the trope.
  • An episode of Castle ("After Hours"), features Castle and Beckett looking for a phone for the completely legitimate reason that they'd just escaped from a couple mob hitters, who had taken their cell phones as well as their guns away. (Castle can't believe they still make pay phones when he finds one. Too bad the mob guys cut the pay phone's cables, too.)
  • Community:
    • One episode had the group trapped in an 'spacecraft simulator' which was actually an old RV fully covered in metal. They are sealed in, the RV is being towed and they can't get cellphone reception from inside (Faraday Cage?). However, there is a short wave radio connected to an outside antenna so they can communicate with 'mission control' once they get it working.
    • Subverted in a season 6 episode when the gang is in a normal RV that breaks down. Everyone is careful to keep their phones fully charged... which kills the backup battery, meaning that the heat doesn't work. They even have cell reception throughout the episode and are able to call for help, but no one will be able to get to them until the morning.
    • Completely defied within Abed's made-up horror story in the episode "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps", where the imaginary Abed made sure to keep his phone charged and immediately calls the police (a call that goes through, is answered promptly, is believed, and the cops are instantly on their way) when he believes there is an escaped serial killer outside of the cabin he's in. This is because Abed pointedly hates horror cliches which make the victims act stupid or be helpless.
  • CSI: It becomes a plot point in "The Chick Chop Flick Shop" that the cell phone signal drops out a particular point in the movie studio during a storm, allowing Ronnie to be cornered by the killer as her phone call to Catherine breaks up. Of course, this was an episode that was deliberately playing with a lot of horror movie tropes.
  • CSI: NY:
    • Done somewhat realistically in the season 3 finale, "Snow Day", as the criminals blow up the cell towers around the lab prior to their invasion of the CSI lab. It's also shown that this does not go unnoticed - reception is restored before the episode's end. Unfortunately, this leads to a Kinda Busy Here moment when Mac's girlfriend finally gets through to him as he's sneaking up on the Big Bad.
    • In "Unfriendly Chat", Adam witnesses a murder take place in real time while on the internet and races to catch Mac who's just leaving work. Adam misses him by a few minutes, and tries to call him from the parking garage but it won't go thru so he has to wander around for a bit to get a signal, panicking all the while.
  • Dark Hole: Phones stop working around the sinkhole. As the smoke spreads through the city it interferes with the survivors' phones too.
  • An episode of The Dead Zone had the main character lost in the woods somewhere; he tried calling for help on his cell phone, but its display showed "NO SIGNAL".
  • Cell phone jammers (see Real Life below) were part of the mid-Season 10 crackdown at Degrassi: The Next Generation that also brought in metal detectors and school uniforms. Interestingly, here the writers seem to be unable to write without them; one scene showed Sav on a pay phone in the school, calling another character who was also inside the school building at the time.
  • Drake & Josh are forever losing their cellphones to trap them in odd situations.
    Drake: Why don't Craig and Eric have cell phones?
    Josh: Because Papa Nichols threw Eric's against the wall and broke it, and Craig's mother thinks cell phones cause ear sores!
    Drake: Craig does get a lot of ear sores...
  • A combination of this and Reimagining the Artifact occurred in The Dukes of Hazzard made-for-TV movie The Beginning. A prequel to the 2005 movie, but taking place in the then-modern day of 2007 (just go with it,) they made sure to include a scene where somebody mentions that cell phones don't work in Hazzard County, and everybody still communicates by CB radio, which was iconic to the original series and needed to be included somehow. Considering how rural and mountainous the Appalachian region can be, the idea of cell phones being useless in rural Georgia isn't all that ridiculous.
  • Either mobile phones weren't all that popular in the USA before 2004 or the writers of Friends chose to ignore their existence, because a good deal of the plots of many episodes would not have worked with mobile phones present. For example, the premise of the story of Joey missing the audition for Mac and Cheese. Chandler would have easily found Joey had he had a phone, though it's not unreasonable to believe that Joey, a perpetually unemployed actor, simply couldn't afford one.
  • Maxwell Smart and the wireless rotary-dial telephone concealed in the sole of a shoe is often cast as an unreliable weakest link; for instance, it would work quite well until Max steps into a puddle.
  • Once the murders start in Harper's Island, both the landlines and cell phones all stop working. In the associated web series Harper's Globe, we find that the internet isn't working properly either.
  • When Dr. Daniel Harrow tries to dig up the grave of supposedly-dead serial killer Francis Chester to prove he's still alive, Chester ambushes him and he wakes up buried alive inside the coffin he'd just dug up. He can see where he is by the light of a cell phone Chester left him, but the phone is locked so it can't make outgoing calls, and there is no Emergency Call function. Chester uses the phone to taunt Daniel and to send him video calls showing him stalking Daniel's teenaged daughter, Fern, with the intention of forcing Daniel to watch Fern die before his air runs out.
  • In the Haven episode "Much Ado About Mara", none of the characters' phones work. They eventually find out a woman is emitting microwaves.
  • In Helix, which centers around a CDC team dispatched to an artic Research, Inc. to deal with an outbreak of The Virus, the remote location of Arctic Biosystems precludes normal cell phone use. It has a state of the art satellite communication system with 10 gpbs, but it only functions for an hour each day. Then its sabotaged directly after the CDC's lead researcher decides he's lost control of the situation and states that he intends to call for backup.
  • In the season 4 episode, "Toddler Invasion" of Henry Danger, Piper is having issues with her phone because it couldn't recognise her face. After countless attempts of using the facial recognition feature, it eventually overheats and starts to let smoke out; it isn't until Henry arrives to try and get it fixed for her that she throws it on the ground right where he was standing, causing the phone to blow up on him (without any major injuries). Henry is fine, but calmly tells himself he would have not had to deal with all of the crap he endured a lot by not attending work that day.
  • The Inside No. 9 episode "The Harrowing" is told that the street on which she's housesitting for a creepy family is a cell "dead zone" and she'll have to use the land line. The one time she does try to use the land line phone it's in use by a party line call.
  • In Katla, The Icelandic village of Vík is depicted as having terrible cell phone coverage, which makes sense given that it is in a remote area which has been slathered in volcanic ash. From time to time, characters must borrow rather heavier satellite phones from the few characters who have them; on other occasions, they are obliged to find the nearest working landline.
  • In Lost, Boone is shown trying to use his phone just after the crash, but he can't get reception on an island in the middle of the South Pacific.
    • Ironically, people with functional satellite phones arrive in the fourth season, but they can only call each other.
    • The people currently off the island seem unwilling to call each other, preferring instead to show up in person, usually with a dramatic reveal. However, they do call each other when it's urgent, like when someone's life is in danger.
    • Also, the Island travels through time, which can't be good for reception.
    • In general the island is subject to powerful electromagnetic fields that have been manipulated by various visitors which could help explain some of the weirdness. Though its not consistent. Desmond is able to call Penelope back in England on one of the satellite phones.
  • Averted in an episode of The Mentalist. After finding a body with no ID or phone, but a bluetooth headset, Jane uses the voice command "Call Home" to ID the victim since the phone was simply nearby and had been thrown from the body.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • In "Hidden Depths", Barnaby and Scott get locked in a cellar where there is no cell reception.
    • In "Happy Families", the remote location of the island combined with a heavy rainstorm means the detectives can't call anyone or use the internet to help solve the case.
  • The show Modern Family goes out of its way to avert this all the time. Part of the show's original concept was to defy the belief that modern inventions (and primarily the cell phone) had made a modern sitcom impossible.
  • In the NCIS episode "Boxed In", Tony and Ziva are trapped in a shipping container and try desperately to get signal on their cell phone - justified here, as the container would act as a Faraday Cage.
    • Also justified is Abby being unable to call Gibbs directly in the container yard due to all the containers wrecking the signal.
    • In one episode, Don tries to call another agent to warn her that there's an assassination plot in progress on the witness she's getting out of prison. He can't get through because there's no cell service in the prison. Justified in that there's a pretty good reason for a prison to cut off cell phone access; they would want to make absolutely sure that even if an inmate somehow got access to a phone, they wouldn't be able to use it.
    • In another episode, a kidnapping occurs and our heroes only have one hour to save the kid (the episode takes place in near-Real Time, as well) and could really use Don's help as team leader. Alas, the B-plot is that Don is in a Bureau-mandated psych session courtesy of being involved in a shooting one episode prior and the psychiatrist ordered Don to turn off the phone. Don only finds out something happened once he returns to the office in the episode's denouement. (In a later episode, we learn that Don's psychiatrist has learned of this incident and no longer makes him turn off his phone.)
  • Invoked in Psych. Mr. Yang leaves a cell phone for Shawn as a clue. Shawn promptly throws it into a river to change the rules of Mr. Yang's game.
    • Also in another episode, when Shawn and Gus are locked in a museum overnight, Shawn drops and breaks his cell phone after finding out a violent suspect's car is in the parking lot. Gus's cell phone battery was seen to run out earlier in the episode.
  • Frequently abused in The Sarah Jane Adventures, usually because a phone was dropped or destroyed during an alien confrontation. They have some fun lampshading this:
    Sky: Hey! That's my phone!
    Luke: Join the club. I've gone through seven phones in two years.
  • LexCorp tracks down the Justice League by using their cell phones as GPS locators in Smallville. Apparently they all carry their phones around all the time, which in Aquaman's case, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
  • In Smallville, Lois' phone runs out of batteries when something nasty is going down and she needs to make a call. She even says "Really?!" when it happens, as if disbelieving that such a cliche could happen to her.
  • The Spooksville episode Phone Fear plays for horror, as answering a phone gets you picked off by a mysterious fog.
  • In Stag, the lads have all put their phones in a bag in order to enjoy a weekend of hunting free of technology. Then they lose the bag. Cosmo secretly hangs on to his phone, desperate for a call back about a job opportunity, but poor reception in the mountains means it's no use to anyone before the battery runs out.
  • A common aspect of Star Trek, in general. Working communicators and transporters have the potential of removing any danger from a given situation, so often one or both become unusable for some reason or another.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Disaster," many of the difficulties faced by the crew of the disabled Enterprise could have been avoided if their communicators were working. Partly justified in that the main computers (which link the communicators together) are down, although Fridge Logic kicks in when you wonder how an Away Team talks to each other when the Enterprise is out of range.
  • A very silly plotline on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip called for Danny and Jordan to get locked on the studio's roof so that they'd be forced to discuss their relationship. Aaron Sorkin does find it within himself to pay lip service to the idea that they could just call someone to unlock the door... by having them wander around holding their phones aloft, complaining that they can't get a signal. On a roof. In the middle of L.A. For no reason. It would've been better if they had just left them in their coat elsewhere, or in a desk drawer, or something.
  • Supernatural:
    • In the episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), there is no reception in Cold Oak, South Dakota.
    • Ghosts and demons tend to interfere with electrical activity and by extension cell phone and radio reception. Indeed, one of the markers of supernatural activity is when radios and cell phones stop working or work improperly.
    • Subverted in one episode where Dean notices his cellphone has no signal, so he can't inform Sam of what he's doing. It looks like a version of this trope until Sam finds a cellphone jammer in the Monster of the Week's room.
  • In an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah tries to track a truck by using John's cell phone as a beacon. This works perfectly until the truck hits a bump, and the phone breaks irreparably after falling 3 feet. Apparently, the future leader of the human race decided to buy the most fragile phone on the face of the Earth.
    • Can be partly explained by the fact that they come from before smartphones were a thing. The episode where Sarah meets Andy Goode, she is trying to buy cell phones for herself and John, only to be stumped by the touchscreen interface, and all of Andy's Techno Babble goes over her head.
  • In the Tiere bis unters Dach episode "Höhlenangst", Chiara's phone runs out of battery, Celine admits that she's too poor to have a phone, and Greta's phone breaks when she falls down a mineshaft, all in quick succession. Naturally, they get trapped in an abandoned mine. In a later episode, Kim and Constanze both leave their phones behind when they secretly go out horse riding.
  • Warehouse 13:
    • Averted. Instead of cell phones, all Warehouse agents use Farnsworths, black-and-white Video Phones invented by Philo Farnsworth (the inventor of TV) that work anywhere (even in the middle of nowhere, where the Warehouse is located) and can't be intercepted or traced. They still carry their personal cell phones for when non-Warehouse people need to reach them, although reception inside the Warehouse is awful (possibly by design). Claudia even tries to mess with her Farnsworth to change the ringtone, which, naturally, almost leads to a disaster. Artie is adamant about her not messing with any artifact.
    • Occasionally played straight due to the fact that Myka and Pete only have one Farnsworth between the two of them, so when they split up, this trope kicks in.
  • In The West Wing two-part episode "20 Hours in America," Josh, Donna, and Toby get stranded at a campaign stop and can't get in touch with the rest of the staff because they're already up on Air Force One (there was also a mixup with time zones). They briefly get hold of CJ once the plane lands, but then the battery on Donna's phone dies which prevents any further contact with the White House.
  • On The X-Files, Mulder and Scully used cell phones fairly realistically but several times they were forced to leave a message when something urgent was to be communicated. They also often drive significant distances to speak in person rather than using their cell phones even when phoning would be perfectly safe.
    • Of course, living in a Crapsack World run by a shadow government with alien technology and no accountability, Mulder really is completely justified in being paranoid enough to doubt that the person who answers when he calls Scully is, in fact, Scully if he can't see her face. Heck, there are episodes where he'd be advised to doubt it's Scully when he can see her face. For that matter, is it ever "perfectly safe" to use a phone to discuss a government conspiracy when elements of the FBI, NSA, and CIA are actively trying to monitor and/or block your investigation?
    • Ironically, back in the day the X-Files were often mocked for their excessive use of cell phones; at least one contemporary parody showed Mulder and Scully talking to each other on cell phones while riding in the same car. A cell phone that folded up small enough to fit into your pocket was bleeding edge technology back in 1993 at a time when people still carried pagers. Mulder and Scully are often the only characters who even have cell phones.

  • The beginning of "Shia LaBeouf" establishes that your phone is dead, so you're on your own when murderous cannibal Shia LaBeouf comes after you.

  • The Adventure Zone arc "Amnesty" is set in Kepler, West Virginia, which is located inside the United States National Radio Quiet Zone. This is a real place that exists to facilitate scientific research that would be interfered with by radio waves; you can be fined for unauthorized Wifi use.

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • Jeff Dunham and Peanut poke fun at this.
    Peanut: Just like the stinkin' commercials! "Can you hear me now? How about now? And now? Now now now... You know what you don't hear in those commercials?
    Jeff: What?
    Peanut: THE OTHER END OF THE CONVERSATION! (*says a series of fragmented words to imitate someone breaking up*) ... (*gives off a staticky growl*)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Averted in Old World of Darkness. Elder vampires are extremely powerful, even compared to younger vampires. But the younger one have the power of technology with them, specially when it comes to communications. Vampires born before the invention of the telephone find really hard to trust and adapt to new gadgets, and this might put them at a disadvantage despite their greater physical/mental powers.
  • GURPS Horror has an entire text box devoted to addressing "The Cell Phone Problem".

    Video Games 
  • A Running Gag in Cogito Ergo Sum's escape-the-room games is the cat Nyan being unintentionally locked out on the porch or balcony and needing to contact the dog Wan to help him. Nyan actually learns from his first undignified imprisonment and has a flip phone or smartphone with him (don't think too hard about how a cat can use a phone in the first place) the next couple of times he becomes locked out...but naturally, he's unable to get any reception and has to resort to more traditional escape-the-room puzzles to contact Wan. (This is downplayed with the balcony games, in which Nyan does use his phone to contact Wan— but only after solving some puzzles to recharge his flip phone's battery or learn his smartphone's password.)
  • In Barrow Hill, you can't use the cell phone you find because the local tower isn't working. You can subvert this trope by fixing the tower, but the only person available to make contact with is just as trapped and in trouble as you.
  • When the blackout hits in Devil Survivor, cell service goes down as well, which the characters note as odd, because the towers shouldn't be affected ("But the phone centers have their own backup power, right? This doesn't make sense!"). Later in the game, the lack of cell service is alluded to, when someone claims to have called someone outside the lockdown; which isn't possible, of course.
    • And in the sequel, JP's are in control of the only still-working phone network, eventually allowing the protagonists to communicate with each other once they join.But when trying to save people from their Death Clip fate, there is always one reason or another to prevent them from contacting each other:
      • When saving Daichi, the hero and Io haven't joined JP's yet.
      • When saving Jungo in Nagoya, Brainwashed and Crazy Fumi had hacked the server shutting down service.
      • With Makoto we have Ronaldo trashing the Osaka branch and the phone lines with it.
      • As for Joe, his battery conveniently runs out just as he encounters a horde of demons.
  • In Fredbear and Friends, when Thomas realizes he's locked up in the pizzeria, he attempts to call for help, only to discover that his smartphone's battery is dead.
  • Inuyasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask. one of the first things your character does when he/she is sent to the feudal age is checking a cell phone, which of course has no signal.
  • In Mermaid Swamp, Rin tries to use her cellphone to call an ambulance when one of her friends begins falling victim to a mysterious disease, only to find that its battery has run out and that she can't recharge it due to the power going out in the house.
  • The setting of Night in the Woods is Possum Springs, an old mining town with no reception. The problems encountered could've been solved quickly had the characters been able to use cellphones.
  • Invoked Trope in PAYDAY 2 with the ECM Jammer deployable item, which jams cameras, cellphones, and (with the right skills) security guards' pagers.
  • Similarly invoked, to a downplayed extent in PAYDAY 3 - ECM Jammers will merely delay detection by cameras, calls to police and pagers rather than halt them entirely, but they can still buy you enough time to prevent the alarm from going off.
  • In Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, when the S.E.E.S. gets transported to Yasogami High, they soon get the idea to use their phones to call out. Naturally, they get no service, nor does the GPS work.
  • In Until Dawn, the characters are up on a mountain and can't get any reception. When Chris asks Josh (son of the owners of the lodge) about the lack of reception, Josh says he'll install a cell tower if Chris has a spare million lying around somewhere. The characters still use their cell phones for light and music, though.
    • In The Quarry, the prologue features two characters who get lost because they have no GPS signal and aren't sure how to read the paper map. The teens in the bulk of the story have mobile phones, but in order to get them to behave and do their jobs as camp counsellors, their phones were confiscated for the last month. They ran out of charge while unattended.
  • Cell phones in The World Ends with You have no reception. The dead can't talk to the living, after all. They can receive messages from the Reapers, and your in-game menu is supposedly the cellphone menu, but other than that they're powerless. When Joshua actually talks to someone on his, Neku instantly turns suspicious (Joshua's talking to Hanekoma).
    • NEO: The World Ends with You has the same thing happen, with the switch to Shibuya's Underground leaving the main characters with most of their phone apps unuseable and no reception... or almost: to Rindo's utter confusion, one of his contacts, an online friend with the username "swallow", can still chat with him just fine. Finding out just what is going on with Swallow becomes one of his main motivations for the rest of the game.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the avalanche started by the protagonist and Tamara in Double Homework, they couldn’t use their phones to call for help because a solar flare was interfering with the reception.
  • Several times in Melody, Becca visits the protagonist at his home just to ask him something rather than call or text him.
    • Also, when Becca actually does call him (to warn him that Bethany is looking for him), his cell phone is dead.
  • When They Cry:
    • It seems Higurashi: When They Cry was specifically set in 1983 so people wouldn't have cellphones. If any of the kids had did (as most all Japanese schoolkids do) then there would have been no way for the Yamainu to isolate Hinamizawa and sterilize the village without someone from the outside finding out. However, one arc of Higurashi (Yoigoshi) did need to mess around with cellphones, being set a couple of decades into a Bad Future. It's a pretty typical case of no reception followed by broken cell phone. It's messed around with a bit, however. The character who had the cell phone only pretended that he didn't have coverage and then broke his own cell phone because he was afraid of someone finding him (He'd gone to Hinamizawa in a Suicide Pact, but then when everyone had knocked themselves out with drugs while waiting for the car to fill with carbon monoxide, he had faked taking his and abandoned everyone everyone else to their fates).
    • Likewise, its Spiritual Sequel, Umineko: When They Cry, is set in 1986 for pretty much the same reason, because getting trapped on the island without communication for their Closed Circle murder mystery would be impossible with cell phones. Of course, being set on a private island far from the coastline, the setting could have been well outside the normal cellphone coverage.

  • In the Bobbinsverse special issue Murder She Writes, a winter storm and the setting's remoteness results in poor mobile phone reception, preventing the main characters from just summoning the police. That is, until Lottie and Shelley discover the house's long-forgotten landline phone hidden in a cupboard. Naturally, the police only arrive after the denouement.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Nanase is unable to call for help during a wizard attack on her school in this strip. It this case, the attacking wizard was explicitly blocking all phone communication through magical means.
    • In the "Family Tree" arc, Ellen and Nanase once again find themselves unable to call for help. This is immediately Lampshaded by Ellen. Once again, it is suggested that the villain of the arc knocked out cell phone reception and internet connectivity as part of his attack, although it's unknown if magical or technological methods were used. Even then, cell phones don't end up being completely useless, as the characters did their best to get outside of the range of the jamming so that they could call for help.
  • In Narbonic, Dave calls his boss to tell her he's in trouble. Unfortunately, he's just been shoved out the airlock of a spaceship.
    Helen: Hello? ... Hello? ... Hello? For heaven's sake, Dave, sound doesn't travel in the vacuum of space! Call back when you're in an atmosphere and stop running up the bill!
  • In Silent Hill: Promise, Vanessa's cell phone hasn't worked correctly yet.
  • Justified in the Sluggy Freelance story "That Which Redeems", thanks to the demons having a very poor understanding of cell phone technology.
    Tryka: What's it roaming for? Shouldn't it stay here?
    Reakk: Bad phone!
    • Justified again in the "bROKEN" story, when the Fate Spider's Apprentice intentionally makes Torg forget to charge his cell phone, forcing him to leave it off when communication would have been vitally important.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed by The Distressed Watcher.
    Horror movies were better before they always had to figure out a reason to explain why the main character can’t just use their cell phone to call for outside help. Now every movie has to come up with some clever excuse: "Oh, the vampires stole all the phones in the night!" Or,” this is a dead zone”, or “the government blocked all the cell signals to cover this whole event up”. Or, “we’re all Amish!”
  • Played straight and justified in Worm during the events of Chapter 16, Monarch. Dragon shuts down all cell phone communication in the city. It provides a tactical advantage and she uses the cell towers to help control her armors.
  • In Cracked's 5 World-Changing Trends That Will Transform Pop Culture, Robert Evans mentions how cell phones have become a Trope Breaker for 1990s sitcom plots.
  • During the Interruption chapter of Citadel, an out of control Turing type shuts down the electrical grid as well as disrupting many forms of modern technology, including cell phones. The Citadel uses a powerful duplicator with a hive mind as a temporary workaround.
  • In the "trailer" for 2016: The Movie, a woman's cell phone explodes in her hand after she tries to call for help, mirroring the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Explosion Controversy.
  • Subverted for laughs by Board James when he's trying to force his friends to stay and play 13 Dead-End Drive with him. With the doors and windows barred he cryptically says the phone's are also likely down due to the storm, so with no way out and no way to call for help they have no choice but to play the game. Bootsy and Mike just whip out their cell phones and James smashes them in a fit of rage.
    James: Gah what the hell! Fuck technology!!!
  • Unwanted Houseguest: The second season finale of "TRUE Scary Stories" has a variant. The character receives a series of delayed texts from a friend that were actually sent the night before, leading to confusion.

    Western Animation 
  • Zig-zagged in Amphibia. While Anne can't do anything involving a cellular network or Wi-Fi, she still finds uses for her phone. Namely looking at photos and videos from back home. The issue regarding battery life is tackled in an episode where the phone's battery dies, after which she manages to find a source of electricity able to charge it, but whether her friends (who are later seen using their own phones for similar purposes) managed to figure out a similar trick is never shown.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, when Batman wants to call the mayor and warn him of a plot, he is told there is no phone, and Bat's won't work either - the host is a scientist who chose a dead zone for his experiments so as not to be disturbed.
  • Bob's Burgers:
    • In "The Belchies", Linda tries to call for help when the Belchers are stuck in a candy factory that's due to be demolished, but can't get a signal. She blames it on their cheap cell-phone provider, while Bob blames it on the fact that they're underground.
    • In "Into the Mild", Bob's old cell phone conks out after he's locked in a closed outdoor supply store, leaving him unable to call for help after he discovers the landlines have already been disconnected.
  • In Code Lyoko, the main characters all have cell phones and never have any problem with reception or anything, but usually their phones get broken while fighting on Earth. (Strangely, they always have a new cell phone by the next episode, even if no return to the past occurred. They never seem to complain about having to buy new cell phones so frequently, though...)
    • Played straight in one episode where a X.A.N.A. attack makes everyone's phones ring durring class, causing the teachers and faculty to confiscate everyone's phones. Fearing that without their phones they won't be able to contact each other if a X.A.N.A. attack happens, Ulrich and Odd steal back their and Jeremie's phones, but at this point they've already figured out that X.A.N.A. is already in the process of hacking a potentially armed military satelite. Yumi, the only one without her phone, stays behind to keep an eye on things, only for the Jeremie to realize too late that since X.A.N.A. wouldn't risk firing upon the factory since it would destroy the supercomputer, and itself with it, Yumi is the next most likely target and they have no way of calling her. They manage to send a warning note to her thanks to Kiwi, but the satelite still targets her and Odd barely manages to get to her in time to warn her before the satelite starts firing on her.
  • Played with in a Danny Phantom episode where Danny and his mother gets stranded in the middle of a forest. Off ALL the techno gizmo she has with her, the only thing she doesn't have is a cellphone note . Danny doesn't have his cellphone with him either (for no apparent reason), so he and his mother have to survive alone against the big, spooky forest (and Vlad).
  • Parodied in Dan Vs. "Technology." Chris attempts to call for help after crashing in the woods, only for his cell phone to explode in his hand as he dials.
  • Averted in a Daria episode, "The Teachings of Don Jake". Daria and her family nearly meet their demises in the middle of the forest on a camping trip. Jake, Helen and Quinn trust Jake's excellent woodsman skills and eat some berries from a bush, causing them all to go humorously insane. Daria, the only sane one, just as she is beginning to panic, relied "on mother's hypocrisy to see them through the crisis", when she hears her mother's cell phone go off in the backpack. Her parents' plan for the weekend was to be cut off completely from the outside world- Helen cheated.
  • Averted in The Death of Superman. A teenaged girl is livestreaming Doomsday's massacre in a small town, begging for help as she keeps her cellphone trained on the beast. The Justice League swoop in to save her and (try to) deal with the beast.
  • Lampshaded in the Family Guy episode "Peternormal Activity" when the guys are trapped in the basement of an old abandoned asylum. Quagmire points out to Joe that if cellphones in these situations worked, then the movie would only be two minutes long.
    • In the episode "And Then There Were Fewer", after the dinner party turns deadly, the remaining party goers try to call for help, but no one has a working signal, blaming it on the fact that the mansion they're in is in the countryside, meaning a weak signal in good weather, but the current thunderstorm is scrambling all radio signals.
  • An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes has Lucius getting swallowed by a sea creature. While in its mouth he attempts to use his cell phone, to no avail.
  • The "Freaky Friday" Flip of Justice League Unlimited had the Flash (in Lex's body) attempting to contact the rest of the League through a cell phone, only to find that there's no service. A justified case, since (unbeknownst to the Flash) the building he was inside was A) in a large swamp (and thus likely to be quite distant from the nearest cell tower) and B) inside a cloaking field meant to keep the location undetectable.
  • The Kim Possible episode "Return to Wannaweep" averts this by Ron run toward the emergency phone at the camp just as Gill is attacking and being thankful that he hears a dial tone. However, Gill destroys the phone before he is even able to make a call.
    • Justified in the first encounter with Gill as he used telecommunications equipment to jam cell signals.
  • The Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Retro" had the titular experiment, who is designed to transform objects into their most primitive forms, scare a honeymooning couple out for a swim and transform the wife's cell phone into an old-timey candlestick model as she attempts to call 911. She fails to get through.
  • Miraculous Ladybug:
    • Played straight in "Horrificator", the cell phones lose coverage when the building is covered in goo by Horrificator. Nino lampshades it as a common horror trope.
    • Inverted in "Lady Wifi", as the villain's powers are based on her cell phone's wifi abilities so it's necessary to figure out how to block the signal in order to stop her.
    • Played straight again in "Oblivio". Marinette and Adrien lose their memories and would be able to contact their friends for help if their cell phone batteries weren't almost dead.
  • Spike in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has the ability to use his fire as a glorified fax machine, so expect him to be explicitly absent from plots where he could have easily been with the other characters and thus call for backup. The most notable instance is "The Cutie Map", where having someone along who could call for help and whose abilities couldn't be neutralized by the villain would have ended the two-parter in about five minutes.
  • Lampshaded in The Simpsons as far back as 1995 in "Two Dozen & One Greyhounds", when Mr. Burns tries to update the old payphone cliche with a mobile phone.
    Mr. Burns: Here's a phone. Call someone who cares.
    (Lisa dials 911)
    Mr. Burns: Give me that!
  • Lampshaded in Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Mining the Mind's Mines" when the ensigns from both the Cerritos and Carlsbad are stuck in a cave and they try to use their commbadges to contact their ships, leading Mariner to snark "It's not a full day in Starfleet until the comms get blocked!".
    • Equally lampshaded to hell and back in the episode "Caves". Each of the stories deal with one of the main four being trapped in a cave (or a turbolift in Tendi's case) and their comms not working. The one time comms weren't blocked, in Mariner's story, it turns out they were out of range.
  • Steven Universe:
    • In the season 3 finale, Steven complains about the lack of cellular reception... as he floats in a bubble through space. Right past a satellite, no less!
    • Zigzagged in the season four finale: People go missing, and a call to one of them is unanswered. They turn out to have been kidnapped, and either had their phones taken or just couldn't answer them (by merit of being gagged and largely immobilized). One more person is captured, but still had her phone, and sends some pictures of her location despite being gagged—which the kidnappers wanted (or did themselves) to lure out the Crystal Gems.
  • This is justified on the Transformers: Robots in Disguise episode "Collect 'Em All": Filch captures Denny for his shiny hat and strands him on her nest made of shiny stuff. Denny tries to call for help only to discover his cell phone battery is dead, apparently from playing too much Sudoku. He does manage to recharge it just in time to call Russell.
  • In the We Bare Bears episode "Slumber Party", the Bears hear an intruder in their cave while Chloe is staying over due to a fierce thunderstorm. They try to call for help, but Chloe's phone can't get a signal due to the storm and Panda's phone is too low on battery power.
  • In What's New, Scooby-Doo? episode "There's no Business Like Snow Business", a journalist was having trouble with her cell phone while ranting about audience, which made the gang regard her as a suspect while all Fred pointed out was that he thought cell phones worked well in that area. At first, it seemed he was Comically Missing the Point, but it turned out to be a Chekhov's Gun, as the Monster of the Week was a machine radio-controlled by the Villain of the Week, whose radio signs were causing interference on the cell phones.

    Real Life 
  • The supposed "can you hear me now" scam was based on this: Someone calling another, seemingly at random, and — all while pretending they were in an area with fringe or otherwise poor reception — asks the caller if they can hear them. The other person replies, after which the call unexpectedly ends. According to several media outlets, the caller was actually a scam artist who was, unknown to their stooge, recording their victim saying "yes," and the fraudster, after opening bank accounts, credit cards and so forth, would run up charges on these ill-gotten accounts; many of these purchases would be made by phone, wherein a "yes" voice prompt (enacted by many companies in response to identity theft) would be required to verify and authorize a purchase. would later suggest the consumer advisory about the "can you hear me" scam was unproven (read more here) and that, absent the scam artist having additional information at hand, there were no known cases of people being victimized by such an operation. That all said, consumers were still advised to be vigilant.
  • British comedienne Jocelyn Jee Esien plays a "chav" schoolgirl who in every sketch is shown sitting on a bus screaming "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" into her phone, despite no one making noise near her and no obvious reason for communication failure.
    • That's eerily similar to a recurring gag from the British series Trigger Happy TV, where a cell phone ring would be heard before a man with a comically large phone (something the size of an old boombox) stood up and started screaming into it, usually while in a movie theatre or a restaurant.
    • The central idea here is much older, and generally expressed with the phrase, "I'M ON THE TRAIN!"
  • Stuck in an elevator with a crazy person - "there are no bars on the phone."
  • Despite what any communications company might say to the contrary, there are still plenty of coverage blind spots in the twenty-first century, in suburbia, California let alone rural areas, virgin wilderness or exotic locales. Hence faulty cells and cheap networks remain available plot devices alongside:
    • Old lithium batteries that don't hold a charge.
    • Forgetting to charge one's phone in the first place.
    • Incorrectly plugging in the charging cable, so you think it's charging but it isn't.
    • Small phones that get lost in sofas or down storm-drains along with keys.
    • Weather effects like Midwestern US thunderstorms that blot out reception.
    • Underground portions of subway/metro systems are often dead zones outside of busier stations.
    • Really buggy, poorly tested interfaces, especially for multi-purpose phones.
    • Poorly written applications (Java, Flash Lite, iOS, Android, etc.) that interfere with normal phone operation.
    • Badly designed antennas that weaken the signal when you hold your iPhone 4 wrong.
    • Phone batteries that are so sensitive to moisture that walking through a rainstorm with a phone in your pocket can fry them, let alone if they actually get immersed in water.
    • Deliberately invoked in the National Radio Quiet Zone in Virginia and West Virginia, created to reduce signal interference with the Green Bank Observatory's radio telescopes.
  • Modern smartphones make being small and thin a selling point. This has three consequences. Firstly, they can quite easily be dropped or fall from a pocket. Secondly, they are much easier to break than brick phones, flip phones, and even slide phones. Thirdly, one of the things that has to be slimmed down is the battery, making the phone more likely to run out of juice.
  • Since cell phones rely on radio, some pieces of the trope are Older Than They Think. One of the first bits of information that amateur radio operators exchange is a signal report, or RST, Readability, Signal, and Tone. This is very important information in poor radio conditions; skilled operators can still get the message through if they know what they're up against. "Bars" are a way to abstract this for mass-market phones.
  • It's even older than THAT, according to Tom Standage's book The Victorian Internet. The introduction of the telegraph in Britain killed — among other things — the long-established "young lovers flee to Scotland to marry" trope, which was fairly common both in potboiler fiction and in real life until about the 1850s. Scotland permitted oath-marriages but England didn't, so young lovers could escape disapproving parents by taking the train to Scotland and swearing wedding vows to each other as soon as they were over the border. The telegraph gave parents the power to wire ahead and have the authorities pluck the kids off the train while they were still in England. The popular press assailed the telegraph as a "killer of romance", but how often it actually happened is open to debate.
  • Also, since cell phones rely on radio, they can be jammed and blocked, by both natural (see above about thunderstorms) and artificial means. In fact, in many countries (though not the USA), cell phone jammers can be legally purchased and used; some churches and movie theaters use them to prevent interruptions. A villain who doesn't want his victims to be able to call for help could arrange to jam his victims' phones.
    • Jamming is often set up by bomb-squads (though it's illegal in some countries), since bombs may be radio-triggered (no word on whether anyone's ever set off a bomb by the jamming interrupting a signal, but it'd be a hell of a nasty plan).
    • A later form of jamming can still allow emergency calls through (operating at the level of the call-out call-in signals, rather than just jamming the frequencies), so allowing this sort of jamming would not have some of the disadvantages that jamming all signals brings, hence calls to allow it.
    • A lot of schools put up cell phone jammers in an attempt to stop kids texting during class (once again, this is illegal in the USA).
    • However this only applies to using true radio jammers, buildings that block coverage (intentionally or not) are still fully legal.
    • A Faraday cage can severely hamper or eliminate radio (and thus cellular) communications. These doesn't have to be sophisticated or even deliberate - a metal building such as a warehouse (or the local big-box Walmart) or a metal room (elevators are the classic example) can act like one.
      • A tinfoil hat actually can form a Faraday cage, which means crazy conspiracy theorists are slightly less delusional than they seem. About the tinfoil. The transmitters in their heads still aren't real. Or are they?
      • As noted in the above-linked article, for a Faraday cage to be effective it must be a closed structure with no openings larger than roughly 1/8th of the shortest wavelength it is supposed to shield against. A tinfoil hat, being very much an open structure, does not qualify. The poor reception inside metal-framed buildings is not a Faraday cage effect, it is due to such things as the metal framework creating an interference pattern in the nodes of which the signal level is greatly reduced. Conversely, in the antinodes of the pattern, the signal level is increased. In remote areas with poor reception it is sometimes possible to improve signal strength by sitting inside a car, in the right position to place the phone in an antinode of the pattern created by the window apertures. The behaviour of radio signals passing through metal things with holes in is not intuitive; the Faraday cage effect is only one of many related factors, and given that structures for use by humans necessarily contain holes much larger than the wavelengths used by mobile phones, it is usually of much lesser importance than other effects. (For reference, cell phone wavelengths are on the order of a foot at most. Metal-frame construction can effectively block the much lower frequency waves used by the AM or even FM bands, though, as anyone who's ever driven across a truss bridge while listening to the radio can tell you.)
      • For a first-season MythBusters experiment, Adam built a Faraday cage and tested it by checking his cell phone while inside. Yay, no signal!
    • Any thick wall, like cinderblock, can block cellular reception quite easily. It's also easily blocked by dirt; basements are notorious for their poor reception.
    • Zona del Silencio in Durango. It's not the only one, and such areas are called "skip zones".
  • In the UK, there are still rural areas that have patchy coverage at best. The construction of new masts tends to be opposed in anyone's back yard, especially when near a site of natural beauty, or a school. Even in more populated areas, it's possible to have to walk to the other side of a building in order to get a reception.
    • The Meteor network was notorious for this when they first started providing their service. If you lived outside of Dublin, you could generally expect to get only one bar of signal if you were lucky and this tended to go if you happened to move four inches to the left. Thankfully, this has been remedied.
      • Some foreign companies do not even provide any coverage in the UK. This means that when you are having holiday in the UK, you either have to use the telephone cells or can't call at all.
  • In Australia the major mobile phone providers claim to provide coverage to 97% of the population, not 97% of the country. Beyond the highly populated southeast corner (between Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne-Adelaide) coverage is very sparse indeed. As this map proves.
  • And there are remote areas of Canada where coverage is patchy to non-existent...say, much of central Winnipeg.
  • Most of Russia. Even populated locales and apartment houses have blind spots, travelling along major roads makes your cellphone a crapshoot, and good luck finding any network in the middle of taiga.
  • Mountainous areas tend to have poor or spotty reception due to the mountains blocking the signal.
  • Unfortunately too common in Brazil, where phone providers are in a deep "race to the bottom".
  • Indonesian telecom love to boast about having coverage in every city and regencies. Regencies in particular can be pretty large though, so those claims are mostly technically correct, with people working in forestries and mining having to rely on satellite connection.
  • During the 2013 flash-flooding in Colorado, both physical phone lines and cell towers were taken out by flood waters. Cue this trope, and a lot of trouble finding out who was actually in need of rescue and who was safe but couldn't call out.
    • This is a problem any time there's a natural disaster or other emergency, as even if the towers stay working on backup power and don't lose their cable or fibre-optic connection to the rest of the networknote , they only have the ability to route a certain number of calls or texts at once. When almost everyone in the area is trying to call the emergency services or their loved ones they can and regularly do become overwhelmed. This is particularly problematic in a few countries where emergency responders are starting to phase out conventional two-way radios in favour of cellphone-based systems.
  • In many places, such as the Philippines, most cellphone users can't afford post-paid phone plans use pre-paid cellphones. You 'buy' minutes for calls, texts and internet access. When you use it up, your phone is essentially useless as a communication device unless it's a smartphone and you happen to be in a wifi zone. Given that those same places tend to have crappy public wifi, this trope can generally be played straight most of the time.
  • The various frequencies used by mobile providers have tradeoffs. Higher frequencies can transmit more data, but don't have the range and building penetration ability that lower frequencies have. Different providers can have vastly different performance in the same spot even if their antennas are placed on the same towers.
  • Probably the Achilles' heel of smartphones are the duration of their batteries. Even with everything fancy (WiFi, Bluetooth, etc) turned off and using it just for making and receiving calls, you're lucky if it has guzzled the battery in a very few days even if you extend its autonomy with a powerpack. Compare this with a dumbphone whose most advanced feature may be just a VGA camera, but has juice for weeks.
  • One method of getting around this problem in remote areas is to use satellite phones. However, signal latency is high compared to mobile phones, and the technology is bulky and expensive, making them impractical for everyday use. They do, however, come in handy for emergency workers following wars and natural disasters where cellular infrastructure might have been damaged. They are also often used by pilots and people in the military, who will often find themselves in areas with no other sort of phone reception.
    • Some recent and future smartphones support satellite connectivity, but the limited bandwidth means they're limited to text (including GPS information, which is just two pair of numbers anyway) and the pricing for non-emergency messages would deter casual use.
  • In addition to the regular nuisances of phones (phone solicitation, phone scams, political calling, and wrong numbers), cellphones have the added problem of high plan price, high battery drain, and no real pay-cents-per-minute plan in US (there is "pay as you go" but such plans invariably involve paying some sort of monthly service fee which still expires after a month). If a person only uses a phone occasionally, this means they still have to turn to landlines or flip phones, or pay nearly $540 a year. Unfortunately, they are trying to phase out both groups of alternatives.
  • The attendees at the first Pokémon GO event in Chicago, Illinois, overloaded every accessible cell tower due to the large amounts of people attempting to use them playing the game, resulting in nobody being able to use their cell phones in the area.
  • This is the reason that doctors and first responders still rely on pagers. Cell signals often have trouble penetrating thick hospital walls. Pager frequencies are much more reliable.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Dead Phone Death Zone


Comms Are Blocked Again

As Mariner lampshades, it wouldn't be Starfleet if comms didn't arbitrarily fail at the worst possible time.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / CellPhonesAreUseless

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