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Is it true that a modem (such as a 3G dongle) will use more power when signal strength is weak that when signal strength is strong? Also, can someone link me to a resource that discusses this? What is the variation in power usage between weak and strong signal for an average modem?

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Indeed, GSM devices in general change their transmission power when receiving a weak signal. The technique is called transmission power control, or just power control.

I'm also 99% sure that they change the amplification of the receiver.

Note that when receiving or making a call, the transmitter will start at higher power, to lower it afterwards when the connession is established. That's why some people advocate waiting a second before taking it to the ear.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that in G3 this power control is adapted lots of times per second based on the timining to the base station. \$\endgroup\$
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 9:26

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