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More Resources for Locating Cell Sites
People and equipment that can aid you in finding cellular sites. The better your people and technical skills, the better your results.
People Resources:

You'll be surprised how much you can learn if you just ask. This is a list of places to look for the right people. Some will question your intentions. Normally, if you're honest and polite, they'll share what they know. You may need to be persistent, but always be nice.

  • Your City or County:
    These people can normally be reached by phone and there should be several people who should know site locations. The task is to find the right person. Virtually all cell sites require a building permit so the Building Department should know them all. However, these are busy people so you may need to ask around to find someone willing to help. Most cell sites need 'special consideration' so often a "Community Development" or "Facilities Coordinator" gets involved. Don't limit your search to public 'officials', normally the 'coordinator', clerk or even a secretary knows more than the boss.

  • Special Facilities and Districts:
    These are the semi-public organizations that have significant real estate, building or infrastructure holdings. Check your state department of highways, local housing authority, school board, park district and the like.
  • Building Managers:
    You may see or suspect a cell site located on the rooftop of a nearby building. Call the building's manager. Some buildings have a receptionist who may have spoken to the cellular installers and repair persons and know which carrier they are working with.

  • Utilities:
    Cell sites can be found on water towers, power poles and other infrastructure. These organizations are often large and it may be difficult to find the right person to help you. Being nice helps your cause.

  • Your Homeowners Association:
    Cellular carriers normally notify your HOA about nearby cell site installation and some actually rent space in your common areas. If you haven't contacted your HOA before, this is a great reason to look them up.

  • Wireless Construction Companies:
    They could be as close as your yellow pages. These could be very small and you might end up ringing the owner's cell phone. Make a friend here, though, and you'll be golden. A 6-pack (or flowers) might help the exchange of information.

  • The Nearby Cellular Store:
    Knowledge varies widely but some of these employees may know nearby cell site locations. If you visit a corporate-owned cellular store, seek out the "geek", maybe the guy who fixes phones, and ask. However, you might need to take some of this information with a grain of salt as it may be slanted to sell you a phone.

Technical Tools:

Equipment is simple: a cellular phone is all you need to find cell sites. You are entering the world of "DF", Direction Finding, where even modest equipment can pinpoint a cell site's location.

  • Your Current Phone
    The simplest and roughest way to find a cell site is to look at your phone's signal meter...the "bars". If you see "full" bars everywhere, you need to find a way to reduce the signal to the phone. You can wrap the phone will aluminum foil with just the screen exposed. The idea is to drop the "bars" on the phone's screen. Another possible method is to leave the phone on the floor of your car. Then, walk or drive in any direction. If the bars rise, you are approaching the cell site, if they fall, you are traveling away from it. Average the distance between where you find the 2nd highest reading and found your most likely location.

    To further refine your search, travel in a perpendicular line to your previous search to find another average point of maximum signal. Where the two lines cross indicates the most likely location of a cell site. Radio signals can fool you, though. Your areas of greatest signal could be locations where your phone only happens to "see" a strong signal from a distant site.

  • Enter Your Phone's Programming or "Debug" Menu

    This site search method is the same as above, but your phone can give you a more precise signal measurement. You need to access your phone's Programming Menu. Unfortunately, every phone is different in how it accesses it's menu. A web search with your phone's model number and "Programming menu", or "Debug" may yield results. The most common code for US CDMA phones was "040793". Smart phones may yield this information with an App that will show cell site signal strength. Once your screen shows the appropriate numerical data, you'll see it is constantly changing...this is the RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) which will vary as you move the phone around, even slightly. In the image on the right, that number is "F3". The number is normally shown as negative ("-"), and the weaker the signal, the greater the number. However, as in this case, some screens show a hexadecimal number, such as that on the right. The RSSI of "F3" is within a range from "80" as the lowest, to "7F" as the highest. As above, finding a way to reduce the signal at the phone provides more useful results. Don't drive and watch the screen!

  • Try an Old Phone
    Some phones are easier than others to access their digital signal indicator. Older phones may be easier to "hack," although information on older models is disappearing from the web. Old digital phones are available at cheap prices at source like eBay. Analog and TDMA phones are not useful for searching.

  • Cell Signal App's
    There are now some downloadable Apps for Smart phones that reveal the location ID information that is broadcast by some cell sites. The data phone can only "see" sites that are transmitting compatible technology (CDMA, GSM). In many cases the cell site location data is not properly programmed on to the signal.

  • Serious Direction Finding
    There are serious "DF'ers" who track down radio signals as a hobby or as a life-saving tool. The Wikipedia has more on radio Direction Finding Devices as does the American Radio Relay League. Don't expect to find someone who will actually help you look for a site, but they may explain how to do it and direct you to other resources.

  • This is what you will see when you have arrived.
    Be safe! Always drive safely when searching for cell sites. Keep your eyes on the road.

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