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I'm a cell hunting noob

Discussion in 'Cell Tower Hunting Club' started by MarkyD, Sep 28, 2010.

  1. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    hearing of 700mhz LTE being deployed in the Oklahoma City metro has really piqued my interest in finding cell sites and identifying them. I've been working with an engineer to improve service at my place of employment. It used to be great, but has deteriorated substantially. He sent me this list of things he has proposed to his RF team:

    Down tilt cell 2 gamma that is overshooting into this area.

    (this I get - an antenna needs to be downpointed to avoid the signal hitting this area.)

    Remove down tilt from Cell 42 that currently has 6 degrees to give better penetration into the south area of campus.

    (this I get as well - I think that this is the closest tower and should be dominant, but I'm seeing constant switching between 4-5 different sites since all are weak.)

    Change antennas on Cell 129 beta that currently has swedcom 60 degree antennas to something more along the pattern of Cell 38 that is covering the north part of the campus.

    (Questions on this one: What does "beta" mean in this case? A tower that is in testing? I'd assume that the 60 degree antennas are narrow?)

    Change azimuth or antennas on Cell 135 to something with more narrow beams being that this sites coverage is not desired in this area due to distance and it already has about 6 degrees down tilt.

    (pretty sure I understand...)

    Augment Spans to serving sectors to improve download throughput.

    (does this mean adding additional antennas to the site that serves this area?)

    In the area, we're seeing downstream speeds of 300-400kbps with upload always being close to 1mbps. (EVDO Rev. A).

    Also, does anyone have a picture of what Verizon 700/800 mhz antennas look like? In the area, they only use 850 (no 1900) for CDMA/EVDO. I THINK I'm seeing LTE panels up on a lot of sites, but I'm not certain. Pics would help.

    Last question. On my android phone, I am able to see the Cell Site ID or BID. Problem is, when I've communicated these to my engineer friend, he told me they are incorrect and that the BIDs are far different than what my phone is showing me. I've tried all the apps that show this info, as well as the field test mode. Any ideas?

    Thanks in advance! I'll be back later with some cell site pics :)
     
  2. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    woah, that might be the most advanced post on this site ever concerning towers, lol. There are a few guys on this site that will be able to answer your question, like radioraiders.
    I don't have pics of any LTE sites, but I'de imagine they look just like a regular site, just maybe a different style panel.

    http://gallery.wirelessadvisor.com/showimage.php?i=6514&catid=searchresults&searchid=5411
    That is an example of a user uploaded Verizon site with 1x (no EVDO) and LTE. The smaller antenna is LTE, he claims. Let's see some pics!
     
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  3. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    ok, I took a few pics today. Sorry for the quality; I took them with my HTC Incredible (and the camera is far from incredible, IMO!)

    Here is a site that has LTE. It has 800mhz CDMA/EVDO antennas, which are the SMALLER ones from what I've been told.
    [​IMG]

    Here's some unknown antennas on a water tower. there are 4 on here. Not sure who/what they are, although they are enormous with a line running across the middle.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Here is the water tower at the University of Oklahoma. I'm pretty sure some of these are Verizon but I'm not 100% certain. If my -dBm reading is any indication (-55dBm) than at least one set of these antennas is Verizon.
    (looks like the bottom set.)

    These point right into the stadium:

    [​IMG]

    Now finally, one from Norman, OK. Looks like a multi-carrier site. We also see the massive "split" looking antennas on the bottom layer of this. Still would like to know what/who these are.

    [​IMG]

    I'm going to take my SLR out with me tomorrow to get some better shots.
     
  4. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    Hi MarkyD, welcome to the forum. I'm not quite clear about your post (you are working with a Verizon RF engineer to help improve coverage on your campus?), but I can offer some general comments:

    -antenna downtilts can be electrical or mechanical. Electrical downtilts can sometimes be changed remotely (someone sitting in an office), but mechanical tilts require someone to climb up the tower and change it manually. 0 to -2 downtilt is very slight, -4 to -6 is typical, -6 or more of a downtilt is kind of agressive, usually for very high sites or cities.

    -the antenna beamwidth is the opening angle the antenna transmits at. Think of a flashlight, if you focus the beam. 60° is typical.

    -serving cell: with CDMA (and WCDMA) if there's several weak cells, it's a bad thing because they interfere with each other. There needs to be a dominant serving cell in order to have a good quality.

    -BID: I don't know about CDMA, but in GSM and UMTS the Cell ID is transmitted in hexidecimal and re-converted to decimal on your phone display. Maybe the engineer is referring to the BID in hex? Or maybe he is referring to the cells by the name given internally by Verizon? There internal cell names are not broadcast on the radio, but he should know that. Since you have Android, you can download my Cellumap app from the Android Market and plot some coverage points around your campus, and ask your engineer friend to have a look.
     
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  5. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    to be more clear, I work at a large facility close to the airport (not a college campus...but we call it a "campus.") Service has degraded substantially in the last 6 months, so they sent an engineer out to do some field tests. Funny you mentioned Cellumap...I sent him plots from another app on the market. At the time I did my plotting, Cellumap did not support CDMA. I see that it does now, so I'll be sure to give it a shot.

    You are also correct about several weak sites. We are unable to lock onto a dominant site out here anymore, so he is working to make one of the sites dominant (short term) and get a new site put up eventually.

    Side note: I've been super impressed with Verizon's customer service. The engineer assigned to the case gives me weekly updates and has been incredibly professional, and willing to answer all my questions. I'm sure it helps that we have almost 8k employees on this "campus..."

    thanks for your information! you appear to be a very valuable resource around here.
     
  6. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    Hi MarkyD, strange, why did VZW's service degrade in the last 6 months? Did they lose a lease to a site in the area and haven't found a replacement? If your facility/campus has 8k people, then that's no doubt important place for the cellcos to cover. They might want to install some micro-cells there?

    I've worked with radio 15 years (10 with cellular), and just happen to love what I do :) I like to post here to keep my chops up and have fun ;) I made Cellumap for cellular "hobbyists" so that can plot their own cellular coverage and see things from the network side a little bit. I made it last summer supporting Symbian (GSM only), then BlackBerry (CDMA, GSM, iDen and UMTS) around March, and now Android (CDMA, GSM, UMTS) just a few weeks ago. There's some other similar apps popping up, each slightly different, but I think Cellumap is the most comprehensive, for a free app, as you can see not only signal strength but BID, timestamp and other stuff... probably useful in your situation as well.
     
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  7. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    I'm not sure if you know the ins and outs of CDMA since your in Europe, but as I understand it, the more users there are on a CDMA site, the smaller the coverage area gets for that site. I think its called cell site breathing. If there was a sudden influx of users to a site, that sites coverage range may have shrunk, which could have been there dominant site in the past.
     
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  8. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    Yea, "cell breathing" happens in UMTS (WCDMA) as well. But it doesn't cause the RSSI (signal strength) to decrease, but rather the interference to increase (Ec/Io) which means that people toward the "outside" of the cell may not be able to make a call because of the interference (while people closer to the site remain unaffected)... so cell-breathing does reduce the effective radius of the cell, but the RSSI never changes.

    ex: imagine you are standing at one end of a room and someone is talking to you from the other end of the room. If the room is empty, you can hear him fine. If other people come into the room and start talking, you may not be able to hear him anymore over everyone elses chatter, and may need to move closer to hear him. That's cell breathing.
     
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  9. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    I see! well, there goes my idea. Maybe a new building was put up in the area, blocking the signal path.
     
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  10. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    Well, here's the deal. I work for the government. The property we sit on is owned by the city of Oklahoma City. Verizon is ready to put up LTE/EVDO antennas on our water tower TOMORROW, but politics are getting in the way. Government says they don't want antennas on the water tower, and they'll only let VZW build a cell site here if they'll allow other carriers to co-locate their equipment for free. (WHAT?!) it makes NO sense. Sprint has been trying to get micro cells or ANYTHING on-site for a long time too, and have been met with nothing but political opposition. I have no idea why the upper management doesn't want us to have good coverage out here...somehow, I'm sure money is involved, as with everything else.


    As for degradation of service...Verizon just came to OKC about a year ago when they acquired Alltel's assets. Alltel was well established here, but Verizon didn't have any presence. About six months ago, service went in the toilet. No new buildings. I'm guessing an influx of users or something. The site that SHOULD be dominant, however, has lots of "blank" spaces for antennas. I think it is a capacity issue.
     
  11. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    Oh, I see, politics and mergers, no wonder your cell service is a little batty lately :googlyeye Could be a capacity issue, if the nearest cell is congested it will block you out of it, and your phone will look for the next best cell, if that one is also congested, then etc. until you can finally lose service.

    Anyway, I guess this poor VZW engineer is trying to piece things together and make things work in the meantime. I guess cell ID's maybe mixed up if it was an Alltel site that was brought into VZW's network. But I'm sure it'll be useful to him if he can call you and ask you for Cell ID's and signal strengths if he makes any changes from the network side, that will save him the hassle of sending a VZW tech out there.
     
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  12. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    Yeah, I feel for the guy. the reason I have my "own" engineer is that I was a VERY squeaky wheel. Several visits to the store to talk to a manager, several calls to customer service...

    The first CSR I talked to told me "oh yes, we are working on a new cell site down the road." I checked with the planning commission and they said there was nothing. So, at that point, I emailed the VP of operations for Oklahoma...and got a call from him within an hour. The very next day, my new engineer friend was here on-site taking readings.

    What you said about the BID info, etc...sounds right. As he has made changes, he's called me to ask what site I'm connecting to, if it is still hopping around...-dBm levels, etc. I've been getting him some really good info. I'm trying to make his job easier ;)

    he's been working with the same "company" for 20 years. He was with the original AT&T wireless, then Alltel, now VZW...only because of acquisitions over the years. Super nice, informative, knowledgeable guy overall.
     
  13. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    This is a site in OKC that I'm 100% certain is an LTE site. It's right across the street
    from a VZW corporate store. My engineer buddy told me this was one of the first
    LTE sites built in the area.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  14. TelcomJunkie

    TelcomJunkie Bad Handoff Investigator
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    If your phone, while standing in one area is constantly switching between four to five (or more sites) you'd pretty much identified the problem. In most areas, and especially ones with high user density, you want to minimize the sectors available. CDMA phones lock on to the individual PN offset of each site sector. Typical CDMA sites have three sectors, Alpha, Beta and Gamma (this should answer your later question...). Most phones handle receiving three different PN's at one time and using values provided by the system determine when to switch from using one site to another. In areas of high available PN's but similar RSSI's, the phone can bounce around constantly, never staying on one site for very long.

    Beta is just referring to a specific sector on cell 129. 60 degrees is the horizontal beam-width of the antenna, antennas come in varying beam-widths, both fixed and adjustable. I don't know the area you're in, but 60 degree - 90 degrees is fairly common in city areas. One problem with wider antennas is you typically loose gain, so by swapping from a 60 to say a 65 may not fix your problem, unless you are on the side of the antenna. If this is the case, you'd be better served by them realigning the azimuth of the antenna to be directed more towards you but that also might kill coverage for another area.

    By augmenting the spans, he plans on requesting additional backhaul circuits to the serving sites EVDO side. Most carriers have system that enable them to monitor the usage and throughput that the users are receiving. It's quite possible that even with your high speeds, there are times that the site is getting bogged down.
     
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  15. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    so, apparently AT&T DOES have a cell site here on campus. this is giving me some ammunition to get Verizon out here. I've never seen a site like this...I'm guessing it's some sort of micro-site or repeater system. It shows up on phones as two separate sites. All the AT&T guys in the center are using these and getting great speeds.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  16. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    I'm not sure what that thing is, but I seriously doubt it is an antenna grouping for a cell network. If it is, it's the first i've seen anything like that. You almost never see a cell tower that low, unless it is high up on a hillside or mountain. Also, cell networks don't really use omni-directional antennas anymore.
    That is more than likely a 2-way radio system, like police communications or something like that. I also don't see any of the base equipment that normally goes with a cell site. Did you see any marking or logos on that array>
     
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  17. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    Trust me. I was skeptical too. This site was confirmed by multiple Android devices on ATT using the app netmonitor. It maps the exact location of the connected site on Google maps. This is clearly some sort of microcell or repeater setup. It is only designed to cover our facility. I know its odd, but its definitely an ATT cell site of some sort. Standing 50 feet from it with a galaxy s, I had -50 dBm and excellent speeds. There is no real ATT site for 2 miles or so.
     
  18. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    Interesting. We will have to wait to see what radioraiders has to say about this. What a weird setup.
     
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  19. TelcomJunkie

    TelcomJunkie Bad Handoff Investigator
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    I'm gonna say that one is an FAA VHF radio installation, not cellular.
     
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  20. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    That's what I thought.
     
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  21. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    Then how do you explain the cell mapping software, and perfect signal? There are no ATT towers close by. As soon as you leave the facility on ATT, you lose signal. I can't think or anywhere else it could be hiding.
     
  22. TelcomJunkie

    TelcomJunkie Bad Handoff Investigator
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    Possibly ATT has a BDA on the facility itself, but what you pictured today is, at least the lattice tower, is a FAA installation.
     
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  23. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    I'm confused then. I've scoured every square inch of this campus and can't see anything that even remotely resembles a cell antenna. I mean, this is the EXACT COORDINATES that the netmonitor app is reporting. It's never wrong - I have tracked down dozens of cell sites using this program.

    As for a BDA on the facility itself, this is a "compound" with 20-some-odd buildings.
    Every building has an omni antenna on top and wilson amps/repeaters INSIDE the building, as it's THICK and shielded. Not even 850 can make it in there very well. That said, AT&T guys are the ONLY ones who get good signal OUTSIDE the buildings. I'm guessing all the radar equipment makes it hard for clean signal to get inside the area.

    Now, I'm not saying I don't believe you that it's not an ATT setup...I'm just confused as to where it's hiding, because judging by the -dBm readings, it IS on the campus and VERY close to that spot where I took the pics.
     
  24. spleck

    spleck Tool
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    Is it possible the white omni setup is AT&T's? There IS a grill separating the two... :)
     
  25. TelcomJunkie

    TelcomJunkie Bad Handoff Investigator
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    I really doubt the white omni's are ATT's and really, I don't see the ATT logo on the grill... but I would really appreciate that sunshade!
     
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  26. MarkyD

    MarkyD New Member

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    could it be some third-party contractor setup designed for AT&T customers?
     
  27. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    There is no app that can ever pinpoint a cell-site correctly, simply because the coordinates of the site are not broadcast...except in CDMA, but Verizon blocks that. So apps like netmonitor (or also try "Antennas" in the Android market) use Google Cell ID look-up, which is not really a cell site database, but a "guess" of where the cell-site could be, based on the info they have gathered, (everytime someone opens Google Maps on their phone with GPS activated, it reports the location and signal strength). So in short, don't beleive any "cell-site locator app" 100%. It could be 100% correct, it could be close, or it could be a few miles off.

    ...as for that picture: I'll back up Yankees guess, long omni-antennas look like some kinda low-freqency police or saftey thing. Don't know why AT&T's signal is strong there. COuld just happen to have line-of-site there to an AT&T site off in the distance. Or maybe they have some kind of repeater worked into that mess somewhere. Hard to guess.
     
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  28. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    Bingo. Even with those location apps, their accuracy has been killed by Android 2.2, at least on Sprint. It always shows the tower location as right next to me. You are probably right that that exact spot has line of sight to an AT&T site, and it's just a weird set of circumstances at work.
     
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  29. Jay2TheRescue

    Jay2TheRescue Resident Spamslayer
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    Where was this photo taken? I find it hard to believe that

    #1. Cell antennas would be set so close to the ground

    #2. What's the deal with the $600 aluminum carport and the gas grill? Looks the the back of a fire station to me. I vote for police/fire/rescue
     
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  30. Yankees368

    Yankees368 Compulsive Signal Checker
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    Yeah, cell companies don't splurge for such luxuries like this. Such pork spending is likely a government agency.
     
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