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Whose antenna is that?

Discussion in 'Cell Tower Hunting Club' started by JFB, Apr 14, 2005.

  1. JFB

    JFB Gold Senior Member
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    Does anybody have any tips about how to tell what kind antenna they are looking at?

    For example, what are some ways to determine::
    • which carrier an antenna belongs to
    • the frequency and network technology being used
    • any other info.

    If you have some tips, post them here and later I'll compile them into a comprehensive list.

    Joe
     
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    #1 JFB, Apr 14, 2005
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2005
  2. bobolito

    bobolito Diamond Senior Member
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    I believe there is no general rule to this. You have to follow your instincts, knowledge and experience, and have some phone in test mode to be able to have a good level identifying accuracy.

    There are, however, some clues you can use, and of course, logic by process of elimination as well. For instance, if you are standing in front of a monopole with 4 carriers in it and you know Nextel is very poor right there, then you know Nextel is not on that tower. Then, you have to know how many carriers have active networks in that area. If you know that Nextel, T-Mobile, Cingular, Verizon and Sprint are the only carriers that serve that market, then you know which four of those five carriers are on the tower. However, not even this logic works all the time. I've seen towers that look like they have 4 or 5 carriers on them, but actually have 3! That is because sometimes carriers install more than one level of panels on the same tower. I know of one tower in my area that only has Cingular blue on it, but since it serves TDMA, AMPS and GSM at 850 and 1900Mhz, the tower looks like it has 3 carriers on it.

    In my area, if you see a monopole with a set of thin, simple-looking panels at the top, with only two panels per sector, then you can pretty much bet that's Sprint. But then again, this rule doesn't work in other areas where Sprint likes to use 4 panels per sector.

    If you see a diamond-shaped piece somewhere near one of the panels, then you can say with certainty that's a GSM carrier. If you have a T-Mobile phone and your Test Mode screen doesn't seem to detect that tower, and the only other GSM carrier in that area is Cingular, then you can pretty much say with certainty that Cingular is on that set of panels. However, there's always the chance that it is T-Mobile but those panels are temporarily not in service. The common assumption is that every tower you see is operating.

    There is one tower near Willian Paterson College here in NJ that I noticed had 3 carriers on it. I figured it was Nextel, T-Mobile and Sprint. I figured that T-Mobile was on it because every time I was approaching it, the Test Field was showing stronger and stronger. After I passed the tower, the signal started to gradually decrease. However, there were another two carriers I needed to determine. Since Cingular blue didn't seem particularly strong by that tower, then I could say they were not one of the other two carriers. I also eliminated Verizon as a possible carrier there because their signal is not very strong either at that point. So that only left two other possibilities: Sprint and Nextel. I was able to confirm the presence of Sprint on that tower by using a Sprint phone and verifying that it behaved just like the T-Mobile phone. Also, I am pretty confident the remaining carrier is Nextel because I know Nextel installs reflector grills behind each of their panels in this area. Secondly, there are no other carriers serving this area, so that has to be Nextel.

    So, you see, this is never an exact science, but more like a guessing game where you have to throw in your personal skills, your logic and the help of a phone, and even then, you may not always be correct, but it helps a lot.
     
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  3. Fire14

    Fire14 Easy,Cheap & Sleazy
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    I thing I will do, is if you can get near the base unit's (without getting arrested) you can look at the Electric meter or the building, they usually have the carriers name listed. I know it doesn't help with the way the antenna look, but it has helped me in the past figure out who is on a tower.
     
  4. Airb330

    Airb330 Silver Senior Member
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    Bobolito pretty much has it down: guessing! I know what panels each carrier uses in my area, how? Narrowing it down, as I've had access to Sprint, T-Mobile, Cingular Blue and Orange and Verizon phones over the years.

    Verizon: Older ones: 4 panels per sector, with each panel being 'bisected' in half (usually this is for 850 only), newer sets have 4 panels per sector....2 of the older thicker bisected ones, and 2 thin white PCS panels per sector

    Cingular: 3-4 of the thick bisected ones described above

    Sprint: older: 3 thin white panels, newer ones only have 1 or 2 PPS

    T-Mobile: slightly thicker than SPCS: 2 panels per sector with two boxes at the top right and left of the panels which I have no idea what they do...

    ATT: Usually 2 white thick PPS, sometimes 2 thick ones, and one thin

    nextel: 4 gray or off white PPS, but not bisected in half like the other 850 carriers
     
  5. ShoresGuy

    ShoresGuy Euer WA Experte in Europa
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  6. MOTOhooligan

    MOTOhooligan Former Mobile Data Addict
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    Ooof... that seems like a lot of work and just reading Bobolito's post has made my head hurt. If only the FCC would have this information listed in detail for lazy people such as myself, this whole tower hunting thing would be a lot easier. :rolleyes:
     
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  7. bobolito

    bobolito Diamond Senior Member
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    The problem is that there is no control over how manufacturers make the panels and no telling which vendor the carriers might go with. Today they can go with a completely different vendor than what they went 5 years ago. Also, they may pick different models depending on their desired coverage pattern and market.

    With the appearance of dual-band networks recently, we are now starting to see a new variant of towers. Up until recently all panels in a sector were identical. Now, they can have two or three panels of one kind and the other panel be totally different. At least this gives you a hint that this is a dual-band carrier. Since there can be no more than two carriers like that in any market, that narrows down your possibilities right there. It also tells you that it cannot be Sprint, Nextel or T-Mobile since they don't own dual-band networks anywhere in the US. As I said, you have to use some logical process of elimination.
     
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  8. MOTOhooligan

    MOTOhooligan Former Mobile Data Addict
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    I would think they would want to put their logo on the panels... they've already paid for the towers, it'd just be free advertising.
     
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  9. RichXKU

    RichXKU Once had +5 dBm RSSI
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    Sounds good, but don't forget all those people who are vehemently opposed to wireless and/or progress in general. They'd have panels getting shot at every other week. People are stupid, it's best to be inconspicuous and just leave them wondering.
     
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  10. Blue_Tech

    Blue_Tech Member
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    Yes, much better to be inconspicuous. Folks who think their wireless should work flawlessly, whether 50 ft underground, wrapped in lead blankets, visiting Ft. Knox, talking to the inlaws while getting an MRI.... its just better if they dont know where the towers are, otherwise it goes to their head and they use it for ammo when they call customer service.

    Especially the one who you finally get to admit that the phone only drops a call about once a week or less, but they swear they live under a tower and their going to call the FCC, the BBB, 20/20, the Attorney General and Bugs Bunny.
     
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  11. MOTOhooligan

    MOTOhooligan Former Mobile Data Addict
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    Yeah, those people are great. :rolleyes: I talk to one of them once a day or more. "I didn't read your contract so now because I don't get coverage everywhere, have unlimited minutes for $10/mo and get a new phone everytime I want one I'm going to write to anyone who I have ever heard of being connected with the wireless industry or any business in general!" However, my personal favorite is the, "My *insert relative here* is a lawyer and s/he said that this is illegal and you can't do this to me!" Those are great. Obviously, your cousin/mother/father/uncle/aunt is the best lawyer in the world and the team of lawyers that Cingular/T-Mobile/Sprint/Verizon have working for them are morons and don't know how to draw up a legally binding contract. Yeah... right. :browani:

    I can see why, when discussing these people that it may not be the best thing in the world to have the carrier logo on the panels because they would probably try to destroy them. I'm just saying, for me, as an amatuer tower hunter, it would be very nice. :p
     
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  12. larry

    larry Sprint loyalist and former mod
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    Sprint labels each of their cell sites here in So. California with a "Sprint PCS network operations" label somewhere on the base of the tower or equipment cabinets. They also use a blue and white radio frequency warning lable with a phone number to call in case of emergency. That number is 1-888-859-1400. Sprint also doesn't enclose their base equipment in a shed like other carriers do. They just put up a chain link fence or block wall around it with no roof.
     
  13. WirelessBeachBum

    WirelessBeachBum Soylent Green is People
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    Is Sprint using Micro cells in that area?
     
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  14. larry

    larry Sprint loyalist and former mod
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    No not where I am. They do use them to cover a few tough to cover roads in the rich areas (beverly Hills, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, etc) of LA County.
     
  15. Andy

    Andy Diamond Senior Member
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    How exactly does that work, equipment wise?? Are those microcells just all linked to each other and at the last microcell there's the equipment somehwere or what??
     
  16. larry

    larry Sprint loyalist and former mod
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    There is equipment at every micro cell location. The equipment is usually either somewhere near the microcell on the ground in a small box or it is buried underground in a vault.
     
  17. RichXKU

    RichXKU Once had +5 dBm RSSI
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    I think he was referring to Telco equipment. If you have an area with alot of microcells rather than one macro cell, it could get expensive buying a T1 for every micro cell.

    Depending on the area, it may be cheaper to backhaul and have a couple T1s at a central location.
     
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  18. jrip

    jrip Senior Member
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    None of the wireless carriers want you to know where they provide coverage. They (ALL of them) want you to just take thier word for it. If you knew exactly where every provider had native coverage you would be able to make an informed decision. An informed customer is not what the wireless industry wants. And just because your phone says no network, or looking for service, does not prove that your provider does not provide service there. It just proves that you are not holding your tounge just right. And its not their fault , because you are supposed to know these things before you become a customer. Now that you have signed a contract you can give them a couple of hundred bucks (per line) and go somewhere else and get treated the same way.
     
  19. Wireless Newbie

    Wireless Newbie New Member

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    What's the difference between Cingular Blue and Cingular Orange? Aren't they all Cingular?

    Also, anyone know how owns the small tower hanging off the overpass on th e Garden State Parkway North (NJ) about a mile past the oradell tolls? There are 2 small towers there - 1 attached to the side of the over pass and the other is on the ground, looks mobile (similar to the highway constrution light poles).

    Thank you.
     
  20. Jay2TheRescue

    Jay2TheRescue Resident Spamslayer
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    Cingular blue is the original AT&T network, Cingular orange is the native Cingular network. In your area it doesn't matter because they already switched all the "blue" towers to "orange" so they all show up as the same network.

    -Jay
     
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