How do cell and telecom towers work?
A cell tower, telecom tower or mobile mast is a structure equipped with antennae and other necessary electronics, transmitters, receivers and power sources needed to relay a mobile phone signal.
When you make a call, your mobile phone connects to the nearest available cell tower (or the nearest mobile mast on your provider’s network) and that tower sends your outgoing signal, as well as sending incoming voice and other data back to your handset.
It’s a similar process to the way a radio transmitter broadcasts music and other radio shows – and in fact the signal from your smartphone uses the radio frequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
How many cell towers do we need?
You can spot cell towers in many urban locations, for example on top of tall buildings or on poles outside petrol stations where they are able to provide a strong signal to a large surrounding area.
An elevated, unobstructed position is better, as passing through any physical objects can attenuate the radio frequency signal and reduce the range, quality or both of the mobile mast.
In densely populated areas, such as city centres, it’s normal to find a larger number of mobile masts, while in rural areas like farms and small villages there might only be one or a few at most to serve the local population and anyone passing through.
How mobile masts let you keep moving
Once you place your call, you are not limited to keeping within range of the first cell tower you connect to.
Instead, the base station that handles your call can keep you connected while transferring you from one telecom tower to the next – so you can make long mobile phone calls during journeys without having to redial.
The base station automatically switches you to the tower with the strongest signal, which is why in rural locations with fewer towers, your call quality might rise and fall as you move around.
Why cell towers are important
Good cell towers are crucial to allowing people to make and receive calls, as well as send and receive data and text messages.
In remote locations, it’s important to provide mobile masts that offer good strong signals over the widest possible area, with backup power to keep providing that service without interruption.
Meanwhile in urban areas, it’s often more about erecting enough mobile masts to serve the dense local population, including at peak times like New Year’s Eve when the local capacity can determine whether well-wishers’ messages get through on time or not.