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How to Find Your Nearest Cell Tower Locations

The first step in improving the quality of your cellular signal in your home or business is to determine the nearest cell tower locations for your carrier.

The location of your nearest cell tower, and obstacles in between, can potentially cause signal issues where you’re at. Knowing where your nearest tower is can help you determine if there is an easy way to improve your signal, and if not, whether a cell phone signal booster system will work for you. We’ll walk you through how to determine your best cell tower location in this article.

Some Background About Cell Tower Locations

Here is some background information about cell towers and the sources that can be used to determine the locations of your carrier’s cell towers.

  • Cell sites are required to register with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only if the antenna height is over 200 feet, or if they are within a designated flight path near an airport. Less than 50% of towers are registered as such.
  • Cell sites are required to be registered if they fall under one of a few National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requirements.
  • Mobile carriers do not willingly disclose their tower locations for safety and security reasons.
  • A cell tower can have anywhere from 1-5 carriers providing service from it.
  • A cell tower does not have to provide coverage in a full 360 degree circle.
  • FCC Registered towers show only the owner and coordinates, not which carriers are using it to provide service.
  • Towers can have from 1-7 different categories of cell service (e.g., 2G, 3G, and 4G) available from them.
  • It is estimated by industry experts that 35-40% of all cell sites are not registered. This does not include any small cell sites, of which almost all are exempt from registration. A small cell is merely a compact, low power version of a tower based transmitter system. These are usually mounted on buildings or utility poles, and serve a much smaller and specific area than a tower based transmitter

There are a lot of different sources of cell tower data that can provide useful information on cell tower locations, however, each source has its own pros and cons.

Places to start your search:

The FCC Website
The FCC website has a significant amount of information and can be very useful if you are familiar with the industry, but much of the data is very raw, so it requires some work to find the information you’re looking for. This data source is going to be most beneficial for people familiar with the industry.

Carrier Maps (Links Below)
Each cellular carrier has their own maps displaying where they provide coverage. Two things to keep in mind when looking at carrier maps; they show coverage only, not tower locations, and each carrier typically has multiple maps for different uses, such as marketing, sales, and engineering.

Below is a screen shot for a typical coverage map that Sprint uses for marketing. The entire area in yellow denotes cell coverage.

Sprint Coverage Map

Source: Sprint.com

The map below is a typical overlay used by a carrier sales team showing more detailed coverage.

Sprint Detailed Coverage Map

Source: Mark F. Rewers

The map below is an example of an engineering map for the same area, where the green areas represent the actual areas that would get adequate reception, red would be spotty, and light red may show signal but would not be able to place calls or use fast data.

Sprint Engineering Map

Source: Mark F. Rewers

You can take a look for yourself at the coverage maps used for marketing purposes at the links below:

Websites for Locating Cell Towers

Cell Reception
This website uses data from the FCC database, third party information, Public Safety records, and FCC Radio Broadcast licenses to best determine where cell towers are located. It is better than most that rely on registrations only or crowdsourcing. This site will also give you an end user sampling of reception and coverage.

Antenna Search
This website also uses data from the FCC database, third party information, Public Safety records, and FCC radio Broadcast licenses to determine cell tower locations. This site does not have as much cell tower information as Cell Reception, which would indicate its records are less complete, and its updates less frequent.

Root Metrics
This site will not give you tower locations, but it is the best site for researching accurate, unbiased and scientific results for reception, coverage and cellphone performance. Root metrics will give you the carrier ratings for upload and download speeds, text connectivity, call connectivity, and overall network reliability. All tests and results are third party independent and uniformly tested, for all carriers.

Mobile Apps for Locating Cell Towers and Testing Reception

There are multiple mobile apps that claim to locate cell towers, however, by and large almost all are to some degree inaccurate, as they are dependent on the timely and complete updating of all new tower locations as they come on line from the FCC. Additionally, there is an element of error using realtime triangulation and crowdsourced data gathering, so the results may not be completely correct.

Some of the paid apps are more accurate, but they require the insertion of cell tower base station information by a professional.

Open Signal
This app and website uses crowdsourced data and FCC tower locations as its means of identifying cell tower locations. It was originally built for the Connect America Act of the US Federal Government. Subsequently, it was taken over as a private enterprise and is now trying to establish itself as an authority on grading the service of each carrier rather than as a tower location app.

The information provided may not be completely accurate, as much of the coverage data is gathered through the app while it is in use. The tower location information is a combination of data from the FCC database and user generated triangulation data gathered while the app is active. This app can provide you with a good starting point for determining your nearest cell tower location, but we would still recommend using the manual verification process outlined later to confirm the tower location.

The diagram below illustrates how triangulation works, by using multiple cell phone locations to determine the cell tower location. The problem with this is that the approximate orientation of the towers could be off by as much as 90 degrees and thus show your tower in the wrong location.

Cell Phone Triangulation for Tower Location

Source: The Wrongful Convictions Blog

Ookla
This is a cell speed test application only and will not give you a tower location. It is very similar to Open Signal in that it uses crowdsourced data, so all of the same shortcomings that result from 3rd party data still apply. However, this is a very handy app to know exactly what your data speed is at in any given location for both cellular and Wi-Fi, especially when testing if a signal booster system has improved the data speeds for you.

Network Signal Pro
This app has two versions, a lite app that is free, but doesn’t have all the latest tower information, and a pro version for $4.99, which has the most up to date and comprehensive mapping data available. They have incorporated some carrier databases in addition to FCC registered tower information. This is a good value for the price if you have a need to locate towers on a regular basis.

Antenna Pointer
This app can be used in the field to aim a directional antenna by giving you the correct degree setting for your target cell tower (more on this is below).

Professional Equipment

Depending on your expertise, amount of usage, and degree of accuracy you require, you may consider using professional equipment to determine cell tower locations. This type of equipment is far more accurate and will provide you with more detailed information about the current signal environment and the direction of the best tower for your carrier. If this type of equipment is of interest to you, the following are a few examples of professional signal meters:

Please contact one of our signal experts for assistance and questions.

How to Confirm Your Carrier’s Cell Tower Location

If you choose to download and use one of the apps as a starting point that is great. However, it is h2ly recommend that you complete a manual verification of any app findings or conclusions.

General Notes:

  • 2G/3G readings are on a -113 dBm scale with -102 dBm the cutoff for fairly stable connection.
  • 4G (LTE) readings are on a -140 dBm scale with -118 dBm as the cutoff for stable connection.
  • Buildings, trees, distance, and more affect signal strength.
  • Don’t wrap your hand around the phone when taking signal readings, as you are covering the antennas and blocking some signal.
  • Do make sure you allow sufficient time for your phone to gather information and provide an accurate reading.
  • Don’t take your first reading immediately. Allow the phone about 60 seconds to update and provide you with the most accurate data.

To manually determine your cell tower direction do the following:

  1. Open the field test mode in your phone. Instructions for doing this can be found in our field test mode guide.
  2. Alternatively, use one of the signal reading apps mentioned above.
  3. Go outside to one of the corners of your home or building.
  4. Standing with your back to the building, take your first reading (Note: readings fluctuate due to cell activity, antenna angles, carriers, etc.) waiting approximately 60 seconds for reading to stabilize, then take your lowest reading in the next 15-30 seconds.
  5. Write down the reading.
  6. Repeat this procedure at all four corners and the four midpoints of the building.
  7. From the center of your building draw directional arrows through your two lowest readings (see illustration below).
  8. Draw a third arrow from the middle of the building, bisecting the first two arrows.
  9. Standing on the side of building having the two lowest readings, use the antenna pointer app to approximate the degree angle of the third arrow.

The diagram below illustrates how to use your signal readings to determine the tower location:

How to Determine Cell Tower Locations Diagram

Source: Mark F. Rewers

Conclusion

With these procedures you should have a very good approximation of the direction of your carrier’s cell tower.

Please note that the procedures outlined in this article are specific to one carrier, and if you desire to have coverage for more than one carrier, you should repeat this procedure with equipment from each specific carrier you wish to boost.

If you have coverage from more than two towers in opposite directions, please contact a support professional at UberSignal for assistance.