How Mobile Phone Masts Work


Masts, antennae and base stations

Strictly speaking a mast is just that, a tower or pole that sticks up into the air – usually 15m. The parts that actually enable us to send and receive calls are separate elements; antennas and radio base stations. The mast itself simply lifts the antennae to the height where they can transmit and receive radio waves.

When you make a call your phone converts voice or data into radio waves that are transmitted to the nearest base station. The base station determines if the call is to another mobile phone or to a landline and routes the call accordingly. If it is to someone on the same network then the call can be directed via base stations to the site closest to the recipient and transmitted via the antennae.

The role of Cells
The mobile phone network operates on the cell principle. The network operators divide a territory up into thousands (in the case of the UK) of discrete areas – cells – that contain a base station and antennae, plus a mast if required.  Each cell provides coverage for a specific area and because their coverage overlaps calls can be passed between cells as people move around.

Cell density and positioning are driven by population distribution and topography. There are more cells in the urban area to cater for higher traffic levels and, sometimes, to mitigate interference caused by tall buildings. Low power cells called “picocells” can also be deployed inside buildings such as airports where there is a high concentration of users.

Cell Site Analysis
How mobile networks work and the way in which they are configured is extremely important to Disklabs. We need to understand the coverage of the mobile networks in precise detail when conducting Cell Site Analysis, a technique for identifying the movement and use of mobile phones and communications devices. Details about the height of masts, local geography and cell types can mean the difference between a guilty or not guilty verdict, or whether a suspect is apprehended.

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