Mobile Phone Signals, Mast Usage, and Efficiency

This article from SIMsurprise.co.uk looks at one system that helps your mobile telephone use masts and antennae efficiently.

Like traveling by car (using hands free of course!), train, aeroplane or any other form of transport, it is nice to go from "A" to "B" with as little fuss and bother as possible, without going "around the houses" so to speak.

Perhaps you see it as a waste of time, effort, and resources, to go out of your way when there are more efficient ways of traveling - London to Plymouth via Manchester for example is not a particularly efficient route if you have no business in visiting Manchester - the author here has nothing personal against Manchester though.

So too, your phone signal and the masts used to convey your calls and texts is most efficiently transferred using appropriately positioned masts utilising a system where only the necessary resources (masts) are used.

Avoiding the masts that are nowhere near you or the phone you are communicating with.

Like in your car going from A to B - the calls you make, or receive, only need use the masts required to convey that call.

How does your mobile phone communicate your position to masts?

From time to time, if near a loud speaker, for example radio or television set, you may have heard a "pulsing" or "blipping".

This is a signal transmitted by your phone - basically saying "I am here".

This signal is transmitted, typically every few minutes, so that if on the move - after all we are speaking about mobile telephones - the network is regularly updated with your new location

This signal is picked up by the nearest mast - or base station.

The network now knows where your phone is located.

So broadly, for example, if you are in London and receive a call from a friend or colleague in Plymouth - the network knows the caller is in Plymouth, and that you are in London, therefore masts that are in Scotland would not need to be used to communicate the call.

Why is this system used?

This system is used for two broad reasons.

In no particular order:

  1. Unnecessary masts are not used - each mast in the land can only handle a finite number of calls at any one time;
  2. The shorter the distance the call has to travel the less likely there is going to be any "drop-off" in signal strength.

Having mentioned item 1 above, if a particular mast is already operating at, or near, its maximum call handling capacity then the call may be diverted via a mast a little further away, but will still utilise a mast that keeps the "traveled" distance to as close to minimum as possible.

What other mobile phone signals are there?

This topic will be covered in a different article soon but as a taster . . .

. . . in addition to the "I am here" signals spoken about in this article, there are also other signals transmitted.

If you switch your phone off, or on, a signal is also transmitted to the network telling the network that your phone has been switched off, or switched on, accordingly - the date and time of this event can also be logged by the network.

Further to this article we shall soon write another article on a similar topic going into more depth about the positioning, and signals of mobile telephones and how this can be used to track people's whereabouts and movements.

Some telephones use a Global Positioning System (GPS) so the position of a telephone can be pinpointed quite accurately - down to a specific room in a specific house, on a specific date and time.


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Tim Austin writes articles about various aspects of the Mobile Phone industry.

More articles are available by visiting www.SIMsurprise.co.uk