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How Cell Towers Work: Hands-On!

How Cell Towers Work: Hands-On!


– That mobile phone in your hand is a stunning piece of technology that’s almost completely useless without a network to power it. When you’re at home or in the office, that’s taken care of by wifi. But when you go out into the world, you need a cellular network
to keep you connected. That’s why you see cell towers all over the place these days. But the most interesting ones are those you don’t see. I asked AT&T to take me
on a tour of two of them. One in a church steeple, and one on top of a mountain. And to my great surprise, they said yes. I’m Michael Fisher. Join me to learn about the network behind your phone on the Mr. Mobile tower tour. (upbeat music) Duxbury, Massachusetts. Home of excellent oysters, beautiful coastlines and Shakespeare productions featuring familiar YouTubers. Down the road from all that, is the First Parish Unitarian Church built in 1840. Nothing seems out of the ordinary as you cross the parlor and pass the pews in the meeting house. But when you head up in the attic, you find more cables than
any church should need. It’s nothing nefarious though. These are the conduits feeding the cell tower, or more properly, the cell site hidden up above. Obscured in the steeple itself to preserve Duxbury’s bucolic landscape. We followed the cables
up some narrow stairs and I do mean narrow. The hardhat isn’t just for looks. And we come to the bell tower. Yes the bell is real and yes it still works. (bell chimes) Now we’re pretty high off
the ground at this point but not quite far enough to be optimal for the kind of coverage this site needs. So it’s up an even smaller ladder to the base of the steeple itself. This is where the magic happens. Magic you can hear on the audio feed here. (audio feedback ringing) That’s the sound of one of the camera’s poorly shielded components reacting to the radio
frequency energy up here. And while that might sound scary, it’s actually safe. The workers who have to come up here to service the equipment are safe because they follow strict procedures. And the people down below in the church are safe for two reasons. The first is called the oil rig effect. The antennas up on the steeple aren’t pointed straight down, but outward. Which makes sense if you think about it. The second reason is something called the inverse square law. See radio frequency energy
drops off with distance, and it does it fast. Up here in the steeple, I’m standing about 10 feet
from one of the antennas. Down at ground level, about 50 feet away. The RF signal is 16 times weaker. This is one of the reasons carriers need to build so many cell sites to cover a given area. The further you get from a tower, the harder your phone has to work to stay connected to it. For the same reason, this entire church
steeple had to be replaced with a fiber glass replica. Which is why you can see the sun glowing through it here. Fiberglass is more transparent
to radio waves than wood. It’s all about getting the
strongest possible connection to your phone. But the radio side is
just part of the story. The data packets that flip back and forth when you send a text message or subscribe to a YouTube channel, well they have to traverse the internet. And to get to it, landlines are still usually the most efficient way. So we follow the conduits back down the steeple, through the church and out back to the equipment shelter. This basically a concrete shack where the connection to the
landline network happens. This is what’s called back-haul. And these days it’s all done with fiber. You ever wonder what happens
if the power goes out? Well that’s where this rack of
lead acid batteries come in. They provide an uninterrupted power supply in an event of an outage. There’s also a diesel generator outside with enough fuel to power the site for about a day. Generally that’s more than
enough to last through the storm in this part of the country. Speaking of storms, this south side doesn’t
worried about them much. Tucked away as it is inside that cozy church. Well I wanted to see a tower that was a little more rough and tumble. So I woke up early one day and drove and drove and drove up to the white mountain of New Hampshire. Specifically, Mount Washington, the highest point in the
Northeastern United States and 20th century record holder for highest wind speed ever recorded. In fact as I wrote this script, the mountain had just
broken another record for coldest recorded
temperature at the summit at minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Well that’s why I went up there in August on what turned out to be a gorgeous day. It’s still a treacherous
ride up the incline though. So at 2700 feet, I traded in my rental car for more appropriate transportation. (train horn blares) it took about 45 minutes to chug the remaining 3500 feet to the summit. Much of it at angles
almost too steep to stand. But I hopped off at the very
peak of Mount Washington. The weather was still excellent. And the views were amazing. The climate was so good during my visit, that in fact it was hard to imagine the kind of violent storms I heard about. Until I rounded a corner and saw this. This is not the tower I came to see. It’s a microwave
transmitter for back-haul. More on this in a second. Anyway this cover was made of fiberglass and it was almost totally demolished. As I meandered around the mountain top, I saw several of these things. And fiberglass and canvas alike just ripped right open by the punishing weather here. Some were just plain missing. Now I had assumed that one
of these huge structures was the AT&T site. No these are actually old school. They’re FM transmitters for radio stations WPKQ and WHOM In fact the tower that I came to see, it’s this humble little stove pipe. This was a pre-existing structure that AT&T acquired. It’s history stretching all the way back to the 60’s when it was built as a transmitter for TV station WMTW. Well it’s been here ever since. So apparently these cable stays are indeed as strong as they look. Remember all the antenna equipment we saw up in the steeple in Duxbury? Well imagine all of that crammed into this. There’s not quite as much gear in here since there’s just the one carrier. But it’s still a densely
packed mammoth of machinery. The mast is actually part of the site, covering lands south of the mountain. The northern regions are taken care of by a dedicated sector built on to the side of the observatory. It looks much more like the antennas you’re probably used to seeing
on towers and buildings. By the way, the clouds really do move
this quickly up here. It’s pretty awesome. Following the wave gods
into the yankee building, we can see that the equipment shelter looks much the same as the one down in Duxbury but a little more spartan. Well because it’s at
the top of a mountain. This site doesn’t have the
kind of fiber back-haul to connect it to the landline network like Duxbury does. Instead it relies on microwave back-haul. Remember those beat up antennas? And this particular installation hasn’t yet been updated to support LTE. So for the moment, this is one of the few AT&T sites left in the whole country that doesn’t have it. The company tells me
it’s planning an upgrade for this spring. As soon as it’s safe to
work on the mountain again. At which point, even this tower will be an LTE site. Both of the cell sites I visited did the same job. Filling up that signal bar on your phone. But each has to deal with it’s own particular challenges to do that. Down in Duxbury, keeping people happy meant refitting half a church so folks could preserve
the look of their town instead of adding a cell tower. Up on Mount Washington, aesthetics are secondary. The primary concern is keeping the tower
upright and broadcasting. Even as punishing weather pummels the site nine months out of the year. There are a great many more challenges to running a network from capacity concerns, to roaming agreements. And maybe I’ll take a closer look at those in a future video. But even putting those
extra hurdles aside, I came away from my double tower tour with a renewed appreciation for how much thought and sweat goes into the networks
that keep you connected. Folks I’ve wanted to climb a cell tower for 17 years and it’s something I never expected to be allowed to do. So I want to thank AT&T for opening these sites to me. And for letting me talk the ears off all their engineers in the process. Drop a thumbs up if you want to see more videos like this. And if you’ve got a cool idea for another Mr. Mobile field trip, drop it in the comments. I’d love to read it. Until next time, thanks for watching. And stay mobile, my friends.

76 thoughts on “How Cell Towers Work: Hands-On!”

  1. While this was informative and well produced, I find that the title is misleading. A better title might be "Placement of cell towers is site specific." I learned VERY little on how the technology actually works, i.e. how much power is in the signal? What is the maximum distance between towers and useable service? How can you stay connected driving down a freeway for 200 miles without losing a signal? How do different companies share service? How come I have such lousy connections at my house when there is a tower within a quarter mile? Why will it be so expensive for companies to upgrade to 5G? Etc.etc.

  2. Think of all the mobile porn that church is facilitating, all in the name of income for the church… #GOP-hypocrisy

  3. Interesting film and nicely explained thanks Michael. Any chance you could please make a film about how wireless, electromagnetic, microwave radiation causes the damage it does when in close proximity to organic cells. For example a mobile phone gives off about a billionth of a cubic centimetre of radiation yet 0.000027 is enough to prematurely age pine needles, smart meters are about 7.93 I think yet the industry safety standard in Canada & the US is set at about 600 to 1000. Perhaps you may not because the networks don't like any negative stuff about their industry but with the global need for wireless stuff I'd think this is quite important.
    Then if possible can you explain how we can protect ourselves and the nature around us against these harmful waves, thankyou.

  4. I climb these towers and own a company doing so and more then ever now we are pushing upgrades every 6 months. I have now been putting small cells in metro areas on light poles signs etc. 5g is future but towers will never go away

  5. Is it possible for people to use dangerously high frequency across many towers to create an "invisible kill cage" I'm worried about 5g

  6. at&t must not have "relayed" the correct information.

    I know of countless places where at&t does NOT have lte; not does any other carrier.

    Countless places throughout rural regions of: West Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, etc…

    The worst offender would be West Virginia. Please feel welcome to check ANY mobile device coverage map; then recheck them for accuracy and real world data. Over one third of West Virginia does not even have 4g cell phone coverage of any kind. But it gets worse… Want high speed internet? If so, that would be a real issue in getting it to almost one half of the entire state. Some counties being so rural, that it is only offered in two or three (not a typo) locations per county

  7. Please do another video explaining to more detail the economics of building this towers and buying those sites!!

  8. It is an amazing world, technology and you…. Good job, excellent… That's a prototype of what reporting/ educating needs to be… A good high five for you… Brilliant.

  9. This sounds like an AT&T commericial! Though quite interesting to see what is behind the scenes they are dangerously downplaying what this is really about! The 5G network will give EVERYONE CANCER!

  10. Dude you really lucked out with the weather on Mt. Washington the day you went. Mt. Washington is known for its bad weather and its completely covered in clouds 70% of the whole year. I'm glad you got to experience it like that. Thanks for the great video.

  11. I learned almost nothing about "how cell towers work". Should be titled "What Two Interesting Cell Towers Look Like"

  12. I climb the cellular towers up to 800 feet that make your phone work. I am that worker. The typical day starts off. I get to my shop. My employer gives me blueprints, notice to proceed paperwork from the Wireless companies. I load my work truck up with the equipment that the Wireless company has given us. I drive to site. On the way I usually get coffee. I arrived to site. Unload my truck. Look at the cellular tower. And figure out how I'm going to rig the tower before I climb it, once me and my coworkers have figured out how we're going to rig it. We put on our harnesses. Safety gear. And tell the ground guy what we want sent up. Or we usually do that over the radio when we get up there. I tie the rope to myself. And I climb the rope all the way to the top of the tower. I install a block (pulley) on the pinwheel or boom, and I send the rope back down the tower. The guy on the ground confirms the shutdown of certain cellular equipment with the Wireless company. Once that is done we shut it down, disconnect the LTE network, by disconnecting the RRUs, the RRUs are what gives your phone the ability to make calls and get data. By the time that is done. The guy on the ground has already sent the new rru to me. I have tied the new rru off onto the tower. And I send down the old one. I put the new RRU in the place of the old one, reconnect all the power, all the radio lines that shoot the radiation which give your phone signal, I installed a fiber optic, and I power on that sector. And that sector is on and transmitting cellular data to your phone, on a cell tower there is 3 sectors. And up to 17 radios and antennas. At the end of the day I climb back down the tower, but not before I've "snapped the rope" which means getting it back down to the ground. I grabbed my block (pulley) that I installed. And I climb back down. Sometimes I have to stay on the tower until the wireless companies have done LTE and call testing to make sure that all the equipment is giving good numbers and good readings, if they aren't I have to resolve the issue, and if they are my day is over, in the video they're showing wires, those aren't conduits feeding the tower, those are actual RF lines or microwave lines and radio lines, that have RF radiation going inside of them, to the antenna, that's your phone gets. Some of them are fiber optic, and some of them are power. There is much more to what I have explained. But I can't explain it all because it would take 400 pages

  13. I hate cell towers, there is a cell tower that’s only 40 feet tall and it’s right next to my home, 5 people live in my home and 3 of us have been diagnosed with cancer, my neighbor has cancer, 8 other people on my block have gotten cancer and 2 other people who live 2 blocks down have gotten cancer

  14. That didn't explain how they work at all.
    Change the title to – Walking around cell towers and talking more about the area they are at.

  15. How to radiate old people that dont use phones..well put a tower in their church…wow evil bunch arent u

  16. Okay you're safe I don't believe you cuz if you're getting a signal is coming through I'm sure there's many of those workers who have cancer

  17. PLZ READ ME!!!!!! Ah so these assholes are going to use this to microwave people in the masses. So if u are hated by some government official or they think yr a burden like being on welfare or disability they could turn the switch and have u killed in 1 year. So you die from cancer and thats it. i urge all of u who reads this to go buy a radiation detector monitor yr neighborhood and then 1 day you'll have to buy a anti radiation suit to protect u. At some point u might have to use a radiation blocker to insulation yr entire home to prevent you from getting killed off. This world is fucked and its ppl in charge are pure evil pieces of trash spread the world this is genocide. Plz take great care.

  18. What do they use inside these churches and outside these churches to keep the emf's from entering their territory?

  19. good video, however extremely basic. Failed to get into what freq. they are using. what a sector does, type of cabling such as massive effing coax that goes to each RF port on the sectors etc.

  20. LiFi Lighting is way faster in the gig bit speeds wont need cell towers every where 1/4 of the cost and meets the Abeille law of 2015 This Law prohibits Wi-Fi in buildings offering access to children under the age of 3 (nurseries, maternity wards, neonatology) as precautionary measure . And makes it Illegal to market cell phones to children under 14… LiFi Lighting emits EMW at 269 millivolts per meter which makes it safe to use in all areas of a hospitals and any areas were delicate machinery is being used … ITs bandwidth is 10,000 times larger than WiFi so its only a matter of time until it takes over the Telecommunication Market …. Found all this on www.lifilighting.com

  21. You should also provide your viewers with information regarding EMF and the negative effects it has on the human body. Not only will one experience changes in physical body but mental as well. Cancer, tumors and other terminal illnesses. The list goes on. The information is out there, not a conspiracy. Many professionals with degrees are providing the information.

  22. Liars!!!!!! This does effect the people in the church. This is a misconception! Raider frequencies travel in all directions! Lies

  23. No matter how many times people say non ionizing radiation is safe, I would never stand this close in front of a microwave or GSM antenna.

  24. The 5:18 part is funny. You could see the train boiler tilted so that it remains horizontal during th mountain climb.

  25. I used to climb cell phone towers for AT&T and here are some fun facts:

    -Those backup batteries are 6 volt batteries that weight around 200lbs each! Newer ones are 12v batteries that are alot easier to carry 120lbs each.
    -I have upgraded a church steeple cell site's radios and antennas. The antennas on the outside had to be painted.
    -The backup diesel generators start themselves up at random intervals to keep everything nice and oiled.
    -At 8:40 the cellular antenna is littered with bird defecation and urine! That's why it looks like green streaks are dripping from it!
    -Cell phone site construction is very, very long and hard work!

  26. Satellite fakery is big taxpayers money for NASA. 59 million a day without 1 real picture of this planet. We don’t know what the world looks like. We use the Universal picture 1923 spinning globe model😆

  27. Can we get more detail that, "this is an antenna" and "this is a bunch of gear".
    Can just let them explain what all of it does?

  28. The microwave relay antennae on Mt. Washington are not there primarily to serve the cell phone installation but regular land line communications. They predate cellular phone service. An additional inaccuracy in your video is the statement that -34° f is a record in that area. I've personally seen -36 in southern Vermont at much lower elevation. Mt. Washington is known for its record winds. If you had discussed how computers transfer calls to adjacent towers as the subscriber travels that would have fulfilled the title of the vid.

  29. The worst "hidden" cell towers are the ones disguised as Trees. Nothing like a Fake Tree shouts "look at me". We had one put up in our city due to neighborhood objection. BUT if they had simply put up a regular cell tower, it would "blend in", and people would just not notice it anymore. Instead, you have something that's looks faker than a $3 Bill that you ALWAYS will notice.

  30. Yeah with that 4G maybe but that 5G is worst! There is no research showing it's safe and they have to be closer to each other so they've been disguising them as everyday objects like trees, buildings, flag poles, street lights, even a lighthouse. Full 5G isn't safe.

  31. Absolutely no explanation given as to how tower sites work and complete calls through the landline network !  Very disappointing presentation !

  32. It didn't actually show you much of how cell towers work other than how they're mounted. Nothing about segments and signal structures.

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