21 September 2011

OpenCell ID: Codifying the World's Wireless Backbone for Free


Every day we wake up, retrieve our smart phone from it's charger and start the day. We wander around, using the internet everywhere we go. We record videos and post them to youtube. We make skype video calls from moving trains and subways. And rarely is one thought is given to appreciating the incredible wireless backbone which makes our mobile revolution possible.

Cellular Transmitters

Do you know what a cell tower looks like? Do you have any idea how many you pass on your way to work or school? You will be shocked to see how many cell towers exists EVERYWHERE to provide phone and data service to our mobile devices.

Traditional Cell Tower

These towers are everywherer, but the Cell Phone Carriers are notoriously tight-lipped about the location and number of their towers. The registered owners of cell sites are often shell companies which make it difficult to determine which carrier(s) use a given tower. It is possible to roughly estimate a tower's location by comparing your device's reception levels to an ambiguous government registry of transmitter owners.

Each cell carrier maintains a 'base station almanic' which details the location and characteristics of each transmitter, but these almanacs are usually not public. Some 3rd party companies have created public base station almanacs, but these must be paid for. 


Can you spot the hidden transmitters?!? (scroll down for help)

Introducing the Open Cell ID Project. The goal of Open Cell ID is to produce a comprehensive, crowded-sourced directory detailing where cell towers are located, and which carriers transmit from a given tower. Previously, this information was available to only cell carriers themselves. Some deep-pocketed 3rd parties such as Google and Skyhook drive vehicles around the country and map out cell tower locations based on signal strength. This is a laborious process, and data produced in these efforts is often not shared publicly.

Open Cell ID, on the other hand, seeks to use crowd-sourced effort, information, and research to locate every cell tower on the planet. These locations will then be made available in API so that developers can have full access to information on tower locations which the carriers do not want us to have!

View a cell tower overlay in Google Earth!

And click here to view Open Cell ID's most recently added towers.


Hidden Cell Transceivers can often bring in much needed revenue for property owners

How many cell towers are near your house? Where is the closest? Every wondered why your call would drop at the same place on your commute every day? Now you can see where the antennae towers are that make our phones work at the Open Cell ID Project.






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