Plotting cellphone tower strength in Google Earth

This used a car, not a drone, but it's a nice example of datalogging and data merging. With a drone you wouldn't be limited to plotting cell sites along roads. 

From the Google Earth blog:

Franz Graf knew he had a shaky mobile connection on his daily commute, but wanted to see just how bad it was. To find out, he wrote an Android app that recorded the GPS position and signal strength along his journey and then plotted all of the data in Google Earth. The result is a great Google Earth KML that shows cell tower strength in his area:

The image above was created with approximately 9,000 data points from his commute. He plans to release the app to Google Play so that others can use it, which I would love to download to drive around my area and see how it does. I have some idea of where the dead zones are, but this would give me a more concrete look at it.

He's released a sample KML file so you can see first-hand how the output looks.

You can read more in his original post on Google+, and then the follow-up post where he plotted it in Google Earth. If he releases the app for others to download, we'll certainly let you know about it.

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Comment by Hunter Parris on January 4, 2013 at 12:37pm

I am actually planning to do this with a USRP1 from Ettus Research and OpenBTS.

Comment by Jesse on January 4, 2013 at 5:13pm

if you where so inclined, it'd be fairly easy to make a 'cell signal sensor' by adding a cell shield to an arduino and logging the results as it flew around, if it was piggy backed onto the mavlink port you could probably set it up to do a RTL via sms if you accidently got out of range... 

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on January 4, 2013 at 5:15pm

This is a good example of the difference between using a system and the declared specifications/allowance of a system from the licensed/registered perspective.

Huh? In short, each tower is registered with the FCC (USA) and the radiation pattern of that tower/antenna is part of the application process. Though the carrier will try to provide the maximum coverage for the least number of sites, that does not guarantee that a user in a vehicle will get good service all the time.

This shows how the subscribed service performed in the installation of the user at the time of the data collection.

Different phone, different vehicle, different directions, all would be a good idea to round out the 'performance' of the subscribed carrier.

Bravo! and A+ for the effort.


Comment by Hunter Parris on January 4, 2013 at 5:22pm

Right.  Instead of just mapping the signals, so to speak, you can actually intercept the tower data to do actual surveys of the network.  You can gain knowledge to the cellular layout of the network map.  A lot of enginneering cell phones have this capability and it's rather simple to acomplish.

Comment by Jan Detlefsen on January 5, 2013 at 10:47am

flying over cellphone towers means the closer you get to them the worse the reception will be as antennas a pointing down to avoid interferences. unless you fly really low the data won't tell you much.


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