March 7, 2018
It Can’t Be Magic: How Cellphones Work .
Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes to make your cellphone work? How your friend can video chat with you when they’re in Hawaii and you’re in Texas or how you can drop a pin to tell someone where to meet you for dinner?
It doesn’t all happen magically. There’s actually an entire network of wireless and physical infrastructure making connections to ensure we have the highest quality wireless experience.
So how does a wireless network work?
Let’s say you’re video calling a friend.
While you listen to the video call ring as it seeks a connection, radio signals traveling over airwaves—called spectrum—are racing to a nearby cell site. To communicate with the cell site, your cellphone uses its antennas to act as a portable radio.
The cell site is positioned to perform its role of receiving and sending signals. Once it receives your signal, it transfers it to a local base station. The base station acts as a translator of sorts to send your video call to the core network.
The core network is the brain of the wireless network, routing your video call—as well as your traditional calls, texts, and data requests—to the right destination through network hardware, including servers, wiring, and transport technologies. Today, most network traffic—including your video call—goes through a data router on its way to the internet.
Once your video call data reaches the internet and connects to the appropriate servers, connection details return to a data router—the original one if you and your friend are in the same network, or one in your friend’s network if not—and move through the system to a cell site in your friend’s network. The cell site pings your friend’s phone and it rings.
Still kind of magical, right?
The next generation of wireless, 5G, will increase the awe factor.
5G networks are going to be up to 100 times faster, able to support 100x more devices, and be 5 times more responsive than current 4G networks, thanks to the capacity of new mid- and high-band spectrum, the density of new small cells, and new wireless technologies. As more small cells are located closer to our cellphones and other wireless devices, network delays will be reduced because some data can be processed locally without having to go all the way to the core network.
Denser wireless networks will also be more resilient to help keep people connected at all times.
So there you have it. Wireless infrastructure relies on a blend of investment, innovation, and engineering to make your mobile experience so seamless, it’s almost like magic.