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August 26, 2015 — by KEN PERKINSSHARE ARTICLE
In a recent post How to Find Cell Tower Locations I wrote that I would follow up with some recommendations for mobile apps that help locate towers.
As I noted previously, there are a ton of these tower-finder apps available, so I’m only going to mention here a few that I’ve personally used. There are lots of others, so if I don’t mention your favorite be sure to tell us the details in the Comments below.
The app I have used the most over the years to locate towers is OpenSignal. It’s long been available for Android devices and more recently became available for iPhones. It’s free and because it’s been around for a while it’s perhaps the most full-featured of any tower finder app. There are so many features, in fact, that I haven’t ever used some of them.
OpenSignal displays a home screen dashboard that shows your carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc) and which network, 4G or 3G, you are currently connected to.
The dashboard also displays approximate strength of both cell signal and Wi-Fi signal, assuming you have Wi-Fi turned on and are in Wi-Fi range. I say ‘approximate’ signal strength because the strength representations are graphical (think bars), and not actual numerical readings expressed in decibels (dBm).
The dashboard also allows the user to navigate to the other OpenSignal features – network speed test, cell signal coverage heat map and even a stat counter that will track data usage and your call and text activity.
Tapping the tower icon on the dashboard takes the user to the map which displays nearby tower locations, viewable by street address and GPS coordinates. Once the app has gathered the necessary data, it will display a red line on the map connecting your location with the tower your phone is receiving signal from.
I’ve used OpenSignal off and on over the years and recommended it many times, so it’s probably accurate to call it my favorite tower-finder app.
But if you’re looking for something simpler, there’s Cell Map. I like Cell Map for just that reason – it’s simple and super easy to use. This is a free download and as far as I can find out is available for Android only.
Fire up Cell Map on your phone and you see your own location and the locations of nearby towers displayed on a map. If you want, you can toggle between the map and a satellite photo of the area showing the tower locations.
Cell Map also displays your carrier and type of signal you’re receiving (LTE, CDMA, etc) as well as the RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) reading in dBm.
One feature I particularly find interesting is Cell Map’s ability to plot even those towers whose signal is too weak for your phone to use at your current location. If needed, you could navigate toward such a tower so the signal became increasingly stronger as you got closer to its location.
Another app I’ve used is Signal Finder. It has both free and paid versions, and also is apparently an Android-only app. Full disclosure: I’ve never used the paid version of Signal Finder, so please do NOT assume what I write here about the free version is also true of the purchased version.
Signal Finder works much like the others – plotting tower locations on a map with overlaid circles representing the approximate coverage area of each tower. It also shows signal strength readings for each tower, and those features work fine. However, the free version has a couple of annoying quirks.
First, it’s advertising-supported, so it immediately tosses an ad up on your screen. Second, it’s battery intensive because it never stops searching for towers, continuing to seek data in the background even when the app is not active. This sucks away your battery life, and in the free version there’s no way to turn off this data search.
I’m told the paid version of Signal Finder corrects both of these negatives – it has no advertising, but does include a switch to control the constant tower search. Hopefully someone who uses the paid version will drop us a Comment and tell us about it.
As mentioned earlier, if I missed your favorite tower-finder tell us about that app in Comments below.
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