GUIDE

5 Best Ways to Locate & Map Nearby Cell Towers

March 22nd, 2020
By Sina Khanifar and Sarvesh Mathi

There's a lot of incorrect information online about how to find your and map nearby cell towers.

We tested more than a dozen different apps and websites, and compared them with known tower locations.

Read on for our results, and our guide to the 5 best ways to find nearby cell towers.

You probably have a sweet spot in your house or office where you rush to when you need the best cellular reception. This might be based on the data speeds or call quality you’ve experienced there.

But if you’re looking for the very best LTE data speeds, you’ll need to install directional outdoor antennas for your hotspot or cell booster.

Outdoor antennas need to be aimed, which means that ideally you need to know exactly where your nearest cell towers are located.

We read other guides online for finding towers; but most of them were misleading. So we tested a dozen different apps and websites against known tower locations to test their accuracy.

And then we boiled that down to a list of 5 ways that you can find your nearest tower.

3 Crucial Tips for Before You Start

1. Use an Android phone

Unlike iPhones, Android gives apps programmatic access to signal information. This makes it possible for apps to identify the tower you're connected to.

Don’t have an Android phone? Beg, borrow, or steal. Just make sure they are on the same carrier as you.

2. Try Multiple Apps

No one app we list below is 100% accurate – they all use different data sources. You will get the most accurate details if you compare multiple options and extrapolate where the towers might be.

3. Calibrate Your Phone's Compass

Before you use any of the apps we suggest, it is important to check that your compass is calibrated.

On Android devices you can do this by opening Google Maps, tapping the blue dot showing your location, and then selecting “Calibrate Compass.”

Okay, with those tips out of the way, onto the good stuff ...

5 Best Ways to Locate & Map Your Nearby Cell Towers

5. Network Cell Info Lite (for Android)

Difficulty: Easy Accuracy: 70%

This highly-rated free Android app uses crowdsourced tower location data from Mozilla Location Services.

Once you open the app, go to the "map" tab. You’ll see nearby towers, and the app will draw a blue line to the tower you’re connected to.

Tapping on the tower will show you the tower’s identifiers. You can find a huge trove of other data, such as eNodeB ID, PCI, signal quality (SINR) and neighboring cell details on the other tabs.

Although this app can give you a good indication of the tower direction, it’s still only 70% accurate. Use multiple options on this list to find the best option.

4. Cell Tower Map (for Android)

Difficulty: Easy Accuracy: 70%

The Cell Tower Locator app works similar to Network Cell Info. It uses data from Mozilla Location Services and Google to estimate the location of towers, but it will only show you the active, connected towers, not all nearby towers. You can use this in tandem with the other apps suggested here to get a more accurate signal strength reading.

3. OpenSignal for Android (but not iOS!)

Android App:
Difficulty: Easy Accuracy: 70%
iOS App:
Difficulty: Easy Accuracy: 20%

OpenSignal is a user-friendly speed test and cell tower information app that uses their own proprietary crowdsourced dataset. Tower locations are computed by triangulating from user-contributed signal readings.

Download the app, and select the fourth tab with the "arrow" icon. Once there, you click on the "Cell Towers" button and a page will open showing nearby towers and with a blue line to your connected tower. The app also lists the best networks in an area based on crowdsourced internet speeds data.

Please Note: The OpenSignal iOS app is much less accurate than the Android version. This is because iOS doesn’t give apps access to cell tower data. As a result, the OpenSignal iOS app guesses on iOS devices, and those guesses aren’t generally accurate..

2. Wardrive

Difficulty: Hard Accuracy: 100%

The definitive way to find your nearest cell tower is to sniff it out manually using a process called "wardriving."

To wardrive, you need two things: a tower identifier (PCI) and a signal strength reading. It's much easier to get this information on an Android phone. Only some iPhone models with an Intel modem chipset let you access tower identifier and signal strength data.

Check out our Guide to Wardriving to Find Cell Towers to learn how to wardrive.

1. Use a Combination of These Options

No one of the three mobile apps we've listed is 100% accurate.

But trying all three of them, and comparing the results, will give you an idea of where your nearest tower is.

Once you have an idea of the approximate location, jump in your car and follow our Guide to Wardriving.

Wardriving is the only way to be 100% sure of the location of your nearest tower.

Why Aren't There Accurate Maps of Tower Locations?

Unfortunately, there's no government regulation requiring carriers to publicize their tower locations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the body that regulates cell carriers in the US. Their rules only requires carriers to register towers above 200 feet tall. Most cell sites don't reach this height. In fact, these days many newer towers are attached to light poles or on top of buildings.

Carriers like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile aren't willing to publish maps of their towers unless it's specifically required by law. None of the four main carriers has any kind of tower map published online.

Tools We Tried But Don't Recommend

  • CellMapper.net: The interface is difficult to use, and the data isn't all that accurate (they use their own, proprietary dataset). The one case in which we do recommend using this site is if you are using a Cel-Fi device. In the "Advanced" tab, Cel-Fi devices will list an "ENBID". You can enter this number under "Tower Search" in CellMapper, and it will give you a rough location for the tower. There is also an Android app, but we didn't find it useful in our tests.
  • Cell Towers by Birdie: This app doesn't provide accurate data in the US.
  • AntennaSearch.com: This site relies on FCC data. The FCC only includes data for towers over 200 ft in height. Less than 50% of towers are registered as such, making this site quite inaccurate. FCC registered towers also only show ownership details, not which carriers are using it. It also hasn't been updated in years.
  • Cellular Network Signal Finder on iOS: Again this app doesn't provide accurate locations for towers, due to the restrictions iOS places on tower data.
  • CellReception.com Tower Finder: Similar to AntennaSearch, the data from this site is based on FCC tower information, which isn't accurate.
  • LTE Discovery: We like a lot of the features of LTE discovery, but their cell tower maps aren't accurate.
  • Cell Tower Location Tracker on Android: In our tests this app had very little tower data.

Have more questions? Found a better solution?

Have more questions that we haven't covered here? Or have a tip on an app we should try? Please leave a comment or reach out to us!


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