Wireless carriers track the markets for which they have FCC spectrum licenses and are allowed to provide service, as well as markets that they want to break into. Their marketing departments identify areas where coverage is weak, and areas where capacity is sub-standard and cannot properly handle consumer demand for data and/ or voice traffic. When they find a gap in either coverage or capacity, they do what they can to fix it. This is called their network infrastructure deployment strategy. They choose cell towers and cell sites based on the frequency they own and the type of population they wish to serve. For instance, in rural areas, cell towers with lower frequencies are used because their signals have a wider reach; whereas, in densely populated areas higher frequencies are used, and in some cases smaller cell sites are preferred due to zoning regulations and/or tremendous demand for data. Most carriers show some level of coverage maps on their websites, which provide examples of the areas they serve, but information on areas that are sub-standard is less easy to find. That’s where Steel in the Air comes in. We track this data too.
Wireless carriers do have the advantage of reviewing trouble tickets from subscribers, as well as logs that track dropped calls. However, in some cases, they simply can’t add enough cell sites fast enough, or the cost is too high, or the barriers are too difficult to getting a new cell tower approved in a given area.
Once a carrier decides that they have a need for a new site in an area, their radio-frequency department reviews the area to determine the best strategy for infrastructure deployment. This includes an analysis of existing towers and cell tower sites. They utilize radio frequency propagation software to model how potential new sites will fit into and complement the existing network. The radio frequency engineer may physically drive through the area with sophisticated testing equipment (a drive test just like in the Verizon commercials where the technician is driving around making calls). They examine whether natural or man-made factors like topography, existing buildings, or foliage might interfere with the operation of a new cell site.