How Cell Phones Work

By Geoffrey Weed

What Qualifies as a Cell Phone?

Cell phones, which are also sometimes referred to as cellular phones, mobile phones or wireless phones, are short-range communication devices that transmit to localized cell stations. Cell phones generally use radio waves to transmit their information. Any product that falls within this categorization can be rightly referred to as a "cell phone." It bears noting, however, that some "cell phones" actually use satellites to communicate and are, therefore, really satellite phones instead of cell phones.

How Do Cell Phones Work?

Cell phones work based on the concept of cell networking. Basically, cellular providers have huge networks of cell stations that are spread out across the world. Cell sites are usually most concentrated in highly populated areas and along highly traveled roads. Individual cell phones communicate with these cell sites via radio waves. The cell sites are often located on top of tall buildings, on top of raised terrain such as mountains or on man-made towers. The cell sites are, in turn, connected to a wired communication grid of some kind. In the United States, that grid is called the public switched telephone network. This allows cell phone users to contact any phone number anywhere in the world as long as they are close enough to a cell site.

What are the Limitations of Cell Phones?

Unfortunately, cell phones are a relatively short-range form of communication. Most cell phones cannot transmit any further than roughly 8 miles. This means that a cell phone that is located farther than 8 miles away from the nearest cell site will not receive service. In most urban areas and more populated areas, there are plenty of cell sites, so coverage is not an issue. In more rural areas, however, many cell phones will not be able to place calls because of the fact that there is no cell site within range.