How To Triangulate a Cell Phone

Mobile phones or cell phones have actually been around since 1946, with the Bell Systems introducing the Mobile Telephone Service. These phones worked through propagating radio signals, and needed to be attached to a mobile or a car for its power supply. Being very large and consuming too much power, these mobile phones were impractical at first.

Fast forward to the 21st century, mobile phones have begun to rapidly develop and evolve. Every month, new cell phone models and mobile technologies are constantly released and upgraded. Besides shrinking in size, cell phones start to include more gadgets, such as cameras, radios, and mp3 players. Also, cell phones have since switched from radio signals to GSM and 3G networks for clearer, further and more secure communication.

A cell phone gets its signals from what we call cell sites or signal towers. A lot of these towers are scattered around the United States to ensure coverage of every unit. These towers emit and receive signals radially, with the tower as the point of divergence and convergence.

Taking advantage of this property of signal towers and applying some high school geometry, we can actually trace the location of an individual cell phone with an approximate error of at least 25 meters. Though normal citizens are prohibited from performing these tasks, individuals who do scientific research, engineers or police (or even government spies) can use this to locate individuals, gadgets or even vehicles. If you’re permitted to do so and are interested to try it out, here is how you can triangulate a cell phone.

  • Turn on the cell phone that is subscribed to any mobile service. Once you turn your cell phone on, it will emit and receive signals from different signal towers. The tracing of the location of the cell phone begins here.
  • Locate the strongest signal tower. First locate the signal tower that registers the strongest signal from the cell phone. From here, draw the circle that the signal tower can cover. You now know where the most probable area the cell phone might be is.
  • Locate the next signal tower. Another signal tower will be covering the cell phone. Once you located this second signal tower, draw another circle that the signal tower covers. Ensure that this signal tower will coincide with your first signal tower. If it doesn’t, seek other towers. Notice that the circles emanating from the two towers intersect at 2 points. The cell phone will most probably be between these two points.
  • Locate a third and final signal tower. Select the next strongest signal tower that registers the cell phone. Again, draw another circle that covers the tower’s signal. Ensure that the circle covers at least one point of intersection from the previous circles.
  • Locate the cell phone. If you have perfectly triangulated the cell phone, the 3 circles would intersect at exactly 1 point. But if they don’t intersect, the cell phone would most likely be in the area of intersection of the 3 circles.

One advantage of this method from GPS location is that you don’t need for permissions from the cell phone to trace its location. By simply turning on the cell phone, its location can be found.


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