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Guest Column

Cell Tower and Cell Phone Issues
By Charles Lee
Sep 14, 2014 - 12:22:27 AM

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A cell, sometimes known as a "cell site," is a term used to describe a site where antennas and electronic communications equipment are placed, usually on a radio mask, tower or other high place to create a cell in a cellular network. The elevated structure typically supports antennas, and one or more sets of transmitter/receiver transceivers, digital signal processors, control electronics, a GPS receiver for timing, primary and backup electrical power sources and sheltering.

How does a cell tower and cell phones work? When a person turns on his or hers cell phone, it immediately locates itself in the wireless world by broadcasting a series of codes generally its phone number, serial number and a code associated with its carrier to the carrier's closest cell tower. Using the public switched telephone network, the system of fiber optics and copper wires that landline phones use, the tower relays that information to the carrier's nearest mobile telephone switching office. The mobile telephone switching office, there's at least one for most area codes, then pings back a signal to tell a person's phone if it's roaming. This information exchange happens continuously.

When a person calls someone, his or her phone sends its data as well as the number they dialed to the carrier's nearest tower, which sends it to the mobile telephone switching office. Before the mobile telephone switching office connects the person, it reserves his or her call in a place on the public switched telephone network. If the person is calling a landline, they are directed straight to that phone. If the person is calling another cell phone, the call travels to the mobile telephone switching office in the recipient's area code location.

Once connected the caller's handset encodes his or her voice into a digital signal. Because digital signals take up less room than analog signals on the radio frequencies used by cell towers, each tower can handle more calls at once without a drop in quality.

When the mobile telephone switching office receives a call for a person's phone, it establishes a connection through the nearest tower and then sends the call to the recipient. The person's phone uses a digital-signal processor in the cell phone to convert the call back into an analog signal, which is the voice the person receives in their ear.

Can a cell tower be hacked? The answer to this question is yes. In fact, for less than three hundred dollars a group of ordinary hackers found a way to tap into Verizon's cell phones sometime in the past. They hacked the phones to warn wireless carriers that the phones have a security flaw. Any fairly sophisticated hacker would be able to tap into a cell phone call with something called a femtocell, also known as a wireless network extender. A hacker can buy one made by Samsung for Verizon cell phones and it costs only about two hundred and fifty bucks. The femtocell is about the size of a wireless router. A hacker can buy one at Best Buy with no trouble at all.

A femtocell is basically a cell phone tower: that's why it's able to pick up all the phone signals around it. Armed with it a hacker can intercept cell phone text messages, including photos. And if you use the browser to sign into your bank's website, the device will be able to get your login and password. The femtocell will also pick up a signal through the walls.

The effects of hacking are far reaching and it is definitely possible for terrorists to hack into a cell tower and capture calls, texts and data, or a criminal walking on packed sidewalks could pick up data from hundreds of innocent Smartphone users.

Hacking into a cell tower can happen wherever you go putting your cell phone at risk. Three common methods and reasons for cell phone hacking include:

  • Cell phone hacking devices are very useful when a phone is off to capture information without your knowledge.
  • Mini cell phone towers where outsiders can read off cell phone data
  • Hacking into phones and rerouting the information to another person for nefarious purposes.

According to published reports harmful and adverse effects of cell phone use include brain tumors due to the radiation emitted by cell phones. The risk may be highest for ipsilateral exposure, meaning a tumor on the same side of the brain where a phone is mostly held. One laboratory study has shown that radio waves from mobile phones do harm body cells and damage DNA. Furthermore, studies show that use of cell phones for more than ten years increases the risk of glioma. A glioma is a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine. It is called a glioma because it arises from glial cells the most common site in the brain.

Some health and safety interest groups have interpreted certain reports to suggest that wireless device use may be linked to cancer and other illnesses, posing a potentially greater risk for children than adults. While these assertions have gained increased public attention, currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses. However, those researchers evaluating the potential risks of using wireless devices agree that more and longer-term studies should explore whether there is a better basis for cell tower, cell phone safety standards than currently exists.

Even though no scientific evidence currently establishes a definite link between cell tower and cell phone use and cancer or other illnesses, some consumers are skeptical of the science and/or the analysis that underlies existing exposure guidelines. Accordingly, some concerned parties recommend taking measures to further reduce exposure to radio frequencies or electromagnetic radiation energy. But some authorities do not see a need for these practices.

Some precautions adults and teenagers can take to reduce their exposure to radio frequency energy from their cell phones include:

  • Use a speakerphone, earpiece or headset to reduce proximity to the head and thus to digital/analog signal exposure. While wired earpieces also emit a small amount of radio frequency energy, both wired and wireless earpieces remove the greatest source of radio frequency energy (the cell phone) from proximity to the head and thus can greatly reduce total exposure to the head.
  • Increase the distance between wireless devices (cell phone) and your body.
  • Consider texting rather than talking.

The June 18, 2014 edition of my hometown newspaper the Naperville Sun included an article titled "Tower Issue." Some residents of the city said no to the installation of cell towers at two junior high schools. Their argument even though the American Cancer Society has said that cell towers are unlikely to cause cancer, they thought not enough scientific studies had been conducted regarding long term effects of radio frequency waves. A local telecommunications expert who lives near one of the junior high schools urged the school board to give the installation of the two cell towers a second thought.

Charles Lee

Charles Lee received a bachelor's degree from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and a master's degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Lee served as a Marine in the Korean War. Following his service, he spent fourteen years in technical and executive positions with contractors of the Atomic Energy Commission. He is the author of the sequel "The Threat From Within Defeated" and "The Adventures of Ickle, Packy, Pickle and Gooch." Lee is the proud father of two daughters.

"The Threat From Within" highlights the potential risk of radiation from cell phone towers on brain development and mental health. Lee's novel poses many questions and concerns on the heated topic of cell phones.

"The Threat From Within"
By Charles Lee
ISBN: 978-1-4836-7439-1
Softcover $18
Hardcover $27
E-book $5

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