How Wireless Works

    In the blink of an eye, your wireless device can send a text, order takeout, or adjust the temperature in your house from thousands of miles away. But have you ever wondered... how?

    Follow the wireless journey from phone to thermostat.

    When you take an action like adjusting the temperature on your smart thermostat from a remote location using a mobile device, you set off a series of events. And they all take place within a fraction of a few seconds.


    Using a mobile app, your phone sends a signal.

    Beneath the glass of your screen is a bundle of tiny technologies allowing your device to function as a tiny computer. When you adjust your thermostat app, the components of your phone digitally package that data into a signal that gets sent to your home.

    Did You Know?1/2

    Digitizing your voice

    When you talk into your phone, your voice is digitized, converted into data packets, and sent over the air and through the network.

    Did You Know?2/2

    Just like a body, wireless networks are made of cells.

    If you’re located within range of a particular cell site, congrats, you’re in the network. As you move about your life, nearing one cell site to the next, this network keeps you connected.


    That signal gets sent over waves called spectrum.

    What is spectrum? It’s a naturally-occurring field of invisible airwaves that wireless providers use to power all mobile technology. And right now, your signal is traveling along spectrum, riding it like a wave to its next destination.
    More on Spectrum

    Then it arrives at a nearby cell site.

    Cell sites are the infrastructure that link a wireless network together, providing coverage to individuals within a given geographic area known as a cell. Cells range in size, from a few city blocks to as much as 250 square miles, and they take a few different forms.

    Cell Towers

    Wide Coverage, High Capacity.

    These towers can be up to 200+ feet tall, providing coverage over large geographic areas.

    Roof Top Sites

    Higher Capacity, Medium Coverage.

    Often mounted in elevated spots like rooftops, these provide good coverage and enhance network capacity.

    Small Cells

    Higher Capacity, Lower Coverage.

    Just the size of a backpack, small cells are often mounted on streetlights and lamp posts, providing higher capacity but covering smaller coverage areas like city blocks.

    Did You Know?

    Demand is Rising.

    There are over 414,000 active cell sites in operation today, built over 30+ years.

    Did You Know?

    Wireless networks operate on a grid made of cells.

    Any location within range of a particular cell site is within the wireless network, enabling you to stay connected as you move about your daily life. The network can sense when you have moved to the edge of one cell's coverage and then hands off to another cell to maintain coverage. This structure is what lets you talk on the phone for hours while your train, for example, moves from state to state.

    The signal travels to a network switch or router.

    The signal has come a long way since you first adjusted the thermostat. Your signal has now moved from a cell site to a base station—a process called backhaul, where your wireless provider receives the data and instantly routes it through the appropriate channel, kind of like a switchboard operator from the 1950s redirecting a call. This process typically happens over fiber, connecting cell sites back to your provider’s switching centers, which manage and direct your wireless traffic.

    Your provider locates the cell site closest to your home.

    The signal travels along the provider's backhaul to the cell site closest to you or to your home broadband provider's network. Then your signal is transmitted by spectrum to your home and your thermostat, typically taking advantage of your home Wi-Fi connection.

    Signal received. Turn it up!

    Once upon a time (a few seconds ago, in fact) you tapped a button on your phone. Now, your heat is on full blast. All thanks to the journey of wireless.

    Did You Know?

    IoT is still the next big thing.

    Today, there are over 3.5 IoT devices for every human on earth, making it the fastest growing technology field ever.

    The future is 5G.

    Some of the most exciting technologies will be made possible by 5G, with these wireless networks providing greater capacity and lower latency for a better, faster internet that connects more devices than ever. 5G deployments are happening across America and the 5G economy is coming to life. Are you ready?
    Explore the 5G economy
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