With more and more trail camera users wanting to get into the cellular trail camera market, there is still some hesitancy with some frequent questions people ask themselves, which mostly stem from cell coverage…
Do I have cell signal on my property?
What cellular carrier covers my area?
If I have signal, how strong is it?
All these questions are good things to be wondering and asking yourself before taking the leap into the cell camera world. The last thing you want to do is go through the purchase process to find out you do not have coverage.
Most of us today don’t give a second thought to not having cell signal or coverage. In fact, it’s fairly rare to be traveling through the US and not have signal on our mobile device. However, with cellular trail cameras and some remote hunting properties not having cell signal is not that big of an oddity. In this blog we are going to cover some tools that can be used to help answer those questions so that you better understand what you are working with to ensure you make the correct purchase on your next cellular trail camera.
One of the easiest ways to get a very general idea of what type of coverage you have on your property is simply looking at carrier maps. All carriers (Verizon, AT&T, US Cellular, etc) have infographic coverage maps that can be found on their website.
From my 10 years experience in the telecom world nearly all of these maps are fairly ambitious. Often times you’ll find yourself inside a displayed coverage area without signal.
All in all coverage maps are still a good place to start without a large time investment.
Using Your Existing Mobile Device
One of the most common sense ways to test cell signal is just to walk the property with your mobile device. Mark out possible camera locations and verify the signal strength displayed on your phone.
Most cellular trail cameras will have similar or slightly better reception than your mobile device due to external antennas (assuming the same network hardware are in both devices). However, you cannot bank on a significant difference. Any and all certified carrier devices must go through similar testing and have similar reception performance. This is mandated by the carriers, so any trail camera company telling you there's a large gap in reception performance is just trying to sell you a product.
Keep in mind, this advice is really only applicable if you are certain you will be purchasing a cellular trail camera that is certified by the same carrier as your phone.
Mobile Apps and Tools
While the scenario above certain works for the vast majority of folks, there are some instances where folks have a phone with AT&T coverage and have no signal on their property. Thus leaving them wondering about a cellular trail camera certified through Verizon or other carriers.
In addition to coverage maps, there are several tools that can be used to decipher what carrier, specific network coverages, and speeds are available. Below are a few options that can be found on your mobile app store regardless of your phone provider and also a dial in tool.
Open Signal - This app is free to download for both android and iOS operating systems. Open Signal allows you to see nearby signals ranging from phone antennas to WiFi routers and covers 3G, 4G, LTE, and WiFi. The app can be clunky at times but with limited iOS options, it’s commonly used.
Network Cell Info Lite - This app is only available on Andriod operating systems. Network Cell Info provides the location of your signal on a map and then color codes the signal sent and received making it fairly user friendly.
Root Metric - Available for both Android and iOS devices, Root Metrics displays compiled data from existing mobile devices. To do this Root Metrics captures data from users by testing network performance when consumers use their mobile devices for voice or data communications. The data capture bugs a lot of people (including us) thus this app isn’t highly recommended.
*3001#12345#* - A faboulus built in feature to your mobile device, by dialing this sequence of keys an info graphic style page opens up. These two pages display an array of information with the most important coming up on the dashboard. On the dashboard you will see several signal measurements pertinent to your device and location.
Check out our YouTube video on this topic!
With all the above tools there is some base line information you need to know to make any of this relevant.
- Mobile Signals are measured in decibels (dB)
- Signal Strength is measured in decibel-milliwatts (dBm)
- -50 dBm is consider full capacity
- -120 dBm is considered worst case scenario
In layman's terms, any reading ranging from -50 to -120 dBm is showing service. Below is a quick cheat sheet.
- -50 means outstanding signal (your phone is probably almost touching the cell tower)
- -65 to -50 means you have very good signal
- -80 to -65 means your signal is good
- -100 to -80 means your signal is below average
- -100 to -80 means your signal is below average
- -120 to -100 means your signal is weak
While a lot of this may sound complicated and a burden to figure out, it is indeed fairly simple. If you question that statement consider the alternative, spend money on purchasing a cellular trail camera, wonder around the woods with it in hand, and attempting to set it up at several locations until something works in your favor. In our eyes, education and knowing all things about cellular trail cameras is king. The more you know and understand the better your experience will be.