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    Help with cell tower records data

    Working a case where all the information from multiple sources indicates a particular suspect was involved with a robbery.. The tower records for the suspect's cell phone show a hit on a tower in the next state during the time the crime was committed. Call detail records show a flurry of calls between our suspect and the "inside" man just prior to the robbery and immediately following. I am as close to 100% certain as one could be without being personally involved that our suspect is the guy for the offense. Has anyone ever encountered problems with tower records like this and subsequently made sense of it?
    Last edited by Georgetime; 06-14-2011 at 11:32 AM.
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    I have seen some strangeness WRT cell tower locations but it is usually within the realm of possibility. Is the tower it hit on within 15-20 miles of were you think he might have been? I've been told 15 miles is the area a tower can cover. Did you get tower locations for each phone call?
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    Absolutely.

    Cells are essentially little radios that operate in strange line-of-site bounces. I work next to Lake Superior and it is not uncommon to get tower hits 50 miles away in another state. Recently I was trying to track down a guy through tower pings but each ping put him literally miles apart from each other. He would have had to have been going 400 mph for the pings to be accurate.

    Here's a resource I use all the time. http://www.cellreception.com/towers/ You can locate a specific tower and then, using the coverage map, get an idea if any weird line of site issues exist. I have also brought tower data to a guy at one of the local technician shops who was able to reconstruct a coverage area based on geography and building structure to show which towers would have received the strongest signal.

    That's the wrong link (althought it works). This is the link that works MUCH better: http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/AsrS...tionSearch.jsp
    Last edited by SRT936; 06-14-2011 at 04:28 PM.
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    Thanks for the responses. One of the people from the company said that you could get a hit at 100 miles. The hits we got are in the next state over, well in excess of 100 miles away. Still trying to figure it out. We know we have the right guy, just don't know what to make of these results.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Georgetime View Post
    Thanks for the responses. One of the people from the company said that you could get a hit at 100 miles. The hits we got are in the next state over, well in excess of 100 miles away. Still trying to figure it out. We know we have the right guy, just don't know what to make of these results.

    Radio "skip" or "ducting" can be funny..................The atmospheric conditions can do strange things in the VHF (police" low" band) and UHF (the upper reaches of UHF includes the cellular frequencies----the lower UHF is police "high" band)

    If you want a concise answer PM Sully...................he does know radio propagation (and he can give you a serious answer)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Georgetime View Post
    Working a case where all the information from multiple sources indicates a particular suspect was involved with a robbery.. The tower records for the suspect's cell phone show a hit on a tower in the next state during the time the crime was committed. Call detail records show a flurry of calls between our suspect and the "inside" man just prior to the robbery and immediately following. I am as close to 100% certain as one could be without being personally involved that our suspect is the guy for the offense. Has anyone ever encountered problems with tower records like this and subsequently made sense of it?
    What do you mean by hit? And how long? were all the calls to the tower in the next state or did he just "appear" in the next state for a brief period? newer phones generally have two ID's. a temporary one (TMSI) and a permanent one (IMSI). initially they need the permanent one and then they get a temporary for security to prevent phones from being cloned.

    if it happened right before the calls and then corrected, i'd be inclined to look tmsi location update. if it happened in the middle and then corrected, i'd look for a misidentified tower by the cell phone company. see if you can get detailed info about location updates for his particular IMSI. they may not keep all those records though.

    Alternatively, you may look at large structures in your city that may have their own base stations to improve cell reception inside the building. They can put an antenna on the roof that is highly directional and high off the ground. it's possible that one of these structures is picking up its cell signal from very far away. much farther than a cell phone could pick up. not sure if cell company would notice.

    att also has a microcell that provides cell service through broadband. i have no idea what location a micro-cell tower would report.
    Last edited by MG108; 06-14-2011 at 08:22 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MG108 View Post
    What do you mean by hit? And how long? were all the calls to the tower in the next state or did he just "appear" in the next state for a brief period? newer phones generally have two ID's. a temporary one (TMSI) and a permanent one (IMSI). initially they need the permanent one and then they get a temporary for security to prevent phones from being cloned.

    if it happened right before the calls and then corrected, i'd be inclined to look tmsi location update. if it happened in the middle and then corrected, i'd look for a misidentified tower by the cell phone company. see if you can get detailed info about location updates for his particular IMSI. they may not keep all those records though.

    Alternatively, you may look at large structures in your city that may have their own base stations to improve cell reception inside the building. They can put an antenna on the roof that is highly directional and high off the ground. it's possible that one of these structures is picking up its cell signal from very far away. much farther than a cell phone could pick up. not sure if cell company would notice.

    att also has a microcell that provides cell service through broadband. i have no idea what location a micro-cell tower would report.
    Thanks for the info, and thanks to everyone who responded! I'm going to check out these different options and see what shakes out. As far as the "hits", they were consistently showing the same tower on multiple calls. Got some more record scrubbing to do I think.
    Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax circa 1993

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    I was on a lost person call a few years ago, and the clearly incorrect ping was over 200 miles away. It happens. Rare, but happens.

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