Reconciling Cell Sector Counts US

Thank you for the great dataset - tremendous asset.

Key question:
How can the dataset be transformed to identify unique cell coverage sectors in US? Under what circumstances could a sector (represented by a cell id) not currently exist?


  • Recent download for US (across all MCC & MNC) shows ~7.5m rows with 4.2m unique Cell ID. I presume these to be equivalent to cell sectors
  • Wireless Infrastructure Association recent report (with data supposedly provided by industry) as of end of 2022 shows 209,500 macro sites with 678,700 macro sectors, and 452,200 outdoor small cell nodes (plus 747,400 indoor small cell nodes) Wireless Infrastructure By the Numbers: 2022 Key Statistics
  • The WIA report asserts that each site is typically composed of ~3 sectors (implying they relate to traditional concept of directional site)

Assuming that Wireless Infrastructure Association is even remotely accurate, what could explain the delta with OpenCellID count of 4m-7m?
Is it possible that CellID change over time so that some are no longer active? Could some rows relate to individual antenna, for which multiple comprise a single sector?

2G, 3G, 4G, 5G networks are physically built by sticking metallic poles in the ground (or on the roofs of the buildings), with three antennas on top of each one of them. When the range of the three antennas doesn’t cover land anymore, any given network operator has to build another pole with three new antennas on top of it, to cover another bit of land. With 2G GSM networks, as the range was of around 3km, a new pole had to be stick into the ground every 6km, but as 4G and 5G technologies have a much shorter range, the poles with three antennas on top of them are many more, much nearer one to each other.

The reason why every pole has three antennas on its top, is because each antenna sends a signal that covers a triangular shape of land, of an angle of 120 degrees, so if you just put one antenna on the top of each pole you wouldn’t cover the land around the pole at 360 degrees, but over an angle 120 degrees wide, only. So every telco carrier puts three antennas rotated 120 degrees, on every pole, to cover the land around the pole at 360 degrees.

Each pole is called BTS.

Each 120 degrees wide antenna coverage range, is called a cell.

So, as every pole has three antennas, there are three cells around it (three cells around every physical pole).

The number of poles, multiplied by three, is the number of cells of ONE telco carrier, on ONE given technology only (2G, 4G, 5G). If there are two telcos providing access, the number of poles (and antennas and cells) doubles.

So the total number of cells is:
2Gpoles * 3cells * numberof2Gtelcos +
4Gpoles * 3cells * numberof4Gtelcos +
5Gpoles * 3cells * numberof5Gtelcos

Then, every telco changes the ID of the cells, according to its network evolution in time (more poles, moved poles, new topologies, …) and this creates new records in the cell database every time.