Let’s Teach Cell Phone Technology To Alexander Graham Bell | by Robin Riback | Apr, 2023


Cellular and wi-fi connections explained in clear and simple language *Part 3

icons for both signal and wifi service in glowing green on a black background
Photo by Praveen kumar Mathivanan on Unsplash

Point, tap, talk! Cell phone calls are easy-peasy. Our voices are so clear that we seem to be standing right next to each other. Do you ever wonder how my voice travels through the phone to reach your ear?

In this series, I translate complex ideas into simple language so that we — and Alexander Graham Bell — can better understand mobile phone technology.

If you missed previous chapters, click here to catch up

The ghost of Alexander Graham Bell sat facing me, waiting for his hot tea to cool as I sipped the modern iced version. As the frozen cubes clinked, I strategized about how to explain the complexity of cellular and wi-fi technology to a Victorian-era gentleman. After I emptied my glass, I broke this news to him —

Your wires and cables are the granddaddies of today’s connectivity. Now, we transmit our voices through cellular and Wi-Fi connections.

Bell blinked at me, expressionless.

Cellular service — can you hear me now?

A huge cell tower loom — blue sky in the background and a hint of grass in the foreground
Photo by VD Photography on Unsplash

Let me explain —

💡Cellular phone service needs an underground fiber optic cable network. The subterranean wires encased in thick cables are attached to tall metal structures called cell towers. These hunks of metal loom large and ugly in populated areas. Many are disguised as trees — but nobody is fooled! The synthetic plants are anchored deep in the ground, each surrounded by an invisible 10-square mile six-sided perimeter. All these hexagons have adjacent connected sides that form a honeycomb-shaped grid. Every hexagon contains radio frequencies(frequency = speed) which are used to identify the cell towers’ locations.

💡My voice is converted by the phone into electrical + magnetic (aka radio) waves. My wave-like voice must find its assigned metal tree. My voice radio waves fly like a bird to the top of my tree where they land on a metal branch.

In less than a blink of a bird’s eye,

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

my radio waves transform into light pulses that slide down through a cable in the tree’s trunk. The bright vibrations flow into a transceiver box at the tree’s base where they are tumbled, churned, then flung toward the correct frequency inside the hexagon which holds my destination tree tower, sometimes very far away.

💡The destination tree tower converts the light pulses back into radio waves which flutter down like autumn leaves to my friend’s cell phone and finally, she hears my voice, as real as if I were standing beside her in the parlor.

I need to sleep, Bell slumped and scrunched his eyes shut.

Where and what is Wi-Fi?

A white Wi-Fi router sits on a sure -its back side has 2 USB ports. 2 antennas stick up — one on the far left and the other on the far right
Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

I snapped my fingers. Wakey, wakey, I’m not done yet! When our radio wave voices can’t reach the grid of hexagons and their cell tower trees, we must connect through a different network called Wi-Fi.

Bell began to weep.

Dry your tears. I’ll be brief —

💡The term wi-fi is similar to the abbreviation hi-fi which is short for high fidelity which means high-quality audio technology.

💡My voice is converted to electromagnetic (radio) waves that travel through the air to locate a small router box in my home or office building. This square communication hub is a lot like a post office. But, instead of parcels and envelopes, it is my voice radio waves that enter the input port which is like an entry space where mechanical sorters work tirelessly to process the address stamped on my voice packet.

The United States Post Office exterior at night — US Post Office neon sign is visible and a silhouette of a person is entering or leaving the building

💡My voice packet’s destination is not written as 1 Main Street, but rather it is coded in binary numbers— 0’s and 1’s. The tireless mechanical sorter has a perfect memory and an unfailing ability to match numbers. In less than a second it reads and remembers arriving binary strings like— 10010001 00001 1000111 00 and then matches the sequence with an identical destination code — 10010001 00001 1000111 00. The genius sorter is never off by even one digit — The mechanism then assigns my voice parcel to a place in the exit shipping area called the output port.

💡Finally, my voice parcel enters the post office’s main room called the switching fabric. Here, millions of parcels are guided to their last stop, their shipping area output port. Right before they leave to find their destination phone, they must consult a map called the routing table which helps them pinpoint the shortest path to the person’s phone I just called.

I breathed deeply, then asked my exhausted friend, Capiche?

Bell nodded yes.

Good. It’s time for a break.

Break? His eyes went wide to search for a crack in the phone screen.

Break is slang for downtime.

Downtime? His lids fluttered.

I was tired, too. Never mind.

Stay on the line for Part 4 when Alexander Graham Bell continues his study of mobile phone technology in the twenty-first century.

What do you think?

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