What the World Would Look Like If You Could See Cell Phone Signals

There are thousands of invisible signals bouncing around us all the time, and the world would be a very different place if we could see them. Visualizer extraordinaire Nickolay Lamm already showed us what the Wi-Fi noise would look like, and now he's back to illuminate the cell phone signals all around us. It's trippy.

At first glance, the visualization just looks like some sort of indeciperable honeycomb rave, but there's a whole lot of science behind the hexagonal blanket of blinding colors.

Danilo Erricolo, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Chicago and Fran Harackiewicz, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Southern Illinois University Carbondale—who consulted on the psychedelic project—explain:


A regular, hexagonal grid of cellular base-station sites is conceptualized for Chicago [above], with stations at the corners of the hexagons. The area within each sector antenna radiation pattern has different users being assigned different frequencies and their signals combine to form a single perceived color in that instant. Different channel combinations from sector to sector are indicated by different colors. The channel combinations shown are not static, but rather change rapidly in time as different users are assigned different channels. But, if you were to take a photo of these rapid changes, you'd likely see a wide array of colors as seen in the illustration. Near the downtown area more users are likely to be found and the hexagonal cells are smaller to serve approximately the same numbers of users found in larger cells elsewhere. Antenna signals extending beyond the original cells provide coverage over part of Lake Michigan.

Here's New York City, with its myriad rooftop transmitters:

What the World Would Look Like If You Could See Cell Phone Signals

Hollywood, with a monolithic, long-distance tower:


What the World Would Look Like If You Could See Cell Phone Signals

And the blinding base station at the at the Herbert C. Hoover Building in Washington D.C.

What the World Would Look Like If You Could See Cell Phone Signals

They're stunning images to imagine seeing in real life, sure, but the seizuriffic flashing would probably get a little annoying if you had the misfortune of seeing it all the time. Still, it's fun to know about kind of craziness that's pulsating around you at any given time; thousands of strobes flashing colors you'll never see while you wander around with your phone in the air, trying to get a signal. Now that's a party. [Nickolay Lamm]