November 16, 2016 Articles

Two Recent Decisions Allow Expert Testimony on Historical Cell Site Analysis

Some observers call it a junk science.

By Alexander S. Vesselinovitch

There was a time when only select groups of people, usually corporate titans or clever criminals, had cellular phones. Those days are gone. Cell phones have become ubiquitous. Everyone seems to have or want one.

A cell phone operates as a two-way radio that transmits and receives signals throughout a cellular network. The design of a cellular network is divided into geographic areas called cells, arranged in a pattern of a honeycomb. Aaron Blank, “The Limitations and Admissibility of Using Historical Cellular Site Data to Track the Location of a Cellular Phone,” 18 Rich. J. L. & Tech. 3 (2011). The point where three cells meet is called the cell tower (or cell site). The number of antennas operating on the cell site, the height of the antennas, the topography of the surrounding land, and obstructions determine the size of the cell’s coverage area. The coverage of cells may vary greatly, especially in urban centers.

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