New Electronics - June 2006
Mobile networks create superior rain gauges. Roy Rubenstein reports from Israel.
Researchers at Israel’s Tel-Aviv University have used changes in radio signal strengths between cellular base stations to measure rainfall. They are now exploring using mobile handset signals for more accurate environmental measurements.
Rain is well known for weakening radio signals and cellular networks adjust their signal strengths during poor weather to ensure call quality is maintained. By analysing signal strengths sent between base stations – data that phone companies collect – the researchers have been able to calculate rainfall more accurately than existing methods.
“What we have done is a proof of concept using existing by product measurements from cellular communications,” says Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, vice president of R&D at Tel-Aviv University, and involved in the project. The rainfall measurements produced are superior to rain gauges when extrapolated across an area and improve on weather radars. “We are closer to the ground [than radar],” she said.
The researchers are now in talks with network operators to secure regular access to signal data, whilst also investigating how to measure snow, fog and hail.
As for using handsets, that is a harder problem. “Base stations are static, handsets are on the move which affects their signals,” said Prof Messer-Yaron, who believes that a mass of useful environmental and societal data can be collected by processing such radio signals.