I came across a question that is really puzzeling me. I did some basic calculation for a cell phone transmitter. I based on 900Mhz band and assumed a 20Km distance to a cell tower. On top of that I assumed a 99.99% reliability which comes to almost 38 dB for the fade margin. I also assumed a +6 dBi gain for the TX and RX antennas, and reciver power of -100dBm. My calculations showed me a 45 dBm which is almost 23 watts. so I am really confused that how a cell phone with a 5 V battery can operate on these basis and actually run for a long time. am I not having correct assumptions about the hardware design or are they very well designed to perform such a comm link

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    \$\begingroup\$ Cell phones use adaptive output power, with a maximum of 2W or so. Usually cell towers are much closer than 20km in suburban or urban areas, so average consumption is much less. I'll let you figure out where the other 10dB comes from (error correction?) as I've not looked at this stuff in ages. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caspian How did you actually input the "reliability" into your calculations? What's the coverage at the edge of the cell and the percent of cell's interior in your model (also which model are you using)? \$\endgroup\$
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ To answer this we need to know what formula you used for calculating link loss but as @spehro says, 20km is a long distance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, cell transmission is not necessarily continuous. GSM, which I am most familiar, transmits in bursts of around 600 µs every 4.5 ms. During this burst, the current drain on the battery can exceed 1.5 A. During the rest of the time slot, it may be only a couple hundred mA. \$\endgroup\$
    – tcrosley
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 21:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ The GSM standard is documented, in fact I believe there's an open-source base-station project. There's plenty of RF kung-fu going on with it so calculations relating to simple radio links from your average textbook do not really apply. \$\endgroup\$
    – John U
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 8:27

1 Answer 1


no operator nowadays designs 20Km cell radius, Link budgets like that aint workable with modulation schemes and mobile phone class mark power nowadays.

The example you got was a 1st Generation link budget with a 25 watt handset on narrowband FM analog.

Most probably you got hold of an NMT link budget calculations used in the mid 80s. NMT or Nordic Mobile Telephone is a standard embraced by nordic countries and other countries outside the baltic.

They are vehicle installed phones, and has powers up to 50Watts and comes in 450MHz and 900MHz band.

NMT was later scrapped as ITU allocated the 900MHz bands for GSM and the North American Equivalent.

Saw NMT until the late 90s for countries with large logging concessional areas, last users of this system were logging and mining companies.


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