Which cell site is your UK EE BlackBerry roaming on? Use the secret code to help give you an indication

By James Richardson on 14 Oct 2012 04:42 am EDT

You may remember from late last month that we told UK BlackBerry users who are on either Orange or T-Mobile that their network provider name would switch at some point on their BlackBerry to EE. For those of you that are not aware Orange and T-Mobile are owned by the same company who have recently been re-branded from Everything Everywhere to plain old EE.

Just today I got a text message from Orange telling me that when I reboot my device I would then have the new EE name on my phone instead of the current Orange one. So I switched my mobile network off and on again and hey pesto there it was - EE.

But then one thing struck me. Because Orange and T-Mobile share cell sites - as a customer of either network you automatically roam onto the cell tower that is emitting the strongest signal. Being a bit of a geek I like to know which one I am on and up until now it has been easy to see. Orange BlackBerry customers phones will show 'Orange -T-Mobile' if roaming on a T-Mobile mast and vice versa for T-Mobile customers. However, now with my BlackBerry just showing EE as the network provider I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to see which cell site I was on.

To most people this really won't matter but to some it may do? The bad news is that on a BlackBerry there isn't a way to tell. I spoke with Orange today who advised me that the BlackBerry will only show EE and you will be using the cell site which provides the best signal strength for you. 

Initially I was a bit gutted as where I live I don't have the best Orange signal. I normally roam onto T-Mobile and I like to make sure it stays that way as it can affect battery life. But then I remembered something - I can check the signal strength on my BlackBerry by using the secret code.

If you are in the same predicament as me (or you probably don't care) you can hold down the 'alt' key on your BlackBerry and press the letters 'N, M, L, L'. This will then remove your coverage bars from the top of the BlackBerry screen and instead will show you your dBm. (Reverse the proceedure to get the bars back) Now I'm not going to get too technical with you but dBm is the signal power in decibels and it gives an indication of how strong your signal is.

For example:

1 bar -102 to -120 dBM
2 Bars -93 to -101 dBM
3 Bars -87 to -92 dBM
4 Bars -78 to -86 dBM
5 Bars -40 to -77 dBM

So for my benefit I like to keep the dBm showing on my BlackBerry as by seeing the real signal strength I can pretty much tell if I am on the Orange mast or the T-Mobile one. -77 is good for me (on T-Mobile) but if I hit -101 for example I know I have moved to the Orange cell tower for some reason. So as it stands at the moment Orange and T-Mobile still have seperate cell towers but gradually we will all have just one network provider instead of the option of two - not a bad thing I suppose. 

I hope this comes in handy as from experience if my signal strength is low my battery drainage rate tends to increase.

Reader comments

Which cell site is your UK EE BlackBerry roaming on? Use the secret code to help give you an indication


Do you think that, with the recent issues that o2 have been experiencing, Vodafone will actually want to share? I expect that this will worry the Vodafone chiefs and make them think twice.

Voda and o2 *are* going to share towers, there was a story floating around about a month ago.

And bills shouldn't rise as a result of them sharing, they should fall as both carriers should save money, but then I can't see either reducing our bills!

Sharing a tower is not the same thing as sharing antennas, and a long way from the company and infrastructure merger which will follow the creation of EE. Tower sharing means that you will see antenna hardware from both companies mounted on the same supporting structure.

O2 and Vodafone have started to share sites before the announcement. A roadside mast near me has both O2 and Vodafone idents at it's base.
I just wish that the networks would give more info about their cell sites. There are some apps that will reveal the CellID. O2 gives the locations of their sites on a coverage map but they are not identified, they used to give the CellIDs many years ago. For the other networks in the UK you don't even know where the masts are for sure.

I'd like to know what app is running on that phone shown up there? I mean the one that shows you the battery percentage. I'd like to have something like that as well.

Lucky for me I can still tell what one i'm connected to. I have a sim only contract with Virgin mobile which runs on T-Mobile and also has access to Orange.

If it displays Virgin with a capital V i'm connected to T-Mobile, if it displays virgin with a lowercase v then i'm connected to Orange :)

Thanks for that useful piece of information. I've just confirmed it.

Incidentally, if you have a Virgin Media account there really does seem to be quite a lot to be saved by buying your own phone and going SIM only. We have several Virgin phones in our household, and the virtually free V-V calls mean that the contract can be quite a bit cheaper.

The next one will be a BB 10.

When I do the alt nmll thing, I also see a -2 located halfway between the signal strength and the time. Do you know what that is?

Okay, I'm going to ask the obvious here - given the translation, why can't you read the same thing into what you see from the signal bars? Eg if you're at 5 bars it's TMo, if it's 1 bar it's Orange?

Loving the increased UK focus, esp with the Orange bias btw James

The UK and Indonesia are potentially major growth areas for RIM. We are also contrarians - if "everybody" does something, English people in particular like to find an alternative.