Every day, we pick up our phones, send a text or make a call. In just a few taps, we are communicating with people all over the area, sometimes all over the world.
In order for all of this to work, the transmission from your device has to travel through a building called a network switch facility. The exact locations of these buildings are kept secret because they are the nerve centers of what makes cellular communication possible.
Steve Van Dinter is with Verizon Wireless. He gave WGN News a tour of one of these centers where 9 million phone calls and 600 million data transmissions pass through every single day.
"Pull out your phone and you make a call or access a mobile web page. That information all comes through this center and then gets routed accordingly," Van Dinter says. "Basically, if you interact with your phone in this area, it's coming through this center."
Every time you make a call or send a text, a signal travels from your device to the nearest cell tower in the area. Your transmission has to make it way that tower to one of these switch facilities. To make that happen, there are miles and miles of cable buried all over the region, transferring your data in a flash.
There are multiple rooms in these facilities full of different equipment that sends your message where it needs to go. And most of the equipment is doubled up, so if one set of systems fail, there will be another to take it's place.
The site's senior operations manager Bruce Douglas walked WGN News through the building. He says they have protections in place to make sure it continues to function.
Should the power go out, they have not one, but two backup generators. There is a 10,000 gallon tank of diesel fuel in the building to run those generators for eight days. If the generators fail, there is an entire room of batteries that could power the facility for about eight hours. And should a facility go down, there are others in the area that could handle the load until things are back up and running.
"These are the nerve centers. This is the backbone of our network," Van Dinter said. "If you have every call, data or text transmission coming through a building, it's very important from our perspective."
So the next time you make a phone call or send a text, know that it has traveled to a cell tower, through miles of cable, into multiple rooms in one of these buildings and back out to the person you want to send it to. And as Bruce says, "It all happens in the blink of an eye."