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What type of reception can one get on their cell phones if they are very close to cell tower locations?

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Cell/mobile phone signals can be obstructed by all manor of things including atmospheric weather and buildings. Perusing the web, it seems that there is no guarantee that standing next to a cell/mobile tower will provide a better signal. One user on the forum at MacRumors stated they were unable to get a signal greater than two bars when standing at the foot of the AT&T tower.
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