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Micro-Coverage Maps

Better informed mobile phone consumers
  [vote for,

There are six major mobile phone providers in the USA. All six of them have national coverage at this point, which means in most cities you have six choices. They are also very competitive, constantly one-upping each other with better rates and more frills. This is clearly a boon for the consumer, right?

The problem becomes, barring some particular benefit that appeals to you at only one provider, how to choose? I’ve noticed when talking to other cellular phone users, perceptions of quality of coverage of a provider vary widely. I’m very happy with the provider I’ve had for 6 years, but a friend of mine signed up with them and constantly complained about dropped calls and lack of good signal.

Despite claims of “national” coverage, signal strength varies from location to location. This is an inescapable fact of how radio signals work in a cellular network.

It occurs to me that if your chosen provider just happens to have localized dips in coverage at a few of the key places you spend most of your time (your home, your job, your favorite coffee shop, and so on) you are bound to be dissatisfied with that provider. Most providers have coverage maps, but they are too large scale to show these little dips. So how do you find this out without first signing up, which can involve a long-term contract?

I propose a third-party service that would provide coverage maps down to something like 15-meter resolution. How to do this? Well, it wouldn’t be hard to build a set of radios that knew just enough about each cellular provider to measure the signal strength at a location. Combine this with a GPS and some means of recording; you have a device that can be carried around to measure spot strengths for all six providers.

Compiling the maps could involve simply hiring someone to drive these devices all around major cities. Other means that are less costly and time consuming could be devised. For instance, cut a deal with one of the package delivery services to mount your devices on each of their trucks, which are constantly driving all around. Or solicit volunteers to help with the project.

The data would be presented in a website similar to one of the mapping services like MapQuest. You log in, and map the locations in your town where you spend most of your time. The mapping service plots those locations, and the road routes between them. It computes the signal strengths for each provider at those locations, and lists the providers in the order you should consider them, from best average signal strength to worst.

krelnik, Jul 15 2004

Network Coverage Map http://www.gsmcover...go/europe_init.html
Select a country and then a network from the LHS. [jonthegeologist, Oct 05 2004]

The equipment needed is baked! Pictures here... http://www.mobiletr...ireless-hear-me-now
Verizon's real-life "can you hear me now" has it [krelnik, Apr 04 2005]

T-Mobile Compass "Personal Coverage Check" http://compass.t-mobile.com
Allows you to see T-Mobile's coverage in the U.S. on exactly the detail I suggest in the idea. [krelnik, Apr 25 2005]


       Can you hear me now?
half, Jul 15 2004

       Reading between the lines, this suggests that in the US when using a domestic cellphone, you can surf for a preferred provider?   

       In the UK, domestic cellphones are fixed to a single mobile provider, which cannot be changed, regardless of signal strength in a given location. Basically, once you've bought the handset, you just have to put up with the service you're provided with ... no choppin' 'n' changin' here, sadly.
jonthegeologist, Jul 15 2004

       I thought it was about choosing a provider period. I don't think he intended specifically to promote dynamic carrier-hopping. (" So how do you find this out without first signing up, which can involve a long-term contract?")   

       Having said that, there are some carriers here that use the same handset. I have an old Motorola StarTac tri-mode phone that I can use on my current carrier or on Verizon. I recently bought another identical phone, second hand, that had been on my current carrier and activated the service with Verizon instead.
half, Jul 15 2004

       I getcha. Then isn't this idea baked by the likes of this link attached?
jonthegeologist, Jul 15 2004

       jon, I think krelnik is looking for something like that but with much higher resolution.   

       I, for example, live at the bottom of a hill. Depending on the location of the broadcast antenna, my signal strength could vary greatly over the 150 yards of the hill. It would be nice too know if I will be in a dead spot before swapping service providers.   

       I like the idea, but think that mapping the areas manually would be prohibitively expensive, though. It would almost certainly be cheaper (though not quite as good) to put the transmitters on a topographical map and calculate what the signal strengths should be.
st3f, Jul 15 2004

       Most phones constantly monitor the signal strength. They are also capable of knowing their location. Create modified phones that track the signal strength wherever they travel and report it back to a centralized database. To help privacy concerns, collect only the location and signal strength data, not which phone reported the data.   

       Get volunteers (or pay people) to carry these phones around. Of course making/modifying the phones to collect this data and paying people to carry them could be expensive, and I doubt that people would be willing to pay a whole lot to ge the maps, so this may not be practical.
scad mientist, Jul 15 2004

       Correct, [st3f], I want higher x/y resolution than what standard coverage maps (such as the link) provide. Plus I want the map to indicate signal strength, where existing coverage maps only contain binary data(covered/not covered).
krelnik, Jul 15 2004

       I like this idea, especially if you could modify it to show the reception that your specific phone will get. My fiancee just got a new phone (different manufacturer) but stayed with the same provider. She says the difference in reception is amazing.
luecke, Jul 15 2004

       Oh, now that is a very interesting enhancement, [lueke], I agree. I've experienced that phenomenon myself.
krelnik, Jul 16 2004

       Saw an article about Verizon's testing service (the real-life "can you hear me now" guy). It turns out they actually test all the competing services too, and at the scale described in this idea. They just don't share the data outside their own company.   

       The linked article shows how they do it, including pictures of the equipment they use.
krelnik, Apr 04 2005

       A week or so ago the CEO of Verizon was quoted as saying they had "no intention" of sharing their detailed signal strength maps with the public. Bummer.   

       However, today I found out that T-Mobile has almost exactly what I describe here already implemented on their website! See link.   

       Maybe this will embarrass the other vendors into providing this info.
krelnik, Apr 25 2005


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