Wireless coverage is everything. Providers are constantly working to improve and build-out their coverage areas, boost speeds and best the competition. They invest billions of dollars every year to grow their networks and to build new ones.
But not every area can be covered by every provider. There are obviously going to be holes, or weak points, in coverage for all of the different networks, places where your carrier's network doesn't quite stack up to the competition. That's the sort of information that wireless providers would like to keep locked away forever. Until now, they have, for the most part. David Goldman of CNN says:
"Carriers rigorously test their networks and their rivals' networks, hiring third-party surveyors to perform comparisons. However, those surveys are almost always performed under non-disclosure agreements."
For someone like me, who carries two phones from two different networks every day, it's relatively simple to get a real time, side by side comparison of multiple wireless networks. It's not so easy for someone who carries just one device to test the waters and see how their network stacks up to the competition in any given area. It would require a friend willing to play along and run various speed tests in different areas, signing up for service with another carrier on a trial basis or some other inconvenient method.
Enter CarrierCompare. This morning, CarrierCompare hit Apple's App Store and is available for the iPhone for free (ad-supported) or $1.99. It was created by Boston-based startup, SwayMarkets, who offer a couple other applications that measure data usage and allow you to pinpoint network problems on a map. When you load CarrierCompare for the first time, all you have to do is tap to begin the test. Much like the SpeedTest.net application, it will run some speed and quality tests on your current network. (If you're connected to Wi-Fi, it compares that to other wireless networks.) Then comes the important part. It uses crowd-sourcing to pull results from people in your area using the same application. The end result is a graphical representation of how your carrier stacks up against the other two.
It's intriguing to be able to compare the three largest networks in America in any given location at will (granted someone else around you is using the application). It gives any iPhone user (and hopefully Android users in the future) insight on other networks and a much more simple way to compare wireless providers in their area. This is not something any wireless provider will be happy about, however. Founder of SwayMarkets, Amos Epstein, says:
"Each carrier knows its own network and hires people to drive around in trucks to measure its rivals' service as well. But they haven't gone as far to release data that's tangible and useful to the consumer."
The downside? It only works on iOS, so you can't use this from any Android or Windows Phone device. And T-Mobile is excluded from the app since the iPhone is not officially available on T-Mobile's network. Also, if there are no other results from your area, the test might continually fail and not yield any results.
Update: Several Twitter followers have pointed out that there is a similar application, Sensorly, that works for Android. Enjoy!
I had to run the test five times before I got any results. And those results were from someone 40 miles away. Not to mention, I live at the bottom of a hill, where I already know signal is hit or miss. Obviously, this wouldn't be the best comparison to go by ...
That said, this application is a testament to the true beauty of crowd-sourcing data and the endless capabilities of our pocket-sized computers. And something as revealing as CarrierCompare could give wireless providers a little more incentive to improve their networks in larger problem areas.
One can dream, right?
Tell me, readers. If you used something like CarrierCompare and learned that your carrier often fell short of the other two providers, would you consider switching to another carrier? Or is the data from an application like this not convincing enough to push you over the edge?