Root Wireless: Let’s Share Data and Create Better Coverage Maps

Every cellular carrier shows their coverage areas, but wouldn’t it be nice if you actually had your own map? And what if your map was updated by your own network usage as well as with data from other real people? With that kind of information, you’d have a much better idea of how good — or bad — a signal your handset will have in a certain area on a particular carrier. Root Wireless today released an application for BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android (s goog) handsets to create these crowd-sourced coverage maps.

I first glimpsed the fruits of this labor in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. If you’ve ever wanted to experience signal challenges, the CES has to rank up there as a top opportunity — over 100,000 from the mobile-tech industry are in one town and you can bet that many have multiple cell-phones and mobile broadband devices. I often take devices from three — if not all four — of the major U.S. carriers to mitigate connectivity issues. But I really didn’t have a sense as to which carrier network was optimal, until I chatted with the Root Wireless folks. Using their own application, they determined that Sprint (s s) offered the fastest throughput during the show while T-Mobile provided the most consistent coverage.

At that time, the application wasn’t ready for the general populace, but it is now. Although I’m not in a major metro area, I installed the free software on my Google Nexus One so I can add data for the greater good. With the software, I can report a dropped call, share that I can’t connect to the network, or I can run a barrage of tests for reporting purposes. The application runs passively in the background, so there’s no need for interaction. And the data is aggregated anonymously for the public consumption of coverage maps.

But those maps go far beyond coverage and here’s where the crowd-sourcing and actual network usage comes into play. Levels of signal strength are captured and reported, bringing a far more granular level of detail that I’ve seen with standard carrier maps. The data is also based on real-world usage, not just tower locations, so it provides a more useful amount of information from a consumer perspective. Mobile broadband data reporting offers average upload and download speeds, as well. Knowing that I’ll only see a 300 kbps download somewhere is far more informative than a generic level of “average” coverage, for example.

Up to now, Root Wireless used its application to map coverage in 15 U.S. metropolitan markets — you can see the areas on a coverage map, all the way down to the street level. Five additional markets will follow over the next few weeks, but the real map-making starts today with the Root Mobile app. As more consumers install the app, more areas become mapped, and in greater detail. The company has mapped another five markets to be posted in coming weeks and increased crowd-sourcing will potentially build out data throughout the rest of the U.S.

The Nexus One, Cliq (s mot), Droid Eris and G1 are all currently supported Android handsets for the Root Mobile software, while the BlackBerry Bold, Tour, Curve and 8830 can also use the app, found at Root Wireless expects to offer a Windows Mobile client by mid-year and is also working on an iPhone (s aapl) version of the application.

Image courtesy of Root Wireless

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