Why T-Mobile US Inc New Real-Time Coverage Map Is Awesome

31 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Carrier coverage claims: What does covering “X-percentage” of Americans really mean?.

NEW YORK — The major wireless carriers spend a bundle on advertising to convince you they have the best network or the widest coverage. T-Mobile’s newest coverage map paints a rosier picture of the network’s reach, part of its continuing efforts to steal more customers from its rivals.

If you’re the kind of person who s always concerned with making sure that you’re getting the best out of what you pay for, you’re probably curious as to what exact coverage your mobile carrier is actually giving you. The T-Mobile blog says it’s incorporating “real-time customer usage” into its maps, which it argues gives a more accurate picture of what your experience would be like if you make the leap from Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint. If there is any perceived weak point in the US wireless infrastructure, it could be argued that it is actual physical coverage, the ability to pick-up a carrier signal anywhere, anytime. It’s replacing the often outdated (and questionably accurate) coverage map with what it calls the industry’s first and only crowdsourced, customer-verified network coverage map.

When you visit the new coverage map there’ll be a toggle that indicates if the data is “customer verified.” You can turn this off to compare this to the traditional coverage-calculation method. Charging extra in the name of international roaming, waits before updating the phone, and not having unused data forwarded onto the next month are all practices T-Mobile has helped change. While not quite enough to warrant a full-fledged Un-carrier event, the new approach could still come in handy for both prospective and existing customers.

T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray says that the data presented here is “pure, unfiltered customer data.” What they’re giving us is not what they claim is their cell tower saturation but more on customer feedback and third-party collected data, like from Speedtest.net. T-Mobile is doing away with “old-school” coverage maps and is introducing its Next-Gen Network Map which relies on “real-time customer experiences.” Most carriers put their maps together based on “predictive coverage estimations.” T-Mobile says that they’re inherently flawed since they’re based on estimates. This also includes T-Mobile customers that have allowed the carrier, sorry, the un-carrier, to monitor and collect their data, with regards to performance.

The next time you want to take a road trip or think about moving somewhere relatively remote, without checking the network coverage there, T-Mobile US Inc (NYSE:TMUS) will have your back. That is why providers use carefully parsed marketing language like “service to over 95% of Americans,” versus claiming, “We cover 95% of the country.” It is fairly self-explanatory that the physical gaps we see in a coverage map are areas of low, or zero, population density, even in the immediate areas outside some western cities. Yes, it may look like a marketing gimmick, but T-Mobile says what they’re looking for is “accuracy in reporting” which is what customers deserve, if only to see if they’re getting what their money is worth. It didn’t offer other specifics about how it’s collecting such information from customers, only using general terminology like “customer verified.” The story behind the story: T-Mobile’s “un-carrier” branding is all about trying to set itself apart from its competitors.

Given the incumbent nature of AT&T’s and Verizon’s networks, going back to the original A-Side and B-Side 800MHz systems that were first built decades ago, it is easy to accept claims of having 97% or 99% of Americans covered by their networks. Many of the company’s innovations have improved the customer experience across the industry, with perks like rollover data and tossing out two-year contracts. So you might be able to get a good read on what kind of service you’ll have where you live or work, right down to your block. “We’re trying to leverage this crowdsourced data,” Ray says. “There’s a massive amount of information flowing around on these networks about where coverage is good, bad or indifferent and where speeds are good, bad or indifferent. While these figures will be official, the data will be provided by the company’s 200 million customers; their location and network strength from locations will contribute to the data on the website.

The real debate today centers not around call reception but the speed of wireless data and in that respect, T-Mobile’s crowdsourced map is a fantastic idea. T-Mobile apparently wants to cover all its bases and ensure that the provided data is accurate and verifiable; hence the map on the coverage website includes usage data from third party sources. Unlike old maps that were produced using predictive coverage estimates, T-Mobile’s new map is updated twice each month to reflect customer experiences based on more than 200 million data points each day.

Yet T-Mobile, the United States’ third or fourth largest of big four carriers (depending on how you count), claims an overall network reach that covers 96% of the population. The blog clarifies that the transparent results highlight the areas where services i.e. 3G, 4G LTE and 4G HSPA+ can be expected, with a “Verified Coverage” icon indicating areas where T-Mobile customer concentration is the greatest, in a bid to increase consumer confidence in T-Mobile’s service. Well, T-Mobile is talking about its entire network, so that includes its LTE service all the way down to more rural areas that might still register as GPRS on a mobile device. T-Mobile is not lying about its statistic, but the reality is that percentages are rapidly becoming more meaningless in terms of wireless coverage in the United States. But, head on over to T-Mobile.com/coverage for a look at the new map and let us know which differences you spot while you’re checking your regular locations for the “verified” status.

So it is a bold move on T-Mobile’s part, one that currently helps differentiate it from its rivals Verizon Communications Inc (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Sprint Corp (NYSE:S). Those companies might still be accused of using the old static coverage maps, which, by the time they are distributed to the public at large, become at least months old. The original 800MHz network licenses are still in use to this day, and have comparable coverage and building penetration propagation as the 700MHz block that was auctioned off in 2008. T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s networks (including their respective predecessors) are anchored on what is called PCS spectrum, 1900MHz, auctioned in the mid-1990s, and rapidly built out in population centers and along transportation routes.

Underpinning that coverage, things have changed a little, both carriers have since acquired lower band spectrum through acquisitions and trades, but on the whole, the PCS spectrum of both carriers, and the AWS spectrum (1700MHz) that T-Mobile also uses, is less efficient at penetrating buildings or offering uniform coverage over a particular geographic area.

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