T-Mobile is trying to ditch its reputation of having poor coverage outside of the major cities, and it's launching what it claims is the industry's only crowd-sourced and customer-verified coverage maps to prove it.
Coverage maps have long been the basis of mobile operators' marketing materials, as well as a way for potential customers to confirm coverage in their area before signing up. Verizon Wireless stakes much of its reputation on its nationwide LTE coverage and made maps its weapon of choice in 2009 when it launched its "there's a map for that" campaign (over which AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) later sued, calling it misleading). (See Verizon's 4G Strength Keeps It Above the Fray and AT&T & Verizon End Map Scrap.)
Maps have also been used as a way to slam T-Mobile US Inc. , which has traditionally lacked the low-band spectrum to compete in the more rural parts of the US. (See T-Mobile Spends $2.4B on Verizon Spectrum and T-Mobile: Going Bananas for Low-Band .)
The self-proclaimed uncarrier won't be out-mapped any more and it's building its own T-Mobile Next-Gen Network Map to show what it says is the real picture. T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray explains in a blog post that traditional carrier maps are based on predictive coverage estimations, which are simply that -- estimations. Its new maps will be drawn based on actual customer usage in "near real-time."
T-Mobile is combining 200 million customer usage data points from those customers who opt-in to provide it with additional customer usage data from third-parties such as Inrix and others. The data will be updated twice monthly and will also include speed test data showing average download speeds during the past 90 days.
Why this matters
Wireless operators tend to adopt the maps and metrics that make themselves look the best. You'll remember that Verizon touts the RootMetrics report that rated it the best network, while T-Mobile has talked up the fact that OpenSignal found it to be the fastest LTE and AT&T is now claiming to have the strongest LTE signal (without offering a real definition or source). (See AT&T Sends Strong Signal in New Ads, Verizon Still Best Network, RootMetrics Finds and OpenSignal: T-Mobile's LTE Is Fastest.)
T-Mobile's new maps could amount to just another way of looking at the mobile landscape in the US, though using a tool over which it has much more control compared with third-party maps from companies such as Mosaik Solutions LLC and RootMetrics.
However, the fact that its maps are updated every two weeks should make them a useful tool for potential new customers. With the constant pace of change in the wireless industry through the addition of small cells, new spectrum and network upgrades, the landscape changes quickly: Static maps will become outdated at an increasingly fast pace.
T-Mobile, for its part, says it will reach 300 PoPs, up from 265 today, by the end of the year and is planning to deploy new spectrum in rural areas, as well as upgrade its network in multiple cities across the US. (See Q&A: The Castle in T-Mobile's LTE Network .)
- T-Mobile Plans Small Cells as Niche Play
- T-Mobile Boss Asks Consumers to Pressure FCC on Low-Band
- Verizon Scales Up Small Cells, AT&T Cuts Back
- Sprint & T-Mobile: A Tale of Two Maps
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading