Feb, 06 2012

The Carrier-IQ scandal still hasn’t blown over, but now a pro-consumer alternative – called Carrier Coverage – has found its way to Android Market. The app collects real data from real users to piece together an accurate and unbias picture of carrier coverage, segmented by location, carrier, and device. If the app gains a critical mass of users, it could become the defacto standard for independent carrier coverage information. The team is already planning additional features such as heatmaps, data speed tests, 3G vs 4G comparisons, and international support.

Is the data accurate? Not yet. That’s why the Carrier Coverage Team is asking users for your help, patience, and participation:

“It’s almost a chicken and egg scenario. It’s a Catch 22. You need the critical mass for the service to fulfill it’s potential, but you need a great service in order to attract a critical mass. We think we have a great service. We hope people will look at the app, look at the website, realize we’ve put a lot of thought and effort into the concept, and help us achieve what we’ve set out to do.” – Steve Albright, Lead Developer

One killer feature, which the team hopes to launch in the coming months, is reporting based on specific addresses. That’s right: pop in your home address, school address, work address, or any other specific address and Carrier Coverage will give you a summary of important info. This could be particularly helpful to determine whether or not your phone will get service during a vacation or road trip.

Specific address support isn’t yet enabled – the complexities of recording and querying millions of records make the feat difficult to accomplish – but the Carrier Coverage team hopes to include this feature (along with heatmaps) in an update this year. However further feature development will hinge on how quickly the app catches on: Carrier Coverage has already been in development for over a yearand hasn’t been cheap or easy. Hopefully, with support from the community, the app and site will flourish, allowing for continued development.

So how will a free app with zero ads make money? The team hopes the companion website, located at CarrierCoverage.com, will have enough sponsorships and ad revenue to pay the bills. The website displays overview information for every carrier, device, and location that have been recorded by contributors. Currently, only the United States is supported, but additional countries and regions will eventually be added to the mix.

The Carrier Coverage Android App

On launch, Carrier Coverage is only available to Android users in the United States (download link). Because Android has hundreds of devices available from different manufactures and carriers, it offered the ideal landscape for Version 1. Hopefully an iOS and Windows Phone version will follow, but again, this hinges on the success of the project. Let’s take a look at the apps main screens:

The first time you open the app, you’re prompted with terms of service to which you must agree. The app collects sensitive data such as your location, but unlike Carrier-IQ, you’re told exactly what you’re contributing and can even adjust settings to turn data collection off completely.¬†After agreeing to the terms, you’re popped over to the “My Coverage” screen.

My Coverage

The My Coverage screen keeps a running tally of your data points, providing you with your average signal strength over the life of the app’s use. I’ve currently got a 3.73 Average Signal based on 1878 data points- not bad. This count is based on my personal data, and just below, we see how my carrier and device are performing based on aggregate data collected by all users combined.

This is interesting to see how your personal average compares to users with the same carrier/device in your immediate surroundings. If you want to dive into the details, you’ll see a Top Carrier and Top Device for your location, with a “List” button for the complete rankings. If you’re looking for data not found on the My Coverage screen, swipe over to the “Reports” screen.

Reports

On the reports screen, you’re able to create a custom report based on the specific data you’re seeking. You’re able to alter three options:

  • Location
  • Report Type (Carriers or Devices)
  • Search Boundary (City, State, Country)

After running the report, you get a complete list of carriers or devices in the region and proximity selected, along with signal strength and data points for each item on the list. The “Share” button is a neat little feature that allows you to quickly e-mail the information, with a link for more detailed info, to anyone you want. Having an argument with your friend? Suggesting a carrier/device combo to a family member? Run a report and shoot them the details in a quick and helpful e-mail. Or just brag to your friends why your phone and carrier are better than theirs!

Settings

Press the 3 dots in the upper right hand corner of the app and you’ll get sent to a helpful settings pages that allows you to set some very important options. Most notable are the participant settings:

  • Friendly Helper (once per hour)
  • Dedicated Supporter (once every half hour)
  • Hardcore Fan (once every 5 minutes)
  • Turn Service Off (Do not contribute)

Pinging once every hour should have an extremely small impact on your battery life, but still lets you contribute to the project. Every data point counts so providing this range is a nice feature. You’re even able to opt-out of participation completely, a nice touch for those worried about privacy or nutty conspiracy theories. Users can also disable pinging when their battery is low, toggle the notification icon, check for app updates, view the changelog, read the user agreement, watch a promo video, and enter debug mode.

Will the concept take off?

This depends largely on the users that choose to download. Hopefully, the app won’t get flooded with 1-star ratings and “no data in my area” comments- in order to display helpful and accurate data, lots of users need to believe in the concept rather than simply downloading the app for immediate glory. The first couple months should tell the story: with enough support and momentum, Carrier Coverage could become a truly powerful tool for consumers.

The Future of Carrier Coverage

Round 1 of Carrier Coverage keeps things simple, displaying only the most critical data. As more information is collected, it will allow for more detailed reporting, filtering, and sorting. Some of the features the Carrier Coverage team hopes to enable in the future include:

  • Heatmaps
  • 3G vs 4G reports
  • Data speed reports
  • Reports for specific addresses
  • International Support
  • Selectable timeframes and trends

Go ahead. Download the app. Start contributing. See how it affects the data on the website. Hit up the forums and provide feedback, opinions, criticism, questions, and whatever else you may be inspired to share. Suggest the app to your friends. Help get the ball rolling and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Carrier Coverage was created by Neverstill Media, LLC, who also own Phandroid.com, AndroidForums.com, and AndroidApplications.com among other web and mobile properties.