Idea: A mobile network performance statistics app?

People here in the Netherlands will often complain about poor 3G data speeds. Twitter is full of people complaining about T-Mobile. Some will suggest Vodafone for better reception, while others agree that KPN has the best network. I simply don’t know. And to my knowledge, no independent studies have been done recently. So maybe it’s time for a community app that measures network performance, and reports back to an independent database?

The idea is simple enough. Let’s say we create an Android app that, at predetermined intervals, does a quick analysis of the phone’s 3G reception. It then sends anonymized location and signal strength data to a server that collects them. If enough people could be persuaded to run the app, this server would then be able to display a “heat map” of average speeds per network provider. Nearly in real time. Or you could use historical data to see whether T-Mobile really has poorer performance all around.

I fully realize that this means doing almost the same thing as Apple’s recently been criticized for. Not only would people have to devote storage space, cpu cycles and battery life to help do this, they’d also have to trust the app’s authors. The app would need to keep track of your location, although nothing needs to be stored permanently on the phone. Making the app open source would probably help, and the rewards may well be worth it.

You might wonder what happens when a phone has no connection at all. I think those reports could be buffered on the device and sent later. The server’s algorithm should probably check the number of reports still coming in and start suspecting trouble if there’s a sudden drop. Different phones might also have different readings, and while that probably averages out, it might be worth also collecting make and model info.

As with all the ideas I post to my blog, I haven’t done much research into this. It just popped into my head. Please let me know if something like this already exists. Or if you have other comments. Oh, and most definitely if you’re a talented Android app coder :).

3 Comments

  1. ATT has an APP called mark the spot. So you can report no coverage,bad coverage, and dropped calls.
    That way the user is in control when and what gets reported.

    Comment by JasonB — May 21, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

    • Hi Jason. While marking certain spots as bad (wonder how that works with no coverage) is great as a provider feedback tool, it doesn’t let you compare providers. That would be the main purpose of the app I’m proposing. To enable people to choose the best 3G network for their area.

      Comment by Roy — May 24, 2011 @ 7:42 am

  2. Roy, it’s been done now by the BBC but only in the UK: http://mobilenetworkcomparison.co.uk/crowdsourcing-mobile-coverage-maps/

    Comment by Mobile Nework Comparison — July 20, 2011 @ 3:40 pm