Mobile coverage is the cause of a lot of arguments. From couples moaning at each other for not answering the phone, to a lack of internet access in locations in which you spend a lot of time. But, the big problem is, you never know until it's too late what the signal is going to be like. But one company has an app - and a website - for that, and we think it's pretty cool. We spoke to RootMetrics about about how it maps mobile phone signals, what mobile apps add into the equation, and what the company has noticed about 4G so far.
You can watch Greg Kleven, international MD for RootMetrics discuss how the firm carries out its testing, and why it's unique, in our video interview below.
The thing that RootMetrics claims makes it different is that it is independent of the service providers. It buys its own testing hardware, and those phones are standard Android devices that it buys in the same shops we do, and it uses the popular devices that you're more likely to own. It then does scientific tests to determine how good mobile reception is across the country. Although it doesn't test the whole of the UK yet, just large urban zones, but it's certainly a start.
One interesting thing we learnt from the interview was that despite the discussion about specific frequencies being better, or worse, for indoor use, the RootMetrics team hadn't had any noticeable problems with being indoors.
Kleven also told us that in terms of mobile broadband, the UK has gone from something of a broadband ghetto to somewhere near the top of the league tables. He compared London to New York, and said the UK was now doing much better. Although anecdotal evidence we gathered on AT&T 4G in New York was that it's a dreadful place to get high-speed mobile broadband.
Also, testing so far has shown that Vodafone's speed is currently the slowest across all of the firm's tests. That's slightly strange, given that it has spent the most on frequency auctions and building up its network. But it's also interesting to note that when we ran our own tests we noticed that Three's HSPA+ network could really speed along at times. Something we noted when we used the Three Cube for our home broadband last year.
In our own testing with the RootMetrics app, we noticed that even quite modest distances made a massive difference to speed, and no doubt a lot of this is down to the time of day, and load on each cell tower. And while EE scored very well in terms of download speed, we can see that in a year's time, so will the other networks too. But we still applaud EE's 4G, which is a lot faster than many home broadband connections.
Perhaps the best thing about the RootMEtrics app and site, is that you can see how things look in your area. So if you're pondering a move to a new network, you can scope it out to see how it looks on other providers. Of course, this does require that other people have used the app in your area, but the more people who use it, the better the data will be.
And while it's handy that RootMetrics does its own scientific survey, it's likely that the crowd-sourced app will find problems in networks where a one-off survey drive-by might not. So, perhaps if Vodafone is very slow near you, there's an issue that could be investigated, but one that is intermittent. It's certainly something to consider mentioning with customer services if you are stuck on a long contract, and your area has a poor signal.