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Your call drops here…

The utility of the mobile phone is amazing – despite holes in wireless coverage that lead to blocked calls.

Some of the holes are 100% predictable – there should be white lines painted across the road with a warning sign – "XXX Customers – your wireless call drops here!". At these locations I'm always surprised that the side of the road is littered with broken glass and shattered cell phones as frustrated cell phone users hurl their phone through the window when the call drops… yet again!

None of the wireless carriers are exempt from this… and in a lot of cases are as frustrated as us that they can't fix it! For example, one of the towns close to my office (Portola Valley) has a hole in coverage and one carrier attempted to negotiate with the School Board to place a new cell on the roof of the school. The School Board voted not to allow the cell because of "concerns about radiation levels". Another variant of the "not in my backyard" syndrome!

So you can understand why I really resonated with the "coming out" announcement of Root Wireless this morning on one of the Seattle tech blogs – TechFlash. Here's a link to John Cook's article "Startup pinpoints the good, bad and ugly of wireless networks".

Root Wireless builds coverage maps for the different wireless operators and allows a user to compare the coverage of one carrier versus another – imagine overlaying this data on a route map showing your regular commute and being able to see which carrier could give you the best coverage?

Coverage alone isn't a 100% predictor – I suspect a significant number of dropped calls result because of capacity problems on the next cell – the handoff fails because there is no available channel for your call. The network answer (any network!) to congestion is very simple… drop the call! Too bad the FCC doesn't make the carriers publish maps identifying the reasons for dropped calls!

I particularly like the idea of the distributed approach to collecting the coverage data – get the app loaded on enough phones and collect the data. Nice! I know from past studies when I was an investor in @Road (eventually acquired by Trimble a couple of years ago for close to $0.5B) that you can get excellent information with a surprisingly low number of units in the field – somewhere between 500 and 1000 active users would give you good area coverage for places like Seattle or the Bay Area.

Nice one Root Wireless!

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STU PHILLIPS
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA

Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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