Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Patentable Idea

Hey, Internets! You know what I want right now? I will tell you! I will tell you for free, Internets, and then you can make it for me and I would even pay you for it, after giving you my awesome idea for free. That is how much I want this thing:

I want a device, approximately the size of a cell phone. It could be a little bigger, if it had to, but it wouldn't need a display or a keypad or anything. The cell phone would contain the standard internal workings for each of the major wireless carriers (ideally, actually, it would be modular, so that you could build the device to spec for each customer, but that's not a requirement, it's something that would be nice to have). It would also contain some memory -- it wouldn't need much, just a few MB, really.

I would rent this device for... a time. A few days, maybe a week. And I would carry it around with me, like I do my cell phone. And every 5 or 10 minutes, the device would check its signal strength (for phone and data) for each of its chips, and record that in memory. And at the end of my rental period, I would bring the device back to its home base, and plug it in, and be presented with a graph, charting signal strength for each of the major carriers (or the carriers I chose to track, if it's a modular device) across the period of my rental. For special bells and whistles, I suppose the device and its resulting graph could do other things, like tell me the device's physical location at each reading, but that would take a bit more memory, and anyway, it's not all that necessary: I know where I've been and approximately when, over a week's span. And if I were renting this device with the specific purpose of trying to make sure that I'm going to get a cell plan that will work everywhere that I'm going to be, then I would be extra certain to make a note of when I'm at a place that I'd especially want the phone to work.

'Cause here's the thing: I love my iPhone. I really, really do. And in 9 out of 10 locations that matter to me, my signal strength is just fine. But that tenth location, Internets? That tenth location is my office, where I spend something like half my waking hours. And when I'm in my office, I get no signal. About once a week or so, on particularly clear days, sometimes signal will eke through long enough for me to receive a text message. But it doesn't last long enough for me to send a reply. If I want signal when I'm at work, I have go to out to the lobby and wait five minutes or so for the phone to realize it's found a (weak) signal again, and then make my call or send my message.

I've been living with it, because I do love my iPhone, and anyway I had a 2-year contract with AT&T. But that two years is ending in about a month. And the new iPhone 4G is shiny and all, but it didn't blow me away. There are other smartphone options now. Some of the Android phones look pretty slick. Braz has an EVO 4G, and it's very pretty.

So I've been asking around my office, and have gathered that T-Mobile's signal sucks in the building, but the people with Verizon and Sprint are both pretty happy and can make calls inside and everything. Though they aren't making them in my office, which is not only windowless, but it doesn't even have a wall on the exterior of the building. I'm in a tiny little shielded cinderblock cave -- which will be awesome if ever there's a tornado or a radiation leak or something, but as far as cell signal goes, pretty much blows chunks.

And even if I can get those people to bring their Verizon and Sprint phones into my office so I can see signal bars there -- then I'm faced with wondering how their signal is at the places I spend the other half of my waking hours. Like my house, say. Or the gym. Or my parents' house. How about down at KT's? How about elsewhere along my daily route? It sure would suck if I got a flat tire halfway to Alex's daycare and didn't have a signal on my phone to call AAA with. And I'm pretty sure my officemates aren't going to loan me their phones for a few days so I can check it out.

Why doesn't this device exist, Internets? Or does it? Help me out, here, Internets!

1 comment:

Gris said...

I've seen things that will help boost your signal, and ways to put your phone into "signal test" mode that will give you more accurate numbers on how good your reception is, but nothing that will do it cross-brand. The best I can offer you is the benefit of my web research on this question about a year back when my parents were looking for a cell plan up in the North Country (which used to be about as benighted as it got for cel coverage, with all the mountains and the sparse populace and whatnot).

So. Firstly I offer Mobiledia's Can You Hear Me Now? What? cellular coverage page-- I've found the anecdotal evidence exceedingly useful, although a map would be nice (more on that in a bit). They also map cell towers and actually tell you which towers belong to whom, so you can find out why that cell tower practically in your back yard seems to have the reception of that great-aunt who's always forgetting to put fresh batteries in her hearing aids. It tends to be a little out of date but that's a GOOD thing, because it's not like they're taking *down* cell towers these days. They also link to different carriers' coverage maps.

Secondly, we have the gnifty SignalMap page. Remember that map I wished for? Here you go. SignalMap essentially puts the anecdotal info into a visual form (yay, Google Maps). Like CYHMN?W?, it's volunteer; it's also very, very beta. (I could never get the little pop-up info tags to work, or I'd have rated it higher than CYHMN?W?.)

Of less usefulness but not entirely without purpose is Dead Cell, which is kind of a reverse coverage map-- it tells you where all those nasty dead zones are for each carrier. Not very useful if you've already GOT the phone and the dead zone in question is, say, your office, but it might be helpful for your purposes in knowing who to avoid. I'm not sure how connected ('scuse the pun) these guys are, but they also offer a feedback form for indoor dead zones that (they claim) will be "used by wireless service providers to better understand your wireless requirements and to help develop and deliver solutions that address your needs for indoor wireless coverage."

That's what I got. Hope it helps. :)