Cellular coverage maps have always been questionably accurate in the US, and even the maps released by the FCC in 2021 have a ton of asterisks. A company called Ranlytics hopes to get a much more accurate picture by attaching equipment to some of the mail trucks that already drive to many locations in the US to deliver packages and letters (through Read light). The data it collects will provide information about coverage quality “in a particular city, on a particular road, even at a particular address,” the company’s CEO, Keith Sheridan, said in an interview with The edge.
In a press release earlier this week, Ranlytics says it is working with the US Postal Service to measure AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon’s 4G and 5G networks in Seattle and is already producing “the most detailed available” coverage maps for select areas in the city. (It says the equipment it uses is also capable of mapping 3G networks, but those have largely disappeared in the US.) The company also says that USPS vehicles that repeat routes several days of the week change in coverage over time and find both places where there is no coverage and where there is coverage but a mediocre user experience.
Creating nationwide coverage maps can be difficult, even for the mobile carriers that manage the networks and the government. The FCC’s mobile cards rely on data from the carriers, which historically have not been the most reliable sources. They also contain no information on how fast those networks are in a random location and they currently only show information for LTE networks – a big limitation in the era of 5G.
According to Sheridan, the detailed data that Ranlytics collects could help carriers diagnose and optimize their networks in ways that even their own data couldn’t. (He says the company’s equipment captures 800 metrics across all radio bands in use, 50 times per second.) “The truth is that in most countries, probably 80% or more of the coverage maps are interpolated” from data collected by a relatively small fleet of vehicles and other test equipment. ‘They are not measured. And that is why coverage maps remain inaccurate.”
Sheridan says Ranlytics has an agreement with the USPS to “go outside of Seattle,” but it won’t do so unless customers such as government agencies or carriers are interested in data for other areas. “We will not bet speculatively on U.S. mail vehicles, but we will bet in response to market need.”
There are potential limits to Ranlytics’ approach. First, equipment attached to USPS vehicles will, of course, only collect data about roads and where mail is delivered – that can rule out large areas of land such as national parks or rural homes where mail may not be delivered directly to your home. Sheridan says Ranlytics has been working in other countries on ways to collect data that “compliment where the postal vehicles go,” and that the devices can be attached to all kinds of vehicles if needed, including those that drive to parks and watersheds. are. (The company is also working with the Post of Austria and will soon be deploying equipment on the vehicles of the Post of Portugal.)
As for the rural areas, Sheridan says the company’s ultimate goal is to “cover as much of the country as possible, if not all of the country,” and that it is “aware that postal vehicles don’t go everywhere.” He also says the company understands that collecting data in rural areas is “critical because that’s where poor coverage problems are most acute.”
Given the company’s plans to expand into areas after customers request data for them, as well as the potential additional effort required to get signal data that reflects coverage at real homes rather than mailboxes in rural areas, the goal seems to map the entire area. country may take a while. However, data on internet availability in less densely populated places is essential to closing the digital divide that exists between places that have internet good enough for working or learning at home and places that don’t.
Update February 10, 7:49 PM ET: Added information from Ranlytics CEO Keith Sheridan about the company’s expansion plans, data collection details and how it plans to deal with rural areas.