Mobile users team up to map wireless network coverage, quality

If you’re shopping for a wireless carrier, one of your first questions is (or should be): Which carriers offer the best coverage in the locations where you spend most of your time?

You could try to figure that out by looking at the coverage maps the carriers all provide, but take that information with a big grain of salt. Those maps often overstate the reach, strength, and quality of their coverage, and they don’t give detail down to the block level.

On CNN.com Tech today, I wrote about two projects where mobile users are creating their own maps of carrier coverage:

Crowdsourced maps help mobile users compare network reliability

These efforts are handled via iPhone and Android apps — which means that BlackBerry, Palm, and feature phone users can’t participate in making these maps. But the maps (which you can view on Open Signal Maps and RootMetrics) are potentially useful to anyone.

…Well, at least, to anyone in a major metro area, so far. There’s sparse reporting from other regions, but the more people who use these apps, the better these maps will get.

I really like these projects, not least because they’re an important way to hold wireless carriers accountable for delivering the speed and coverage they advertise. They’re also useful if you want to figure out whether your carrier is throttling your data.