A company is trying to map America’s cell networks using mail trucks

A company is trying to map America’s cell networks using mail trucks

Cellular network coverage maps have always been of questionable accuracy in the United States, and even those published by the FCC in 2021 come up with 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 go to most addresses in the United States to deliver packages and letters.

In a press release earlier this week, Ranlytics says it’s working with the U.S. Postal Service to measure AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon’s 4G and 5G networks in Seattle and is already producing the “most detailed coverage maps available” for select areas of Seattle. the city. (He says the equipment he uses is also capable of mapping 3G networks, but those are largely extinct in the United States.) The company also says it can track changes in coverage over time, finding both places where coverage doesn’t exist and where there is coverage but a lackluster user experience.

One of the LTE cards Ranlytics generated in Seattle.
Image: Ranlytics

Ranlytics says it “aims to accurately measure and map nationwide mobile coverage” in the United States and other countries as well. An anonymous company official said light reading that the USPS has agreed “to expand its network surveillance efforts across the United States”. The company hopes to then be able to sell that data to carriers, government and others who might find it useful.

Building these types of maps can be difficult, even for mobile operators who manage networks and government. THE FCC Cellular Cards rely on carrier data, which historically have not been the most reliable sources. They also do not include information on how fast these networks will be in any given location, and they currently only show information for LTE networks – a big limitation in the 5G era.

There are limits to Ranlytics’ approach. For one thing, the equipment attached to USPS vehicles will obviously only collect data about the roads and where the mail is being delivered, which could exclude large swaths of land like national parks or rural homes where the mail may not be delivered directly to the home. It’s also unclear whether Ranlytics and the USPS plan to attach equipment to personal vehicles that are sometimes used to deliver mail in rural areas instead of postal-owned vehicles. (THE company website says its equipment can be installed on “any type of vehicle”.)

Despite being potentially difficult to obtain, data on internet availability in less densely populated places is essential to fighting the digital divide that exists between places that have internet good enough to work or learn from home and those that don’t. We’ve reached out to Ranlytics with questions about rural roads and we’ll let you know if we have an answer.