When they're not asking about the best cell phone for their needs, CNET readers are inquiring about which carrier has the best coverage in their area. It's a great question, and a very relevant one, but answering it always has been tricky. Because CNET doesn't have the resources to accurately test wireless coverage across the United States, I've suggested that readers ask their neighbors to share their carrier experiences. While that is good advice--personal stories can be very helpful in making a decision--we couldn't offer hard data. That is, until now.
Over the past year CNET has been hard at work creating a better solution. In doing so, we've teamed with Root Wireless to create a powerful tool for determining the best carrier for your neighborhood, commute, or workplace. Next time when you're shopping for a new mobile phone or considering switching to a new carrier, we hope we can help.
Rather than copying the unreliable coverage maps from carriers, CNET and Root use a specialized client application residing on consumer phones that records average signal strength, data throughput, dropped calls, and failed data connections. That real-world data is then displayed on an interactive map you can explore to see what's really happening in your area. The tool takes into account various factors that can affect wireless coverage such as your distance from a cell tower, terrain, and buildings, time of day, number of users at a given time, and even the strength of the handset.
To begin, select one of the wireless carriers listed on the left side of the map. You also can learn more about the methodology and read the disclaimer. Currently, we have data for New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, Dallas, and Orange County, Calif., but we'll be expanding beyond these eight markets.
Now we invite you to check out the tool. We hope that you learn something and we'd love to hear your feedback below.