T-Mobile ditches static coverage map

The carrier says its new map of network coverage uses real-time data and will be updated every two weeks.

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Roger Cheng
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T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray, pictured here at CES 2014, says the new coverage map uses 200 million data points from customers each day. CNET/James Martin

T-Mobile is taking a new approach to the staid wireless-coverage map.

The company unveiled on Monday its "next-gen" network map, which uses real-time data collected from customers and through third-party sources such as Speedtest.net and Inrix. What makes it next gen? It isn't a static map, but one that will get updated every two weeks with new data. Customers will be able to drill down to an area of 100 square meters (Check it out here).

The network map gives consumers a chance to find out whether T-Mobile's coverage is sufficient in their area before taking a chance on the carrier. It's one of the ways T-Mobile is hoping to fight the perception that its network lags behind rivals such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless when it comes to breadth of coverage; rival maps shows significant gaps where T-Mobile isn't available. While T-Mobile offers speedy coverage in the major metropolitan areas, its coverage has traditionally fallen short in more rural territories and inside buildings.

Here is T-Mobile's coverage map for New York. T-Mobile

"This is pure, unfiltered customer data," T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said, arguing that the new map offers more accurate information than any other because it uses 200 million data points culled from customers each day.

In addition to relying on third-party firms, T-Mobile collects data from customers who opt in to a program that allows the carrier to monitor the performance of their phones. The data is collected and combined anonymously, he said.

Such a map means T-Mobile's coverage -- for better or worse -- will be on full display, including where 3G and 4G LTE is or isn't available. Ray said he's okay with that, adding that he hopes to start a trend.

"We want the rest of the competition to do this," he said. "In the future, customers will demand greater visibility on all aspects of their service."

Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile has been aggressive in using real-time data from customers, noting that this offers a more up-to-date indication of network performance. Other carriers point to tests conducted by research firms such as RootMetrics, which employ people to run more formal tests, as a more accurate indicator. In February, RootMetrics said Verizon had the best overall performance, although it noted T-Mobile had made significant gains in network speed in the major cities.

In many areas, customers can see a little check mark showing that the customer data was verified by T-Mobile. Some areas of the map will also show average speed if it's available, Ray said.