By now, the omnipresent television commercials have drummed Verizon’s 3G message into all our heads: big red map good, splotchy blue map bad. But nascent national WiMAX provider Clearwire has taken the “maps” battle to a whole new level, in a way that potential wireless users might find more useful than anything offered by Verizon or AT&T: How about coverage maps that use real network data to show actual expected performance on a block-by-block level?
The new maps are live on the Clear.com website, and they marry Clearwire engineering network-performance graphs on top of a Google Map, giving you a much more detailed and granular look at Clearwire’s WiMAX deployments in each of its live markets, warts and all. Unlike the big telcos, whose “coverage” maps are somewhat akin to abstract works of art, Clearwire’s new coverage maps show not just well-covered areas but also spots where Clearwire doesn’t yet have towers in place. Honesty from a service provider? Hey Verizon, you got a map like that?
While Clearwire has nowhere near the national buildout of the 3G networks from the big providers, its willingness to expose where exactly is has coverage and where it doesn’t could go a long way toward winning the trust of potential customers who have been historically conditioned to get exactly zero help on predicting wireless coverage strength. “We’re striving to provide more clarity to customers so they know what to expect with our coverage,” said Susan Johnston, Clearwire’s vice president for communications, in an email reply to our question about the maps.
Because you can use the normal Google Maps function to drill way down to street level, it’s easy to see (especially on the outside fringes of Clearwire coverage areas) the telltale three-clover “bloom” of an isolated cell site, leading to a new Google Map game of “find the Clearwire tower.” It didn’t take more than a couple minutes for us to go from Clearwire map to Google Street view to find this lonely Clearwire tower in the far-north (albeit quite tony) Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill.
(Clearwire map showing single-tower “bloom” of coverage using three channels)
(Google Map street view of Lake Forest, Ill., with Clearwire tower in the middle)
AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, do let you drill down with interactive maps, but all you get when you do so is a deeper shade of the color used to convey “coverage” — and in AT&T’s case, its wondrous all-blue status for 3G service in downtown San Francisco might draw some different opinions from folks who suffer trying to use their iPhones there. Verizon’s map of Lake Forest is offered as a comparison to Clearwire’s — which would you, as a potential wireless broadband user, find more helpful?
(AT&T 3G coverage map for San Francisco… insert iPhone dropped-call joke here)
(Verizon 3G coverage map for Lake Forest, Ill… included to compare and contrast with Clearwire’s)
If you follow telecom politics at all, you know that coverage maps are a big deal of late, with greater transparency being a key part of the proposed national broadband plan. Instead of waiting for Congress to require such transparency (which may take awhile given various senatorial agendas), we’ve been waiting to see whether or not some of the service provider upstarts, like Clearwire, would use such clarity as a marketing tool since it stands in such rich contrast to the insulting “trust us” maps that passed for coverage guides from traditional providers. Looks like that is starting to happen, which is only good news for broadband consumers. Let the real map games begin!