About a month ago, I switched cellular service providers from Rogers to WIND Mobile. Aside from the abysmal quality of the phone or more precisely, the Android operating system, I purchased for use on the new network, the cellular network infrastructure requires some work. Indeed, WIND Mobile is well aware of this problem and has a page called Network Builder to report coverage issues. It might be better if this process could be automated.
While this Network Builder page seems useful and can give an idea of how problematic the service is in a particular area, I don’t know how many people use it. Using a brief history of the last known cell towers for which a phone was in range and the times, data cell service providers probably already collect, one can determine the approximate velocity of a cell phone user and extrapolate where service was lost. While this may not work particularly well by using data from just one user (e.g., someone turning off a cellphone at a particular location or living just out of range of a tower), aggregating signal loss patterns over a subscriber base can potentially be used to automatically identify weak spots in wireless service infrastructure and to estimate the number of people affected and the duration of lost signals to prioritize coverage improvements. This data collection technique could be improved if phones periodically transmitted the signal strengths of in-range cell towers but would require additional software on the phone. In both cases, though, cell phone companies would best be advised to collect informed customer consent for this information (e.g., via opting in to contribute to this data collection system), even if anonymized.