Cell Coverage: Perception and Maps

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here.

Cell coverage is a subject of great office debate over who is best. Invariably a lot of anecdotal evidence will be given to support whatever view is offered. Rarely does this sort of discussion accomplish anything.

One thing is sure: The cell phone companies are loathe to show where their towers are located on any of their maps. Probably, this is because consumers would realize how few towers there really are. Cell companies are always bragging about how many cell sites they have. The fact is that they invest a negligible portion of their revenues into building towers. (See my other article on industry revenues and towers.)

We have a main office in Seattle and one thing is certain: Cell service in Seattle is generally terrible, especially if you use AT&T. Well, thanks to OpenSignal.com you can finally see the truth.

Here is a map showing AT&T’s towers in the downtown Seattle area:

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 12.15.03 AM

Compare that to the Verizon map:

Verizon Map
OK, debate over. No further discussion necessary.

Consider the coverage of T-Mobile:

Tmobile Map
And Sprint.

Sprint Map
I don’t think it is necessary to debate whether AT&T service sucks. You can just look at the map of their towers and know they are a terrible company in Seattle. Just awful. And, we can back that up from personal experience.

But the real question is why the facts don’t come out in marketing. Why don’t the cellular companies put their towers on their maps? Why can’t the consumer see what service they are really purchasing? Is deceit and deception simply a fun game for the cell phone companies?

Well, fortunately there is OpenSignal.com. They will show you the towers for each carrier. I highly recommend checking them before signing up for any cell company.

When you first go their map it is overwhelmingly full. First, zoom in pretty tight to the area you are interested in. Next. click on a cell company to see just their towers. You will get a good idea of their coverage. Then (here’s the secret) click on “Reset” and then choose the next carrier.

In city after city I have been shocked by what I saw.


Suffice it to say that there is a reason we are getting such poor coverage on our phones. Some companies [cough] AT&T [cough] are much worse than others.