Location-based gaming & spotting problems with the power of the crowd [Guest Post]

by Guest Contributor on 29th September 2010

Once people could only check-in at special red boxes, but now we'd quite like to be mayor of the Post Office too.

Ever since I first entered the world of the smart phone three years ago, my train journeys to and from London have been a different experience for me. Long gone are the days of just listening to my MP3 player and reading the free rag…

Now I listen to my music while playing games or reading a book, all on my phone. And what would a smart phone be without all the wonderful connectivity features which allow me to surf the web, get my email or use the plethora of applications which require access to the world outside my train carriage?

Whether it’s just the coverage on the line I use or some other factors, but I find that my usually strong 3G signal often drops to nothing for most of the journey. My presence in this large metal tube probably doesn’t help, but ho-hum, that’s life. I’ll just try again in a couple of minutes. Emails and tweets alike are often saved as drafts until I reach my destination. This problem is an example of my wider mobile data experience. Especially, living outside of the city, areas of flaky data coverage are commonplace and I could simply regard these as an irritation and nothing more.

I recently discovered the wonder that is location-based gaming. The appeal of winning badges and becoming the “mayor” of my local supermarket, pub or deep-fried chicken emporium has something of an odd attraction, so I have whole-heartedly embraced it. This comes with a new challenge though as my previous indifference to variances in mobile data signal availability is no longer appropriate. If I’m going to “check-in” to a location then I need connectivity right now… and right here.

If I’m going to “check-in” to a location then I need connectivity right now…
…and right here.

Over the course of a week, I determined the exact location of a previously unseen data black spot in my home town. Having quickly established that the problem was not with my phone and having reasonably accurately determined the extent of the affected area, I called the network operator to draw their attention to the problem. Naturally, I wasn’t presented with an option for “report a problem with our network” and as anticipated the chap on the end of the phone started through the usual script to diagnose what was wrong with my phone. I was quite surprised that it didn’t ultimately take much effort to convince my service provider that it was a problem at their end and they subsequently discovered that some maintenance work was already scheduled for the following week to resolve the problem.

Mobile operators have the opportunity to crowd-source mobile data performance and availability level…

It seems to me, from this experience, that the need for a consistent and high standard of mobile data signal is going to become more necessary as the popularity of applications that require time and location dependent connectivity increases. If the novelty fails to wear off of Augmented Reality apps, then these will also require greater levels of four-dimensional uptime. At the same time, mobile operators have the opportunity to crowd-source mobile data performance and availability levels from people using such apps to help improve their service and provide faster determination of problems.

Matt Gordon-Smith is an IT professional specialising in security who tries to maintain a reasonable technical knowledge, despite now letting other people do the fun hands-on stuff for him. His love of mobile technology means that his friends and colleagues expect him the use the phrase “I’ve got an app for that” on a daily basis.

Photo credit: Barney Craggs

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