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Next layer in real estate search: cell phone coverage

When you search for real estate, some offer a layer of lifestyle search so you can see nearby food, yoga, schools, and the like, but the next layer to be looking out for is cell phone coverage.

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Nothing worse than bad cell phone coverage

As a native Texan, I can tell you first hand that not all cell phone carriers are created equal, and driving in and out of the hill country will result in dropped calls, even today. Try getting any carrier to work inside of a stucco house surrounded by hills – it’s impossible. So what do most people do to learn whether a home they’re interested in buying or renting is in a spot their phone will work? Testing in person, which is far from a reliable measure, and looking at the coverage map provided by the carrier is, let’s be honest, a joke.

It’s more than an inconvenience, moving into a home with no cell phone coverage can be a safety issue, makes getting any work done from home impossible, and makes personal communication complicated.

Enter Open Signal, an Android app currently running on over two million devices, which is constantly detecting signal strength automatically, and mapping the trends of which carriers are reliable geographically, down to an individual street address. Anyone can visit the site and check out a map, filtering the map by carrier, as well as 2G, 3G, and 4G coverage.

OpenSignal writes, “If we want to know if a certain network provides coverage in our area we rely on coverage maps provided by that same network. To see how backwards this situation is just consider the analog in any other industry – Would you trust a restaurant review written by the head chef himself? Mobile coverage is too important to remain a black box.”

The company has announced they have released the first version of their API (application programming interface), and note they are actively seeking “developers who are interested in harnessing the data we collect in their own applications.”

Enter real estate search companies

When we learned of OpenSignal’s API, we wondered who would be the first to use their API to add a layer to their existing real estate search, allowing consumers to search by cell phone coverage, which would be particularly useful in rural areas or mountainous or hill country areas.

Lifestyle search already allows consumers to search most major real estate sites by schools, hospitals, restaurants, walkability, and more, but ask any warm blooded American if they would live somewhere that their cell phone couldn’t possibly work, and the answer will almost certainly be an emphatic “yes.”

So will Move, Inc., operator of Realtor.com, be first, or will the newly public Zillow and Trulia get to the finish line on a national scale? Or will it be a younger contender or an IDX company that offers it first? No matter who beats the others to the punch, we anticipate this could become a subtle, yet vital part of real estate search, allowing consumers to make decisions not only on housing, but determining which carrier to switch to should they fall in love with a home with poor coverage.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Steve Albin

    October 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Another useless App

  2. laniar

    October 7, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Steve, thanks for commenting, but I’m dying to know – why do you find it useless? Do you also find the API useless? I’m not sure I get your meaning…

  3. kenbrand

    October 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    That’s super interesting.  I would think anyone who owns a cell phone would want to know what the hyperlocal signal strength was.  I would image mining, smelting and selling the collected app-user data would be valuable.  Hmmmmm.

  4. MattWilkins

    October 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    I’m finding buyers are looking at both this and which telecommunications providers are available.

  5. John Treck

    October 8, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Thanks for this map and the Open Signal Website! keep up the good work!

  6. jan de graaf

    October 8, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Thanks for this map and the Open Signal Website! keep up the good work!

  7. Jeff Brown

    October 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I can hear it now. “Don’t buy in that neighborhood if you’re using Sprint. It’s like the black hole.” One wonders if all of a sudden carriers with poor reception, noticing lost business, would erect more towers?

    • ThomasABJohnson

      October 9, 2012 at 2:46 am

      @Jeff Brown The Real Estate cell tower Viagra effect: Tower Erections.

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OnePlus swears to kinda stop collecting invasive data from users

(TECH NEWS) Inadvertently discovered during a hackathon, OnePlus was ousted for collecting insane amounts of data on users’ phones and promises to make a small change.

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Users of OnePlus phones were alarmed to learn this week that the company has been collecting large amounts of data from users without their consent or knowledge.

Software Engineer, Christopher Moore was participating in a hacking challenge when he discovered that his phone was sending excessive amounts of data to the OnePlus servers.

While it’s normal for your phone to automatically send data to headquarters when you have a bug or a system crash, OnePlus was collecting data every time the phone was turned off or on, and whenever apps were used.

“Moore says that OnePlus is collecting data such as phone numbers, serial numbers, WiFi and mobile network information, MAC addresses, and information about when and how apps are used, including Outlook and Slack.”

An opt-out option was buried deep within advanced settings. Most users were not aware that their data was being collected and transmitted.

In response to the user outcry, OnePlus posted an explanation on their support forum, saying that they were using the data to “fine tune our software according to user behavior” and to “provide better after-sales support.”

The company has promised to stop collecting MAC addresses, phone numbers, and WiFi information by the end of the month. They also say that they will update their terms of service to be more transparent about the data they are collecting, and will set up an opt-out option in the operating system’s setup wizard that will allow users to decide whether or not they want to join a “user experience program.”

While OnePlus claims that they have never given or sold information to a third party, users are suspicious that the types of data OnePlus is collecting would eventually be sold to marketers.

Even if you choose to opt out of the “user experience program”, OnePlus will continue to collect your data, but it will not be directly associated with your device. Users have generally not been satisfied with this response, saying that the company should give users the option of stopping all data transmissions.

Says Christopher Moore “Unfortunately, as a system service, there doesn’t appear to be any way of permanently disabling this data collection or removing this functionality without rooting the phone.”

You kind of blew it, OnePlus. You were caught red-handed, and it will take more than a partial opt out program to regain your customers’ trust.

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With reward comes risk: facial recognition and privacy

(TECH NEWS) Facial recognition and artificial intelligence are awesome rewards from technical innovation but with reward comes risk.

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Technology is an omnipresent force in all of our lives. It is the core of innovation, providing us with quick, new ways to research, socialize and entertain ourselves. It seems like everyone is taking advantage of rapidly changing technology.

However what one person thinks as a reward of new systems may actually be a risk to someone else.

Take for instance, facial recognition software. Facebook uses it to identify familiar faces in photos and Apple uses it to unlock phones. It’s everywhere.

Even the porn industry is getting in on it. PornHub, a major online source for adult content, announced their new plan to use AI to help categorize the 10,000 plus videos that are uploaded every day.

Prior to this update, the site used a system of tagging videos to keep them organized. I would go into examples of such categories, but I’ll leave that up to the imagination.

One non-explicit example is organizing content based on the names of the stars of the film. Both the site itself and users had the ability to add tags to videos.

Regardless, this was not fast enough. By integrating AI software, PornHub hopes to expedite this process.

While this may sound like a smart business decision, this seems like high risk beginning to inadvertently diminish privacy rights.

Many people in the porn industry have alternate personas to separate their work and personal lives. Facial recognition software may pull from sources from both sides of that spectrum and end up merging the two.

This has already been the case on Facebook via the recommendations the site makes for “people you may know” via your internet practices.

However, it’s not just a matter of protecting the identity for a professional or amateur porn actor, it’s also about the privacy of clients.

Imagine being recommended to friend the star of the last video you streamed. This industry in particular, requires a level of discretion.

To combat some of the fears, PornHub has insists that the AI software only tags from the 10,000 stars in their database. Though as this update has proven, they could expand their database to keep up with the demand in the future.

It’s a technological advantage for their organization, but at what cost to others’ privacy?

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Be My Eyes app offers eyes to those that need ’em

(TECH NEWS) Even with the best coping techniques, some people need help from time to time — enter Be My Eyes for the seeing impaired community.

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It’s nice to see a free app that connects helpful volunteers with folks seeking assistance.

“See” being a relative term here, because the free Be My Eyes app is designed to assist people who are visually impaired or blind. The anonymous and free app allows visually impaired users to connect, via video, to sighted volunteers who can then provide “visual assistance” to help with tasks such as identifying objects or describing environments.

Visually impaired users seeking assistance simply call in and the app finds the first available volunteer, usually within 45 to 60 seconds. The app automatically connects to a sighted volunteer who speaks the user’s language. There are currently volunteers representing 90 languages in 150 countries.

Be My Eyes also tracks the time zones in users’ locations so that visually impaired users can access the service 24 hours a day without worrying that they’ll disturb volunteers at night.

After dark, the app will even find a volunteer in the opposite hemisphere. Users are encouraged to ask for assistance whenever they want and as often as needed.

Sighted volunteers receive a notification when a visually impaired user seeks assistance. The volunteer can then decide whether or not to receive the call. If they aren’t available, the call is simply forwarded to the next appropriate volunteer.

Visually impaired users say they’ve used Be My Eyes to get help with finding lost items, reading instructions, navigating new places and public transportation, shopping, and more.

The app itself was invented by a visually impaired innovator, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a member of the Danish Association of the Blind who began losing his sight at age 25.

Says Wiberg, “It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modern individual with the energy to help others.”

Wilberg presented his idea for Be My Eyes at a startup event in Denmark in 2012. He was able to recruit a team of developers, who rolled out the app in 2015.

Some critics have pointed out that the app tends to reinforce the stereotype that visually impaired people, and people with disabilities in general, are helpless and dependent on others to get by. Presumably, blind people have developed inventive strategies for solving everyday challenges long before Be My Eyes was ever invented.

According to the reviews from sighted volunteers, many wait weeks at a time to get an inquiry. The Be My Eyes network currently has about ten times more volunteers than users, which begs the question: Do blind people actually want to use this app?

If you’d like to try it out, as either a visually impaired user or a sighted volunteer, you can download the app for Android at the Google Play Store or for iOS at the App Store.

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