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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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cell phone signal

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.

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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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Tech News

Airbnb addresses issues in accessibility by adding new filters and photos

(TECHNOLOGY) Finding accessibility-friendly Airbnbs lodging has not been the easiest process, but the company just unveiled new features to help.

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In a commendable step forward for the platform, Airbnb has updated its filtering features and added additional location photo screening to make its platform more user-friendly for those with disabilities. This is the first big overhaul since 2019. Studies have demonstrated that guests with disabilities are more likely to face discrimination on the platform and the platform is making moves to address this issue. In a tweet on November 9th, the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, posted: “We’re reviewing every accessibility feature on Airbnb for accuracy. To date, our agents have double-checked photos of features in more than 25,000 homes.” The tweet features an 18-second video showcasing the accessibility features interface, which looks promising at a first glance.

In a curious decision, the number of accessibility filters has been lowered from 21 to 13, in what is described as an attempt to streamline searches.  While there is room for skepticism on that notion, better screening and search optimization for the remaining accessibility features is a welcome improvement. Perhaps we’ll see some of the nixed search filters, such as handheld showerheads, make a return in future updates.

The standards and burden of evidence for listing accessibility options have become more stringent.  Each feature now must be clearly documented with photo or video evidence, which are reviewed by designated trained staff. With standards now clearly defined for hosts to use to determine accessibility compliance of their spaces, the process should be smoother for all parties involved.  Examples of clarified guidelines include defining a ‘wide entrance to bedroom’ to be at least a 32-inch doorway, with photos of the measurement to confirm, as well as similar additional documentation being required for accessible parking spaces.  Where previously hosts just had to show a space clearly marked as accessible, images or video now need to also show how far from the primary entrance the space is, as well as prove that the space is clearly labeled with official signage or has a private driveway a minimum of 11 feet wide.

As a disabled person myself, and with a partner who has two defective knees– I can say there are a few filters I will miss. However, the more reliable accuracy of the labels for postings is a large step forward. I look forward to not getting any more third-story apartments showing up in searches for wheelchair-accessible properties. Planning my next vacation will likely be much less frustrating, if only we could agree on somewhere to go.

Update (December 07, 2021 at 12:58pmCST): Liz DeBold Fusco, Communications Lead for North America at Airbnb tells us, “To better serve our guests, and with input from our community and partners, we have updated the filters to make it easier for guests to find homes which suit their needs. One of those updates is simplifying to focus on essential and most used filters.”

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Business Finance

Can you afford missing a paycheck? Finance tips for freelancers

(FINANCE) Freelancers who are not always promised a regular paycheck could benefit from staying on top of their finances. Here’s our tips!

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Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay. We all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.

Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.

Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.

Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.

If this is you – here are a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.  

  • Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have to, and remember this is an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
  • Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
  • Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start-up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
  • Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
  • Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
  • Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving) or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.

The path to entrepreneurship is rough. If the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on your toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more) of your paycheck.

Disclaimer: I am neither a tax nor investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.

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Tech News

iOS 15 beta has blur nude photos opt-in, but its not without fault

(TECH NEWS) To protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos.

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Woman looking at Apple iPhone representing new iOS 15 beta that will blur nude photos.

In a move to protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos received in the Messages app. Amid privacy concerns, the feature has yet to be released.

The option to blur nude photos is opt-in, reports The Verge, and does not prevent users from choosing to view the photos in question even after being implemented.

This iteration of the feature is distinct from the original one insofar as it will no longer alert a parent or guardian when nude photos are encountered. While this may seem like a controversial change, several experts pointed out that exposing nude content on a child’s device in some households could result in abuse or, as Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic instructor Kendra Albert suggests, the outing of “queer or transgender children to their parents.”

With the most recent version of this feature enabled, children who receive inappropriate photos via the Messages app would be able to do two things: choose to avoid (or see) the content, and choose to send a report to a trusted adult if they see fit to do so.

Blurring photos is just one of several aspects of Apple’s Communication Safety suite, a feature that aims to prevent child sex abuse by making it easier for children to avoid and report predatory content.

 

Child on electronic device- iOS 15 beta that will allow blur nude photos should protect children.

Another feature that Apple has tested – but not released – is their Child Sex Abuse Imagery Detection (CSAM-detection), which scans and reports iCloud content that shows child pornography or abuse to Apple moderators for further review. As one can imagine, the feature drew mixed criticism, the majority of which came from privacy advocates.

While the vast majority of humanity can (hopefully) agree that fighting against child exploitation is a noble cause, these groups argue that scanning and reporting individuals’ personal photos via an algorithm opens the door to government interference and increased surveillance. Switching the algorithm’s baseline to scan for things like anti-government content, for example, would be easy, these groups posit, making the feature extremely dangerous in principle.

There is no current release date set for any of these aforementioned features, though iPhone users can reasonably expect them to drop at some point during iOS 15’s development.

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