AT&T Releases "Mark the Spot" iPhone App for Network Quality Feedback

AT&T Mark the Spot for iPhone

AT&T has released a new iPhone app called AT&T Mark the Spot [Free - iTunes link] intended to allow customers to send in real-time, location-specific feedback about dropped calls, coverage gaps, or other network problems, have occurred.

AT&T is committed to providing its customers with the best network experience possible.

This application will help contribute towards this goal and its utilization is greatly appreciated.

AT&T is often criticized for poor signal quality and network availability when it comes to the iPhone, is this a positive sign that they're trying to make things right?

[Thanks Keith and Gregg for the tip!]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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AT&T Releases "Mark the Spot" iPhone App for Network Quality Feedback

57 Comments

So - we are supposed to "mark the spot" of the place we have no signal? Does anyone else see the humor in this???? How the heck are we supposed to use the service to mark the spot...with no signal???

@GP: Before you bash, look at the app description. One of the features: Submit a report after the fact when a customer is not at the place of the event.

Shouldn't they already know this? I mean, they know where the call is going on. I assume that they can tell whether a call has been terminated by hanging up vs being dropped. Either they have no need for this info and this is a PR stunt or they are totally incompetent, having not paid attention to this thus far.

So now we should spend even more time by helping them improve their service? Do I get a refund once they determine, officially, that they suck?

Let me get this straight, it's OK for some companies to go viral and have their customers spread the word about their offerings and provide feedback but AT&T can't do the same thing? I don't see anything wrong with it. Some will do this, some won't it comes down to an individual choice.

I don't see the harm in this. I would like an option to give positive feedback such as signal strength and data speed etc.

They do log call failures and such but it's mostly raw data. Evey once in a while there will be a specific assignment to optimize part of the network but generally it's not a constantly ongoing activity such that every problem that shows up in the call logs gets addressed.
Looking at things another way, how often do people take the trouble to actually call AT&T when they have an issue? More data being reported directly from customers could in theory encourage AT&T to take a more thorough look at a problem area that they may not have noticed right away.

this is a great idea, and one that has taken to long to implement... we all have these little computers in our hands with the ability to provide detailed information about our signal strenght and problems we have having... hopefully, ATT will use the information to not only increase number of cells in high traffic areas, but also analysis the areas that have problems where cell density is not the problem... If you have problems with the service in your area, and complain about, then do something about it...

Now this is a good idea. Why is everyone so against it? They are trying stuff out, give em a break and try the app.

@GP If you used the app you'd understand their intentions and functionality.
It's long overdue and I hope something comes from it. I plan on marking all of my 3G/dropped call trouble spots.

Waiting for the inevitable Verizon ad... "Dropped a call on AT&T's 3G network? There's an app for that."
Not a Droid fanboy—I put up with AT&T because I love my iPhone even though where I live I can still only get Edge.

I think it's a good thing, but I fully expected to wade into comment and see a bunch of pessimism. Expectations fulfilled!

@gp.. I love morons like yourself. A company is trying to improve itself. And shut people like you that cry and bitch up. And you mock them. Grow up.

AT&T is the first carrier to provide an option for customers to directly and instantaneously report trouble spots, and there's a bunch of VZW fanboys in here hating on it. Does your carrier offer that? If you hate the network so much jump ship and free up the resources for the rest of us. Good on you AT&T.
Want to be able to instantly report network weaknesses, and actually have someone care? Dang skippy there's an app for that.

I wonder if the other countries that carry iPhones have these problems? It seems like everywhere outside the US has better coverage. I'm probably wrong but it just doesn't seem like they complain as much as we do about service. I don't believe asking for better coverage is a wrong thing. We also take into consideration that iPhones have taken the US by storm but ATT really is dropping the ball. I wonder if it really matters because of the move to LTE. But won't they use the same towers?

HungWell, I was about to switch because of terrible coverage at my house which required me to get a landline, but then they told me about the m-cell which is a mini tower in my house, and now reception is excellent! They're currently just test marketing in a few cities, but will roll out nationwide soon. So help is on the way. It's kind of a miraculous tool.

@Shotgun
That's precisely what it is. AT&T is giving customers the chance to express their frustration out. Customers will think AT&T cares.
But will it mean getting anything done? AT&T already knows its coverage and weak spots. This is out there to appease the customers..not help AT&T.

I think this is a great idea, and I'm happy to see AT&T actually listening and making an effort to try and improve their service. I, personally, am satisfied with AT&T's service (They're phone selection's another issue). I get faster 3G speeds than any of my friends on Verizon or Sprint, and while the dropped calls are annoying, I don't know anybody on any network that doesn't get them.
Now, how about one of these apps for Android. (Yeah, I know, AT&T has no Android phones, but those of us that have unlocked phones from elsewhere need to report dropped calls, too!)

Will be really interesting to see if the customer feedback from this app is used by ATT to actually improve service - if this goes beyond marketing. Going to keep an eye on this...

I liked the idea until I saw the last sentence on the phone screen: "Please do not use this app while driving." Not sure if that's a PSA or a technical issue with the app.
Have to say that's when I get most of my dropped calls, as I pass through poorly covered areas including an Interstate corridor I travel frequently.
/

"So if I keep submitting from my house, will they build a tower in my backyard?" - maybe, if you live in an area where people don't think cell phones cause brain cancer and file lawsuits whenever a company wants to put up a new cell tower. Disclaimer: I used to work for AT&T Wireless. People would complain about poor service and lousy coverage but they would also run with mouths foaming to their high priced lawyers whenever AT&T Wireless submitted an application for a new cell tower. "It's ugly." "It's too close to the school, the children will get cancer!" "It's too close to my house!" etc. The NIMBY crowd is a huge reason people have lousy coverage. Sad but true.
About the app. I think it's a good idea, and hopefully something good comes out of it. I think it'd be awesome if they made more maps out of the data that they collected and then another map showing what they did to resolve the issues.

@Jeremy: m-cells are a nice idea, but if I buy a nice phone and pay a monthly fee for cell service, should I have to pay an extra hundred bucks (or more - how much are those things going to retail for?) to buy another piece of equipment to attach to may broadband modem (which I also pay a monthly fee for)?
What I want to know is, since it's abundantly evident that AT&T's 3G network is largely for crap, and since AT&T has made strides to push a lot of their data to wifi (e.g. their Starbucks deal) why didn't they just build wifi calling into the iPhone? Seems like a much simpler solution.
(For that matter, why can't we retrieve visual voicemail messages from wifi? It's just downloading an audio recording from a server... why do we need cell access for that??)

This is a marketing gimmick at it's best. I work in the industry and every carrier knows when and where a call is dropped. When they have a whole in coverage, Radio Frequency engineers note the area on a map and hand it off to the real estate department. AT&T's problem is they have hired Bechtel to do their site acquisition and build out. I have never worked with a bigger group of over paid tracker jockeys in my life.
Want to know which carrier those of us in the business use if we have to pay for our own mobile phone? Verizon. No iPhone but great service everywhere.

This is a good idea. I like it, I just wish it had not taken 2.5 years of iPhone to make it happen. I really do hope they take this seriously and work on improving their network. If they do not actively use this to improve their network, then yes, it is just a PR stunt.

Immidiately*
also , I Always survey the data speeds where ever I go — wouldn't mind letting the company know about a dropped/failed call.

As @Tom mentioned, this "cell black-hole" app should be automated. DUH.
I love my iPhone and evangelize about it all the time, but while AT&T is earning $4B profit per year, they don't give a rat's a-- about their customer base. (OK, I'll give them credit once, Stephensen actually relented to Steve Jobs when he pitched the carrier-hands-off iPhone biz model, so we can have a phone that we love -- as opposed to Seidenberg telling Apple to f-ck off, but still...)
@Desmond:
No, other countries have minimal coverage problems for various reasons. Only the US has unlimited data plans for the iPhone, the rest of the world is metered 3G. You can imagine how differently you'd use your iPhone if you had to keep it below 200M/month or whatever your 3G data plan's threshold is. I'm certain that Apple absolutely required AT&T to offer unlimited data plans to let iPhone really stretch it's mobile-data potential. (And cellco's being dinosaurs, they had no clue how iPhone's cool design would enable massive data usage. It helped that pre-iPhone, 3G networks were probably at 99% empty capacity...haha.)
Also, US call minutes/user are about 10x higher than in the other countries because of the North America-only both-sides-pay model. Outside US/Canada, you don't use any of your minutes if you RECEIVE the call...only the caller's minutes are dinged. In the US, both the caller and the receiver's minutes are consumed. These billing peculiarities in the US model conspire to burden AT&T's coverage. (You like that?)
If and when Apple uses that hybrid Qualcomm chip or when we get an iPhone 4G, then we'll really know if Verizon is all hat and no cattle.
Maybe I'll put up a blog post on all this, but that's the short answer. ;)

@Anjali:

Also, US call minutes/user are about 10x higher than in the other countries because of the North America-only both-sides-pay model. Outside US/Canada, you don’t use any of your minutes if you RECEIVE the call…only the caller’s minutes are dinged. In the US, both the caller and the receiver’s minutes are consumed. These billing peculiarities in the US model conspire to burden AT&T’s coverage.

Explain how having a bill rate 10 times higher (your figures, not mine) would Burden AT&T's Coverage..
It seems to me it should supply all the funding needed to improve that coverage.

How about building this functionality RIGHT INTO THE PHONE APP? Other carriers could use it too.
Having to remember to go back and report a dropped call when the natural inclination is to call back and finish your business means that most will forget.

Well, either way AT&T now has NO excuse that they don't know about problem areas. If this is a PR stunt, than it's going to backfire pretty bad. I've been with AT&T since 94, before GSM, and they were mediocre @ best. I don't think they ever expected the iPhone to be this sucessful AND that draining on their network. Other phones that promised Internet were only pulling down WAP pages and winmo and bberry users were more interested in custom low bandwidth apps than a full, rich Internet experience.
Plus in typical fashion, they are slow to update the network even though they know it's gotta be done. Janey is right that the old AT&T (pre
Cingular) tried to get more cell towers up, but were sued repeatedly. Heck I even had people show up @ my house to sign a petition to stop them put a tower up 5 miles away. These people had no problem with the other tower that was only 3 miles away because it was a Verizon tower and guess what service they used?

OKAY, just got off the phone with my friend who works for AT&T in network engineering. Here is the scoop: AT&T is absolutely trying to find out if their dropped call reports AND the iPhone user reports show the same information or if there are any discrepencies. The recommendation is for all of us to please report iPhone problem areas as frequently possible.
As for Verizon - you are kidding yourself if you think their service is better. My sister is in Los Angeles. She has Verizon for her work phone and she said the Verizon service is the worst ever! I think it depends where you are. Every carrier has some "dead areas". I'm going to report my bad iPhone areas as much as I can - hope you will all do the same to help.

They need to pay my butt for this. They should deduct from your bill if you do their job for them.

Can you hear me now? Every carrier knows where each and every dropped call occurs and where they have dead zones. They have it mapped out street by street. The point about need for towers is mostly correct. Some cities and towns have basically zoned new towers out of existence. If there isn't a water tower, building, or other tall structure around, you won't have coverage. That blame lies with your local government and/or goofball neighbors. Another consideration is who got there first. If VzW builds a tower, they take the first and sometimes second tallest positions on the pole. If AT&T wants to collocate behind VzW, T-Mobile, Sprint/Nextel, and Clearwire, the pole is often maxed out structurally or they are at 90' RAD center on a 150' pole.
AT&T has a bandwidth issue and it's affecting both smart phones an regular handsets. Too may users and not enough spectrum. The way you solve this is with infill sites (i.e. three cell sites for an area that previously had one or two). That takes time and AT&T's main contractor, Bechtel, is slow, bureaucratic, and filled with people who can't think their way out of a paper bag.
So if you want your phone to work the old fashioned way - make calls and give you brain cancer - buy a quality handset from Verizon. An just because your Aunt Ethel in LA or wherever has bad reception doesn't mean. anything

@anjali the part about unlimited is not true, i live in Holland and i DO have unlimited data, everybody does (here the official carrier is T-Mobile)

TomJones - you obviously work for Verizon. My company moved over 400 lines from Verizon to AT&T last year. It was a big hassle, but (almost) everyone is pleased with their AT&T service. It isn't just my 25 year old sister in Santa Monica(who you refer to as "Aunt Ethel"), that dislikes Verizon. My sister travels all over the world, and her personal AT&T phone works fine. Her Verizon Blackberry is terrible, dropping calls all the time. I'm not going to get into a mud-slinging contest with you. You obviously are using this forum to bash AT&T and toot Verizon. Have a Merry Christmas!

Remember that it is not always possible for cell towers to be erected in some places. There are local by-laws about such towers, such that towers have been placed in church towers, on office buildings and other places where they do not "obstruct" or interfere with the local environment. Those areas that had lots of cell towers put up may make it difficult to put up more towers, meaning that service is not going to improve fast. Talk to your local planning department about how difficult it is to put up a tower and then think of the difficulty the cell-telcos have to give you better service.
.
As to the program, why not make it easier to make a complaint to the cell-telco? Getting feedback on the problem, depending on whether it is "we heard you" or "the reason for the problem was too many people on a single tower because of the concert in the arena that had 15,000 people all trying to use their phone at once" type of response.

I recently learned, by accident, that AT&T doesn't provide the same service for prepaid cell phones. Within my home my prepaid cell does not get any signal while someone with a service plan gets 3 bars.
So much for needing service in an emergency.

Would have had fun using this on a recent trip from Indiana to South Dakota. Northern half of Illinois constantly losing signal and dropped calls. Not a single bar in all of Iowa, and worse in souther Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. Fortunately I travel infrequently. This app likely will tell AT&T what they already know.

Response to Tom Jones: Yes the major carriers (including AT&T) constantly monitor network performance. Here is the issue. AT&T Mobility CEO, Ralph de la Vega, stated on a recent call that AT&T's internal nework performance data puts it on par with Verizon and ahead of both Sprint and t-mobile. At the same time, by his own admission, AT&T takes VERY seriously reports such as the recent Consumer Reports article as well as general discussion in blogs, etc.
He acknowledges a significant disconnect from internal network performance evlaluation and user experience/perception. Thus, this iPhone app is a perfect way to get straight from the horses mouth, what the user is experiencing.
I, for one, take this as a very positive development and one that clearly demonstrates that AT&T cares deeply about the user experience. Perhaps they should catch a break. I mean how many other wireless carriers offer a method as easy as this to provide feedback.
Well done, AT&T

So is this app just for fun? Or will Ma Bell actually come in and try to fix the problem. I dont really have many problems where i am except the fact that, you know, no 3G coverage. I have been to cities that have 3G coverage and man let me tell you it is so nice. If they could get 3G coverage that would be great. That is all that I have to say on that.

This tool is a joke. Pursuant to the comments of H8245, you think AT&T doesn't know they don't have coverage in rural Iowa? You're not getting any service there because they choose not to cover that area. VzW and Nextel prior to the Sprint merger have and had the best rural coverage.
Pursuant Jim S.'s comments, congratulation iPhone users as you are the only ones AT&T cares about. If you have any other handset you are either second class citizens without a vote or the vote (a/k/a Mark the Spot) is a joke in the first place.
Pursuant to PhoneJunkie's comments, my apologies to your sister and her anecdotal evidence concerning VzW. If you travel outside of the US regularly, AT&T's GSM service is absolutely the way to go. Personally, I use an unlocked tri-mode GSM phone with a local pre-paid SIM card. That works for me as my foreign travel is always for vacation. Also, overseas data charges for the iPhone can leave you with sever sticker shock.
PhoneJunkie is correct, I do work for Verizon Wireless. But I also work for AT&T Wireless, Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile, and various tower companies from time to time. That's why I have an opinion.
Finally, I love the iPhone and I will be at the front of the line when Verizon offers it but only if I can tether it to my laptop. I thought the Droid might be the answer until I used one for about a minute. Steve Jobs is a genius and, as I own hundreds of shares of Apple, he has made me a lot of money. I just wish I had bought more the last time it was trading below 90.
Cheers.

Well, this seems to be a funny tool for people interested in get information about the lack of coverage they (We) have with the wireless carrier. I decided long time ago that my Team uses AT&T for our critical mission operation in a Carrier organization not related to wireless services... worse desicion ever. I am now moving 50% of the staff to VZW because of the lack of reliability that AT&T has specially if we really need to use data and we do not want to get calls dropped or missed (happens at least once a day). I think that everybody know that the big Wireless players SHOULD have a very consistent mechanism that allow them to track reliability and coverage, I do not need to say how many U$ a year they are supposed to invest in the basics, specially when the 3G wireless is blooming. The fact that the Customer has to tell the provider how bad the service is may sound like a very nice positive feedback but I have to agree that this is just Marketing, they are not supposed to do this, on top of that would be nice to know where do they storage the information and see if the Customers that provide the feedback can really see the real time coverage map.
Regards

I have had cell phones since 1978. WE had 4 or 5 people using the same party line. I have talked up to 10,000 min. a month, AT T has taken us back to the dark ages with bad cell phone service. They have not been this bad since the late 80s and early 90s were you had to find a place to get a call out. They should contact everyone in South Carolina and give there money back and sign them up with another cell phone company with a year free service. And tell them you are sorry for all the dropped calls ans unable to make a call in a large city. Get out of the cell phone market as you are failing. I am stuck with a new I-PHONE and the dock i got for christmas that plays music. HOwever it cuts off in the middle of a song because i lose signal. If you live in South Carolina North Carolina and parts of Georgia do not sign with AT T

I also wanted to let you know I tried to get out of my contract and was told I could for a large fee. So we got to pay for bad service. So I have called 611 almost everyday including Christmas. I got into a screaming match with a young man that said South Carolina was a good state for AT T. I told him it was not and he said his screen that he was looking at show I should have a great signal. I will keep calling until someone calls and says we are sorry for our bad service. I always hear that we are working on a tower some where. They must learn this in a class before taking our calls to explain the poor service. I hope you lose the I- PHONE contract so we can have have service. And they have been working on these towers since august of 2009. You have the wrong people working on them or they need more tools. Mad as hell about your bad service

Frequent dropped calls. Response from ATT tech support was to acknowledge this is a poor reception area with upgrades expected by Sept 2010. Offer to provide a 3G Microcell was made by an ATT tech support person on 10/16 but when I went to the ATT store to get the 3G Microcell, Robert McCallahan from ATT would only offer to rebate $75 instead of the entire $150 as promised. Posts on blogs from around the US tell of ATT offering select customers the 3G Microcell at no charge with no strings attached. http://bit.ly/cs17eC is the link to the ATT offers.

Did anyone notice that ATT removed the mark the spot app from the apple store? Guess they dont care to much.