Wyomingites can help cure the state of its numerous cell phone dead zones by downloading a free app onto their smart phones.
Anyone with an iPhone or Android can go to the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download the LinkWYOMING Mobile Test.
The mobile test will create a data pool that maps where the state’s broadband signals are weak or nonexistent.
The map will help cities, towns, counties and coverage providers fill in the gaps where signals are worst in Wyoming, said Troy Babbit, a broadband enterprise architect for the Wyoming Department of Enterprise Technology Services and member of the state’s broadband team, LinkWYOMING.
The map will be an important bridge for governments and coverage providers because current maps show that there’s service in areas that don’t actually have service, said Melody Liebel, project manager for LinkWYOMING, a consortium of private businesses and state officials tasked with upgrading the state’s broadband connectivity.
The goal of the project is to validate the existing data, she said.
Once the hard data is in the hands of the providers, officials from local, county and state governments will work with them to figure out a way to get more cell phone towers in a state that consistently ranks in the bottom five in the nation for cell service, Babbit said.
“It’s amazing what a map can do in a meeting with service providers,” said Kevin Kapp, vice president of government solutions with Mobile Pulse, the company that designed the app.
There’s no cost to download, and users don’t have to do anything manually. The app is triggered by movement and comes on every few days to test the broadband capabilities in the region the cell phone user is occupying, Liebel said.
The app then sends signals to a server that demarcates where there is or isn’t service, she said.
The app will only eat 100 megabytes of data per month, equating to less than 1 percent of a 4 gigabyte data plan.
“We’re trying hard not to impact people’s data plans,” Liebel said.
LinkWYOMING launched after the state won more than $4 million in federal grants in 2009 and 2010 as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The group was tasked to map where there’s broadband coverage in the state and to outline a plan to secure better coverage for the future. It has worked with Kapp, Liebel, Babbit and the Wyoming Business Council to help meet the goals of the federal grants.
Colorado, Idaho and four other states received similar grants at the time and have used the money to delineate where there is service.
In the states that have already done their mapping, there were hundreds of thousands of marks outlining the coverage areas within a six-month period, Kapp said.
In a state where dropped calls are as ubiquitous as cattle, the more users who download the app the better the state will be able to determine where the problem areas are, Liebel said.
The app was launched earlier this month with no widespread ad campaign; 39 devices were hooked up to it, Liebel said.
Even though 100,000 marks on a map may seem far-fetched for a state with a small population, Wyoming should have that many by April, Kapp said.
The lack of consistent quality cell phone service makes it harder for the state to retain and attract businesses. The Business Council stepped in to assure existing and future businesses in the state that the key tools for economic development are on their way, said Mary Randolph, LinkWYOMING team member from the council.
“Businesses want less gaps in coverage,” she said.