Australian smartphone users can immediately log where and when they experience poor signal strength using a free application released today.
The Phone Rights app was created by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) using funds bequeathed by long-time consumer telco advocate Maureen Le Blanc.
The app, available for Android and iOS, is capable of logging the signal strength experienced by the user. The log files can then be emailed to the telco provider as evidence of call dropouts.
ACCAN spokeswoman Elise Davidson told iTnews that the logging capability varied between Android and iOS devices, due to restrictions on the types of data that each ecosystem allows app developers to access.
Davidson said the Android version used the phone's private API to take a measure of signal strength of between one and 31.
The app then uses an algorithm to translate this into a figure between one and ten, though it also shows the source number in brackets.
"This is going to be really useful if people send [that log] to their providers, because the providers will be able to know what handset they're using, what software, and what the actual phone signal strength is in terms of ... the technical reading," Davidson said.
ACCAN was unable to replicate the same functionality in the iOS version of the application, owing to restrictions that Apple places on apps accessing the private API.
"We ran into a problem, Apple being Apple, in that it's really easy to get the private API reading from the phone to do that same [signal strength] measurement, but if you try and submit an app to that App Store, it rejects it out-of-hand because Apple won't register any apps that access [the private API]," she said.
"We tried to submit [Phone Rights to the App Store] using the same functionality [as Android] but it got rejected right away."
The app instead uses a workaround that takes a screenshot of the signal strength, and applies location data, date and timestamps to the image.
"The best we could do with that at this point, although we hope to talk to Apple further about it, is to log a screen shot," Davidson said.
Either way, log files are stored in a section of the app called 'My Complaints', under a mobile coverage log tab.
Files can be individually selected — or in batches — to be forwarded to the carrier via email.
"The Android version actually sends a locked PDF of those files just to prevent people gaming or changing the numbers," Davidson said.
Davidson noted that although the app dealt with signal strength, it could not take into account issues that might be caused by congestion in a particular cell.
"It will only do phone signal strength," she said. "As you know, with congestion your signal strength can be fine but you might be having really slow internet."
Data not aggregated
Davidson also confirmed that ACCAN does not see, collect or aggregate any of the log data captured by app users.
"In terms of collecting that data from mobile tests, we made the decision not to because we're privacy advocates and we need to practice what we preach," she said.
"Every time Telstra or Vodafone breaches their customers' privacy we have a go at them, so we didn't want to do anything that was potentially going to be against our ethos in that regard."
Davidson said ACCAN had demonstrated the app to telcos, who were "super interested in the data".
"That was the first question they asked, 'Are you collecting this? Can we get it?" she said.
"The short answer is, 'No', unless the customer chooses to send the information on to the provider, but it's their decision."
In addition to signal strength logging, the app also contains a CRM-like function that allows consumers to keep track of complaints they lodge with their providers.
"When you contact your provider you can enter all the details in [to the app], including the reference number, and you can put a followup in that goes straight into the phone's calendar to remind you when to follow up," Davidson said.
She also noted the app provided a useful repository of documentation should a phone user seek to escalate problems to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), which generally wanted to see a record of issues before getting involved.
Complaints to the TIO can be lodged directly through the app.
Le Blanc's legacy
The app is to be launched at parliament house tonight by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, with members of Maureen Le Blanc's family in attendance.
According to ACCAN, Le Blanc asked that her bequest be used for consumer education.
"It is her generous contribution that has led to this smartphone application – which literally puts the power of consumer rights into consumers' hands."
Le Blanc was involved in the Consumer Telecommunications Network (CTN), and later in the Small Enterprise Telecommunications Centre (SETEL) and the ACIF/Communications Alliance Customer Council.