How Do You Measure Coverage? Is There Really A 'Map' For That?

I could sit here and write about the 20-pound turkey that I just roasted, but most of you are probably not eating turkey at this point, you are digging in for the after Thanksgiving sales and vegging in front of the TV. While you are recovering from your tryptophan hangover, keep your eyes open for the cell phone commercial war going on between Verizon and AT&T.  Most of you have probably heard about this public "coverage" battle that has filled both the news and airways over the past few weeks.  Verizon is essentially calling "BS" on AT&T's claim of having so much "coverage" and the maps that they use to illustrate it. 

I don't know about you, but I don't know the specific metric calculation for "coverage."  In my personal experience, coverage is a description reserved for throwing on my bathrobe or observing another person's choice in swimwear.  However, this very public battle that the two companies have waged brings up the obvious question of "How do you measure coverage?" (Kind of like that engagement question we all seem to ponder way too often). Coverage is a metric that the two companies are debating, but since there are no standards set for the metric, one must ask the question of how that is calculated.



AT&T measures coverage based on "POPs," also known as "Points of Presence" or the locations of where the actual cell towers are placed.  Verizon, on the other hand, measures coverage based on "territory" or the actual square mileage of their coverage.  Is one better than the other (hold your brand preference comments, please)?

Analytics vendors often calculate engagement, session and even unique visitor metrics differently from each other, in some cases due to technical capabilities and in other cases to support a marketing claim.  So why wouldn't wireless phone providers not do the same in order to sell their product? I am not claiming that one vendor is better than the other, but when any person or business is making their selection they have to go back to their requirements before they choose their vendor.  One size just doesn't fit all. 

This is a metrics game in how you interpret "coverage.".  If the vendor with the more favorable metric, whether it be POP or square footage coverage, provides you with a competitive advantage in how you do business, your travel patterns or meets your goals and objectives, then it is probably the right vendor for you.  Simply relying on the marketing message and not digging in deeper to understand the features and benefits doesn't serve anyone.  I cringe as I write this, given the industry we are in.  We all know that metrics standards are critical in conducting business online, but sometimes metrics are wrapped in marketing messages.  If you don't ask what they mean and how they are calculated, you may not know what you are getting for your money.

3 comments about "How Do You Measure Coverage? Is There Really A 'Map' For That?".
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  1. Jim Brouwer from Krell Lab, LLC, November 27, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.

    This isn't a metrics game, it's physics. From where I sit in the northwestern lower peninsula of Michigan, Verizon comes across as childishly dishonest claiming that AT&T doesn't have coverage in areas it most certainly does.

    I receive 3G service on my iPhone in the middle of 100 acres on the edge of a large state forest 25 miles from Traverse City (the 'big' city up here). Verizon's commercials claim I shouldn't get any coverage, let alone 3G, until I hit Grand Rapids some 150+ miles south.

    Further, Verizon's map suggests they have full coverage in areas of Michigan that they simply don't. The topography coupled with fewer towers doesn't permit Verizon's transmission to many areas in which they claim coverage. AT&T's map is far more accurate.

    For my two cents, giving Verizon false cover of battling a metrics war is simply dishonest (along the same lines as saying the 'stimulus' plan is working in the economy).

  2. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, November 29, 2009 at 6:05 p.m.

    Excellent piece which underlines one of the key points I made in the TV Board Q&A - its on the video - last week. Rhetorically speaking, "where have all the research/metrics gatekeepers gone?" Sadly too many people in our industry have little idea what the correct interpretation is of the metrics they are using let alone the level of quality and therfore the real value of those metrics.

    Thanks for a terrific example of the dangers that face our research based planning and strategic marketing decisions more an more!

  3. Geoff Parkins from self-employed, November 30, 2009 at 1:28 p.m.

    Coverage is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

    Getting past the fact that the Verizon Ads are very clever and have changed the discussion from number-of-applications to network-coverage. I would contend that local (and very local at that ie. at your home or office) coverage is what matters to most people - the rest is just window dressing.

    Getting good coverage at home is much more important to me than whether or not AT&T or Verizon has better coverage in Michigan. To try and determine who is right or wrong in their coverage definition is an exercise in futility - local coverage trumps all.

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