Assignment#1: Individual Project Proposal

Title: Orange or not orange?

An attempt in making the dead zones more visible.


I purchased my iPhone 3G on September 9th 2009. On that day, I became a new AT&T customer. I had purposely changed mobile servers to get an iPhone. Along with my phone, I received a series of pamphlets that showed me how and where I could use my new gadget.

As a New Yorker, I was nothing else but content with my location because my area was covered in orange. Meaning: I had full coverage! After my excitement phase, I began to notice that in certain areas, even though I would get my five bars (at the top left of my phone), I was unable to make a call, send a text or go online. I would always tell myself that there was a valid explanation for these dead zones. However, I must admit that my technology knowledge was and still is very limited. Consequently, I thought that maybe due to a high cell phone usage or being next to a train station would be the cause of my impossibility for using my phone. I simply refused to think that my phone was the anomaly.

And then one day, I found out that I was not the only New Yorker to encounter the same issue. Apple confessed: “upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong.” (Carew, 2010) In other words, since 2007, the iPhone bars had been misleading as well as AT&T’s coverage maps. It led me to realize that I had no understanding of what was cell phone coverage concretely, how it was measured, what these bars meant and where dead spots were. Basically, I was basing my judgment on what was given to me and didn’t bother verifying the information.

This is where my project kicks in!

1) Topic description and research questions

As a consumer, I would like to understand more about what it means to have coverage, what a dead spot is and how the intensity of a signal is measured. Here is how I intend to proceed:

Prior research

Defining the terms: In my mind, the terminology is highly essential because it will be the basis for my research. I am especially referring to all the technical vocabulary linked to the measuring of coverage in a particular spot.

How does it work? How does a call start, where does it go through, and how does it reach the recipient. The same goes for texts and emails.

AT&T and the iPhone affair: I need to dig further in the issues AT&T customers encountered, with iPhones and misleading signals and map representations.

What would I be mapping?

→After conducting the primary research above, I would like to attempt to compare AT&T’s official coverage in the city of New York given to their customers with my fieldwork. From my terrain- investigation, I should be able to:

a)        Define the dead zones in Manhattan.

b)       Provide, as best as I can, a numerical value to the coverage zones in order to show that in these “orange zones”, there are also divergences depending on which block you are at or next to.

c)       Optional (not sure yet): Figure out if in these dead or almost dead zones, these urban dwellers either are wanting to text, surf the web or call.

→Hopefully, by superposing AT&T’s map and my mapped work, I will be able to demonstrate the lack of real information that the telephone company provides.

2) Relevance of the topic and why now?

→The topic itself is relevant to the course. It does focus on two components essential to our class: media (the cell phone through which one can send a textual or vocal message by a channel that will then reach a recipient); urban as we are analyzing the coverage of a telephone provider in New York City; archeology as it is about digging information up while trying to find what hides underneath these assumptions given by AT&T.

→This would be some sort of media alternative. The idea behind this map is, even at a very small scale, showing consumers that it is possible to be manipulated by media especially when it comes to the invisible, but that it is possible to do otherwise if given the opportunity to do so.

→On a more practical note, as an iPhone consumer, it would come in handy to have a map showing where and where I cannot use my cell.

3) How?

The elements that I would need to gather to build the map would be through fieldwork mostly:

→Find the dead spots myself and figure out what intensity of coverage there is in the city every four blocks with the help of, ironically, an app called iOS4.1. After clicking on your app, “a blank page launches with a title bar that reads “Field Test,” along with a Refresh button. The Field Test part is that your signal bars will be replaced with a negative number that measures signal strength as expressed in decibels of noise in the signal.” (Chaffin, 2010)

→Optional (not sure yet): conduct a survey in the dead spots among the people that have cell-phones but cannot use them.

4) A few words to conclude…

→ I realize that my project will evolve as I start my research and begin my fieldwork. However, that is the nature of a project. You emanate from a certain point that might take you in different directions.

→ I am not too terribly comfortable with using an app for my fieldwork but so far it is the only affordable and reachable tool usable for my ground research.

→Even though, I am not very tech-savvy, I wish for my final format to be digital in which I can include sound and pictures.