There’s A Map For That. Or Is There?

Verizon Wireless (VZW) recently began an ad campaign aimed squarely at both AT&T and its flagship device, the iPhone. By now, Apple’s “There’s an app for that” commercials are well known for showcasing one of the myriad applications available for the iPhone. VZW’s new ad campaign uses a minor tweak to the familiar wording to wheedle AT&T over its poor 3G coverage. In its “There’s a map for that” commercials, VZW declares, “If you want to know why your 3G coverage works so well on Verizon Wireless, there’s a map for that,” and proceeds to show red- and blue-tinged maps of the United States. As one would expect, the proportion of red covering the continental US far exceeds that of blue, by five times as the advertisements report. The campaign made me chuckle for two reasons when I initially came across it, first because of how easily Verizon Wireless could turn a successful Apple advertisement against the iPhone maker and its wireless partner, and again after I discovered that AT&T doesn’t even produce a map of its 3G coverage area.

While writing a recent piece about AT&T’s decision to allow VoIP applications for the iPhone to utilize its 3G network, I discovered that AT&T’s Coverage Viewer does not differentiate between 3G data coverage and the much slower EDGE (2G) network utilized by the first iPhone. Instead, all data coverage is presented as a homogenous group, wildly distorting the perceived reach of AT&T’s high-speed mobile network. To determine whether AT&T offers 3G service in a particular area, the carrier provides a list of cities served but does not overlay that information on a map. Verizon Wireless, on the other hand, provides a Coverage Locator that not only breaks down the coverage area by service (voice, data, mobile entertainment, prepaid) but also color codes the types of service within each category. To further demonstrate by how much its broadband network overshadows that of its three main competitors, VZW compiled coverage maps for the 3G networks maintained by the top four wireless providers (visit the VZW Coverage Locator and click on Broadband 3G Network Comparisons below the map). AT&T’s failure to provide a map overlay of its 3G coverage begs the question, what is the nation’s second-largest wireless provider hiding?