New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it a priority to revamp the archaic NYC subway infrastructure. Part of his plan for “embracing the digital future” includes adding Wi-Fi service to all 277 underground stations by the end of 2016 and cellular service in 2017. This is excellent news for the straphangers of the future, but what about today’s riders? Turns out that with the right timing, you could make that emergency “I’m running late” call—but only if you know which of the underground stations have reception.
The MTA says that “more than 140 underground subway stations already have cellphone, data, and Wi-Fi service” but the strength of those signals varies from virtually non-existent to robust enough to download a podcast (speaking from personal experience). Subspotting—a data visualization project by Daniel Goddemeyer and Dominikus Baur—takes the guesswork out of where and when to try using your phone on the subway.
Subspotting visited all 469 stations in the sprawling MTA system (which has over 660 miles of track and 21 different lines) and measured the service level for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile—the four most common carriers in the city. Then they turned the data into an app—available for $0.99—that tells users which stations have the most service on every line. The app’s interface is organized so that users can see a “heatmap” of service bars along every line. The longer and more opaque a bar is, the stronger the service. This lets you know when it’s a good time to try and send a text or start a call and when to expect your call to drop off.
The information also exists as graphs, which are free to access online, and posters for $40 a pop. The different graphs show the peaks and valleys of cell reception for each carrier along the entire length of every subway line and cell service availability superimposed over a geographic map of NYC.
The G train, which runs from Brooklyn to Queens, may as well stand for “good luck getting service” as it’s the least connected in the system LOL. The 7 train, which is mostly above ground (unsurprisingly) has the best service throughout. If you’re fortunate to have reception while riding underground, the signal comes from above-ground transmitters and its strength depends on how deep the tunnel is as well as what type of materials lie between you and the surface. For example, signals don’t travel well through super thick concrete or rock.
Individual carriers factor into strength as well. Take the 2 line, for example. In Downtown Brooklyn, Sprint has a slight edge over the other providers while Verizon has more peaks in Manhattan and around Grand Army Plaza, in Brooklyn, than its brethren. The site does issue a disclaimer that service levels are subject to change, hopefully for the better rather than the worse.