"Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker's God-given right," fictional New York City Mayor Lenny Clotch famously said in 1989's Ghostbusters II. So is complaining about every and anything, especially fancy new stuff like cell service in the subway. We've barely had it for more than a year, and already it's the source of many complaints. It's here for one station, gone the next, which leaves you with barely enough time to post that wicked rejoinder on Facebook.
Along comes Subspotting, a new app to help track Wi-Fi service and cell reception for the four major carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint — along your daily route. Say you're traveling on the Q train from Astoria to Coney Island. Subspotting will let you know which stations along the way have cell and Wi-Fi service (most of the ones in Manhattan) and which don't (Brooklyn looks pretty dark until the train goes aboveground). The app is currently only available for iOS users.
The project was first conceived by Daniel Goddemeyer, who runs the New York City-based research and design practice Object Form Field Culture. Over two weeks, Goddemeyer gathered data on cell and Wi-Fi service along all 660 miles of subway using a custom data logger. Then he and German-based programmer Dominikus Baur crunched the numbers and turned it into an app.
New Yorkers have been getting Wi-Fi in their subway stations in dribs and drabs since 2013, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it had contracted a company called Transit Wireless to wire all 278 underground stations. Since then, 147 stations have been brought online, a spokesperson for the company says. The project was originally slated to be completed at the end of 2017, but last December, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was moving the deadline up a year.
Under that new timeline, the entire system will be wired by the end of 2016, at which point the Subspotting app may become pretty irrelevant, unless there are outages, which in New York City is almost a given. And then the complaining will begin anew, and Subspotting may become useful again.