New research suggests mobile 3G masts offer a cheap and accurate weather monitoring network.
The data, published today in the journal Science, was collected by an Israeli team headed by University of Tel-Aviv professor Hagit Messer-Yaron.
Rain, snow, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions affect the strength of electromagnetic signals. Mobile phone operators already collect such data and use the knowledge to boost the network when things turn nasty.
The team collated mast strength numbers with recorded precipitation levels. They found that the variation in reception was a better real-time indicator of conditions than current radar techniques.
Thanks to the near-ubiquity of cellular networks, mobile mast monitoring is also more widely available, and cheaper than expensive surface rain guages, they say.
The plan now is to up the accuracy even further by taking the affect of users' usage of the network on the signal into account. ®