O2 has launched a live network checker, showing the current network status by post code and updated hourly.
The "Live Status Checker" popped up briefly on Wednesday, though it wasn't clear if it was using live data at the time, but now the system is fully operational and reporting that there are currently no network problems around Vulture Central. You can check where you're at here.
Not only that, but install Silverlight and O2 will provide you with a graphical interface showing coverage, masts and bundled Wi-Fi networks using technology from Synectics Technical Consulting - or it will try: when we gave it a look, the Wi-Fi and mast flags weren't working*, but the coverage map seemed accurate:
Fixed-line internet providers have long provided status information on their websites, but mobile networks have a reputation for concealing the extent of network problems, then refusing to explain how they were resolved and leaving customers to gamble that the problem won't reoccur.
To be fair to the operators, their networks are enormously complicated, and very disperse. A single cell crashing really doesn't warrant a mention on the home page, but to those near that cell, it is a failure of the entire network. Just gathering the information from thousands of base stations is a significant effort.
O2's new service claims to report network issues too, and is already populated with planned maintenance work explaining when data outage can be expected, though we can't imagine many customers rigorously checking such a list daily.
What will be really interesting is how the site reacts when the O2 network experiences real problems - if O2 can keep it up to date, and if customers appreciate being informed.
Assuming that happens, then hopefully the other network operators will be pressured into providing the same kind of information, allowing us all to see the actual coverage available now rather than what it is supposed to be. ®
* Synectics has been in touch to point out that wi-fi and mast information is only available near the location entered into the search box - we navigated by mouse which is why the flags aren't there in our picture.