New York City Cabs to Map Out Cell-Phone Dead Zones

Ever wanted to stuff that "Can you hear me now?" guy into the trunk of your car and take him on a tour of those maddening spots where your cell phone won't work?

One telecommunications company has a plan to do the mechanical equivalent.

The Stockholm-based firm Ericsson recently got approval from New York's taxi commission to place mobile sensors in the trunks of at least 50 cabs in an attempt to better map dead zones in mobile phone networks.

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The small devices, about the size of a computer modem, will automatically feed information about signal strength and clarity to engineers.

Because taxis in New York are on the road all day and all night, and ostensibly travel into every corner of the city, company executives said they are a cheap way of covering vast amounts of territory with limited effort.

Similar programs have been launched in several other cities since the 1990s using a variety of vehicles, but this is the first time it will be done in New York, the company said.

"Our favorite vehicle is the taxicab because of the randomness in its circulation," said Niklas Kylvag, Ericsson's manager of fleet services.

But, he added, "We have used trains, trucks, buses, delivery vehicles, limousines, pretty much anything that is moving and has electricity in it. I have myself done testing in the Swiss Alps with this on my back at a ski resort."

The research program is being conducted on behalf of an undisclosed wireless provider. Cab companies will be paid for participating.

At least one fleet has signed up to participate and others have expressed interest, Kylvag said. The system, which will not be visible to passengers, is scheduled to be in place sometime this winter.

New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman Matthew Daus said the city has also opened cabs to other companies that wish to deploy a similar system.