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Apple tech uses geofences, crowdsourced data to pinpoint cell network dead spots

Source: USPTO

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent for a mobile device monitoring system that uses anonymized crowdsourced data to map out cellular network dead spots.

As described in Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,886,178 for a "Location-based profile," the mobile monitoring solution is mostly for the benefit of cellular carriers and device makers. Using onboard location subsystems like GPS and wireless access point triangulation, individual iPhones and iPads can inform server-side systems of localized areas where calls are regularly interrupted or data transfers fail, aiding in the creation of more robust network.

Described as a location-based profile, the diagnostics tool — acting as an app or background task — depends largely on geofencing, defined as a closed set of coordinates laid out in a circle over geographic area. In some cases, the area geofence can be polygonal to correspond with known coordinates of surrounding cell towers. As applied to the patent, geofences are used to trigger mobile monitoring systems.

For example, when an iPhone experiences a dropped call, the location-based profile can assign a geofence corresponding to the cell of a network to which the device was connected just prior to interruption. The geofence may then be saved and associated with a diagnostics profile so that the iPhone can further suss out wireless problems when entering that area. Once a device leaves the vicinity, it reverts back to a default operating profile.

Alternatively, existing geofences known to correspond with wireless interruptions can be fetched from a data store located on an off-site server. These virtual coordinates may be generated from data uploaded to the system by other mobile devices, hence the crowdsourcing part of the equation.

In the diagnostic profile, multiple agents are used to monitor various wireless connectivity attributes, including call drops, SMS, baseband issues and more. Examples of data gathered range from time of interruption, frequency of issues, type of interruption and general network parameters.

Gathered data is anonymized and sent up to a central server for analysis where it is applied to dimension tables that include various statistics of a given geofenced area. An iPhone can access device history from the table for further instruction or, if the issue is determined resolved, remove the geofence from the server.

The remainder of the patent goes into detail on dimension tables, alternative embodiments and statistical analysis of data. In addition, the invention mentions specialized profiles that can be customized for special interest data collection, such as collection of demographic information on cellular phone calls within a designated area.

Apple's geofence-based wireless diagnostics patent was first filed for in 2010 and credits Shuvo Chatterjee as its inventor.