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Mozilla Firefox Wireless Networking

Mozilla Is Mapping Cell Towers and WiFi Access Points 113

First time accepted submitter neiras writes "Mozilla is building a map of publicly-observable cell tower and WiFi access points to compete with proprietary geolocation services like Google's. Coverage is a bit thin so far but is improving rapidly. Anyone with an Android phone can help by downloading the MozStumbler app and letting it run while walking or driving around. The application is also available on the F-Droid market." "Thin" is relative; it's quite a few data points since we first mentioned the pilot program a few months ago.
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Mozilla Is Mapping Cell Towers and WiFi Access Points

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  • Hopefully they run into the same issue that Google did.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by suutar ( 1860506 )
      what, storing intercepted wifi traffic instead of just the ssid? I doubt they'd forget that one.
    • by dfsmith ( 960400 )

      Hopefully they run into the same issue that Google did.

      Large location based advertising revenue? A global world road map with radio-location markers that exceeds many commercial cartographers' efforts? Which issue were you thinking of?

      • Maybe the one where they've got so much money that they can drop $3.2bn on a thermostat company and count it as an operating expense?

  • openBmap, anyone?

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:10PM (#45993533)

    Its a frequent problem with these phone based mapping programs, that the coverage area they map is way too small, especially when they are mapping cell towers. They usually assume a reception circle about the width of a road. So they end up mapping roads, and frequently apply magical thinking to show no coverage areas simply because nobody walked there running their app.

    They will show coverage on all sides of an open field, but unless someone walks a zigzags path thru that field they will simply assume there is no coverage there. I prefer carrier maps. Even guesswork by real radio engineers is better than spotwork by silly apps.

    These mapping programs, when mapping cellular service would be better off mapping HOLES (no coverage areas) of each type (2g, 3G, LTE, CDMA, etc). The task would be smaller, and the data presentation far more useful. They would just log GPS position where there was no signal and send that when they again found a signal. Presentation would show service available until you actually had some measurements that said it wasn't.

    That way at least the farmer or hunter working off road would have a more reliable idea of where there is likely cell service, and everybody would have a better idea of where they are unlikely to service.

    Assuming it is all quiet in the forest when trees fall simply because you weren't standing there to hear it is a interesting philosophical exercise but a pretty stupid way to run a mapping service.

    • Mapping holes might be a smaller task in urban areas, but I assure you that's not the case in much of America. The two methods could easily be combined (map holes in urban/suburban areas, map coverage in rural areas) to make this an easier task, though.

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Agreed, I have no problem with using both approaches.

        But they should at least buy a real radio engineer a cup of coffee and find a reasonable estimation of the radius or reception around any given location when the device is measuring a given dBm. Assuming the signal falls to zero at the edge of the roadside is silly.

    • They would just log GPS position where there was no signal and send that when they again found a signal.

      mod parent up... this would be extremely useful, including to those looking at possibly changing carriers

      also, if you know the location of towers fairly accurately, you only need one data point to determine the reception radius all around the tower for the specific phone/device you are using

      a possible complexity might be differences in reception on various devices (including possibility that "you're holding it wrong") but results could also be affected by bridges/tunnels, topography, background interference

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        also, if you know the location of towers fairly accurately, you only need one data point to determine the reception radius all around the tower for the specific phone/device you are using

        The phone knows what tower it was connected to.
        The phone knows its current signal/noise ratio.
        The phone knows how much power it needs to use to be heard by the tower.
        And the phone know where it is, rather precisely if GPS is on.

        If you are measuring -75dBm where you are standing, its reasonable to assume a far bigger circle of reception than if you are seeing -101dBm.
        In neither case is there a reason to assume reception disappears at the ditch beside the road you are walking.

        This whole thing appears

        • by Anonymous Coward
          I'm just gonna throw this out here but maybe the reason it always seems that no one gives a shit about your suggestions or improvements is because you do actually talk to everyone here and treat them like they are a 3rd grader. Maybe if you didn't just immediately start tearing someone's idea apart and pointing out every little scenario of why it is garbage, then just maybe people would pay more attention. When I have a know-it-all wanna-be like you just start poppin off at the mouth, I ignore
          • i see what you mean, and maybe i wasn't the target of icebike's flame but i wasn't offended since i know most of what he said (in this case) is true. i just took the last paragraph with a grain of salt (this is slashdot after all).

            technically if the point 6 bales of hay into the field that he mentioned was shielded behind an iron clad building (like a hay or machinery shed) it could make a difference :-)

    • by SoftwareArtist ( 1472499 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:36PM (#45993849)

      I'm not sure what your point is. This isn't supposed to be a map of cell phone coverage. It's a map showing all the data points in their database. The goal of this project is to let people identify their location based on the visible networks, not to tell them what kind of network coverage they'll have in any location.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by icebike ( 68054 )

        Follow the first link in the story. The biggest text on the page says COVERAGE MAP and when you follow the other links
        it is clear that their intent was a coverage map, not a data-point map where Joe Sixpack happened to see a Cell Tower.

    • by BBF_BBF ( 812493 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:36PM (#45993855)
      icebike, If you had bothered read the Mozilla Location Service Project Page, the goal of the project is to create an Open Wifi AP/Cell Tower to Geo Location Mapping Database, It's not meant to map Cell Coverage. []

      This will allow the look up of rough position information without turning on the GPS using an OPEN DATABASE. The same thing that a few PROPRIETARY databases do currently.

      Given this goal, road coverage is good enough.
    • by Cramer ( 69040 )

      What f'ing "guesswork"? They know where the tower is, and draw a circle around it. Done. No engineer; just a database (that anyone can build from FCC data, btw) and simple program (I did it with a bash shell script.) Using Google Earth elevation data would make it a little more accurate, but that's a lot more programming.

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        If they could get that out of the FCC database, why put an app on a phone and log this.?

        After all, if you look at their map, they are simply showing where people were standing (driving) at the time their phone reported, and no tower locations are shown. Look here, [] maximum zoom into Zurich. You have streets mapped, but no tower data at all. They are replicating street maps, not tower or wifi maps.

        • by Cramer ( 69040 )

          You'd have to ask them; I guess they wanted in on the whole wardriving craze -- over a decade late... The FCC only covers cell sites in the USA. (nor does it say which towers are actually *on*)

  • I'm opting out of this whole WiFi mapping thing.
  • by Erect Horsecock ( 655858 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:08PM (#45994189) Homepage Journal []

    Has already done much of what this project is wanting to accomplish

  • There are political activists in Russia and worldwide who believe that mesh networks are usable as a backup communication medium during Internet blackout caused by political instability. The databases of WiFi geomapping just help the opponents to disrupt the backup communications.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @11:04PM (#45995239) Journal

    How is this any different from the OpenSignalMaps project?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This maps wifi aps to gps coordinates, while opensignalmaps maps signal strength of different cell providers. Significantly different.
  • so, is there an app for n9 to contribute ? :)

  • I do hope they realize this isn't legal in quite a few countries. Since combining WiFi AP mac addresses, SSIDs and geographical location can be used to locate people that make use of these APs, some countries legally treat this information as private, even though it can be "freely acquired from a public road". Google has been having legal trouble in several European countries for this already and I don't think Mozilla would want to have the same thing happen to them.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Google agreed with the Dutch Data Protection Authority to let people opt out by appending _nomap to their wifi ssid. Mozilla simply has to support that optout to avoid trouble.

      • Oh yes use up over 18% of the length of a ssid for this - I am in awe of Google's tech prowess ;-)
      • What. The. Fuck?

        I look forward to Google and Bing announcing they're replacing robots.txt with a policy of ignoring all websites whose domain names end in "-donotindex" before the TLD...

        Seriously, forcing people who want privacy to rename their networks is is a horrible idea and whoever came up with this idea needs a good smackdown.

        • the easiest way to handle google bots is to display a fuck off message to any user agent containing a blacklisted string

          there's websites that list all the different known user agents that you can use as a guide

          the fuck off message that i use in my websites is:
          "The user agent with which you have accessed this website is banned from accessing content as it is suspected of attempting to steal copyright information without the copyright holder's permission."

  • Google owns all the location addresses in the world. Yelp holds a much smaller subset. I care less for WiFi location capability (everyone has a GPS) than I do for being able to look something up.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.