Image: New York taxis
Scott Gries  /  Getty Images file
New York's taxi commission authorized LM Ericsson to place mobile sensors in the trunks of at least 50 cabs in an attempt to better map dead zones in wireless networks.
updated 1/3/2007 3:35:11 PM ET 2007-01-03T20:35:11

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 plans for a mechanical equivalent.

New York's taxi commission recently authorized Swedish mobile-phone equipment maker LM Ericsson to place mobile sensors in the trunks of at least 50 cabs in an attempt to better map dead zones in wireless networks.

The small devices, about the size of a cigar box, 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 reach every corner of the city, Ericsson executives said they can cheaply cover vast amounts of territory with limited effort.

Ericsson has set up similar programs in several other cities since the 1990s using a variety of vehicles.

"We have used trains, trucks, buses, delivery vehicles, limousines, pretty much anything that is moving and has electricity in it," said Niklas Kylvag, Ericsson's manager of fleet services.

"I have myself done testing in the Swiss Alps with this on my back at a ski resort."

Kylvag said he likes the taxi best "because of the randomness in its circulation."

Despite its relative compactness and plethora of tall places to put an antenna, getting a strong signal into every corner of the nation's most populous city isn't as easy as it might sound.

Kylvag said finding just the right pattern of radio frequencies to spread over a calling area is an art still being mastered by network engineers.

"If he puts his frequencies too close, he gets interference, and if he puts them too far apart, he gets poor coverage," Kylvag said.

The research program is being conducted on behalf of an undisclosed wireless provider. Cab companies will be paid for participating, and at least one fleet already has signed up, Kylvag said. The system, which will not be visible to passengers, is scheduled to be in place sometime this winter.

Ericsson won't have exclusive rights to the cabs. Rivals wishing to deploy a similar system will be allowed to, said New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman Matthew Daus.

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