A few weeks ago I returned to my alma mater, the University of San Francisco, to participate in an alumni panel for current journalism students. At the end of the evening a student called Robert Lee introduced himself and told me about a story he wrote in 2005 for USF's student newspaper, the San Francisco Foghorn. With the aim to find the cell phone carrier with the best coverage on USF's campus, Lee and his colleagues conducted a study to test the reception and call quality of the five national carriers (Sprint and Nextel were still separate at that time) plus Metro PCS. Over the course of three weeks they studied 15 locations around the campus to identify the places with the best reception and the worst dead zones. Then, they compiled the results (PDF) and published them in the paper.
No, the study was not completely scientific but I love the idea. Cell phone users relish such useful information and I think Lee showed some great foresight in planning and conducting the test. He even got responses (PDF) from some of the carriers. I only wish I could organize enough people to do a similar test across the whole country. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the study found that Verizon Wireless had the best coverage at USF followed by (in order) Nextel, Sprint, Metro PCS, AT&T (then Cingular), and T-Mobile.