Mobile services have become vital to our productivity and staying connected with those we care about. There are many tools available to help with delivering the best possible mobile experience. One such tool, OpenSignal, is a free service that provides a transparent view of mobile network (cellular and wi-fi) quality and speed throughout the world. The scope includes all carriers operating in the local market.

How many times have you traveled and wondered if you would have good mobile voice and data coverage when you arrived at your destination? Do you ever struggle to find reliable wi-fi hot spots? Do you question if your mobile internet connection is good enough to support video? OpenSignal will help to address each of these areas of concern.

OpenSignal can also assist with mobile service planning within the enterprise. The service allows technology professionals to determine the best carrier in the regions their organization operates. This is of value because OpenSignal provides a more accurate view of network quality than basic coverage maps.

The service can also be used to understand dominant mobile trends such as hardware deployments, platforms used (e.g., iOS vs. Android), and operating system versions. The reports are published online and, at times, the raw data collected is available for download. This information is helpful when developing technology plans.

Confidence in the data comes with an understanding how the service work. OpenSignal is an example of crowdsourcing. Participants download a light application on their mobile phone (iOS and Android supported) to collect network related statistics. The data collected is periodically uploaded and OpenSignal performs the analytics needed to produce a view of the network.

There are two ways to access the results: web site or mobile application. The web site provides basic information on mobile coverage, signal strength, maximum throughput, and other metrics. It’s helpful when researching locations to determine the user experience. Simply enter the address, city, or zip code and OpenSignal will provide a map and the relevant information.

The mobile application, in addition to collecting information, enables access to network statistics, a view of cellular tower status, and nearby access points. It provides a simple view of network quality and tools for speed testing (eliminating that other speed test application you downloaded).

There is no financial cost associated with OpenSignal’s service but there is no such thing as “free”. Users pay for the service by sharing the network data from their mobile device. The question becomes does OpenSignal collect more data than you are comfortable sharing? Is the perceived benefit greater that the value of the data shared? The answer to this question is different for each individual. Below is a summary (generated using Clueful) of the data that can be collected by OpenSignal. You can determine if you are comfortable.

OpenSignal data collection

  • Application usage, locale, city, gender, and month of birth
  • Mobile usage data
  • Track location using location services (permission needed to do this)

OpenSignal mitigates the privacy concern by removing personally identifiable data. Keep in mind this summary is based on the current software release. Privacy risk can change as future releases become available.

While the OpenSignal service is innovative there are improvements they should consider. Hopefully their application and service roadmap will evolve and address these items:

  1. Publish more raw data sets. As an open solution more data should be made available.
  2. Provide statistics of regarding the number of data collection points used in each market to formulate the results. This will factor into the data accuracy confidence level.
  3. Be transparent on data collected and how its used (not implying they aren’t but full transparency is the best policy)
  4. Identify suspicious wi-fi networks.

The value of this service is directly proportional to the number of people using it, more users yield increased data quality. If you use the web site the least you can do is download the application and contribute – it’s only fair. Hopefully you will use the service and find that it does improve your mobile experience. After all, it is an example of thoughtful technology.

Posted by Karl

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