A New Frontier: OpenSignal Creates Crowdsourced Sensor Network

Apr 13 2014, 11:59am CDT | by

A New Frontier: OpenSignal Creates Crowdsourced Sensor Network
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

You have a smartphone, tablet and probably now, these days, a Fitbit or a smartwatch. Maybe you are an an early adopter or sports addict and have a sports shirt with sensors in it. All of these things, plus cameras, navigational devices, are full of sensors. All kinds of sensors and  lots of sensors  – somewhere between 15-20 sensors on each smartphone today.

There are sensors to detect GPS/location, the orientation of the mobile device (gyroscope), barometric sensors to assess the GPS to find altitude then there are sensors for humidity, pressure and  proximity sensors, ambient light sensors, UV light sensors and motion /gesture sensors.

null  they all work together to create a mobile device that literally senses the environment or changes in the environment around you and communicates that back to the phone to do what it needs to do. Sensors will make our smartphones smarter.

Separately, the data that’s generated from those sensors through the phone means little, but crowdsource all that data and it shows us a network with data (weather, location, biometric) we know virtually nothing about. That network is full of data that no one knows anything about. So why isn’t anyone looking at those sensors and trying to make some sense of them in terms of the network or the data they create?

There are now. According to a OpenSignal, new company funded by Qualcomm Ventures, they say that null

At the basic level, Open Signal wants to create a comprehensive database of cell phone towers, cell phone signal strength readings, and Wi-Fi access points around the world. But, there is more to it than that. It’s about knowing what the collection of those signals and networks create and how they can be tapped or re deployed.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time, but the fact that billions of people are now carrying mobile devices that have more sensors than ever before is making much deeper understanding possible,” says Brendan Gill, Co-Founder and CEO, OpenSignal.  ”null  With this greater understanding of the world we can make better predictions on anything from the weather to modeling crowd movements and provide enormous value back to the community.”

So how can you build a company around a multitude of sensors inside the 1.5 billion smartphones out there globally and have that make sense.

Gill says the company started in one direction, and then evolved over time. When the company was founded, OpenSignal focused on the problem of helping people get better signal and providing unbiased coverage maps of mobile networks.  But in doing that, Gill says they realized that null . But now, the company has expanded its vision to encompass sensor networks in every domain.

So what’s OpenSignal actually monitoring?

OpenSignal monitors the signal coverage and performance a user experiences when using his smartphone. They look at where users have coverage and where they don’t have coverage, along with the type of coverage , like 4G. OpenSignal also looks at the performance of that signal e.g. download and upload speeds, latency and the reliability of the network, like how often does it seem to stop working even when it appears you have a good signal.

“We then use this all of this crowdsourced dataset to provide utility back to users of the app. We’ll show them where they can get a better signal in realtime; we’ll show them over time if they could be getting a better signal experience with another network based on their personalised history; we show them a full dashboard of stats on their signal quality and finally we can show them where they can find free WiFi in any city in the world,” says Gill.

In the next year the company plans to grow their crowdsourced network even further. To date, OpenSignal has six million downloads which they say produces actionable intelligence, but as they increase the number of nodes in their network, the insight and predictions they generate will improve.

Gill says they are working on contextual awareness technology to make the data sets richer.

“We want to understand the context of every data point we use to segment the data in more advanced ways.  Taking WeatherSignal for example, if we can detect when a device is inside or outside automatically, we can then analyze only the ‘outside’ data in making better weather predictions,” adds Gill.

And, it appears the biggest network and infrastructure players out there – Cisco and Ericsson – haven’t recognized the potential of this space to create a network or monitor the data from the sensors out there./>/>

Gill says it’s a classic innovator’s dilemma.

“So, it’s anyone’s guess when the biggest companies will start to take notice.  We believe that to build a large and active crowdsourced network you need to build a community that actively gains from their participation,” says Gill. “The good will of users will get you started but ultimately if you want to reach large scale you need to provide real utility to users to keep them engaged.”

Gill says he believes solutions that only work passively or in the background won’t be as successful, which creates an even playing field between the big guys and the independent startups like OpenSignal, as you need to create a new and dedicated community from scratch.

Waze, a Qualcomm Ventures investment, was a great example of this where there engaged and cross platform community was not easily replicable so it made more sense for one of the big guys (Google) to buy them then to try to recreate the community from scratch,” adds Gill.

But Qualcomm does see it and through their investment arm, Qualcomm Ventures, chose to back OpenSignal and their vision.

“We have been believers in the impending growth of crowdsourcing services via mobile device sensors. The OpenSignal team is pioneering a novel solution in this emerging area,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Senior Vice President, Qualcomm Ventures.

“Qualcomm is a company that believes in moving the entire mobile ecosystem forward,” adds Gill. “Qualcomm shares our vision that using mobile devices as part of sensor networks increases the potential utility of those devices and the wider mobile ecosystem. As more people understand this potential and the technology develops to enhance these sensor networks then the entire wireless industry will benefit.”

During the 2012 Presidential campaign in the United States, OpenSignal tried something unique. From their crowdsourced global database of almost 200 million WiFi hotspots, they analyzed the names of these for networks mentioning Obama.  They classified each of them as positive or negative sentiment and used their locations to build up a rough estimate of Obama’s approval based solely on people’s WiFi names and found the result matched up surprisingly close to what real opinion polls were showing.  To access the entire study, click here.

So you see, knowledge is power, or in this case sensors are knowledge and understanding the data they contain, mapping that data, is a new frontier for the users of those 1.5 billion smart phones in the market today.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Mummy wearing jewellery unearthed in Egypt
London, Nov 23 (IANS) Spanish archaeologists have discovered about 4,000 years old female mummy wearing rare jewellery in Egypt.
 
 
Exercise and fasting could boost brain's functions
Washington, Nov 23 (IANS) Exercise along with occasional fasting is good for boosting the brain's neurons, shows a new research.
 
 
One infant dies in Pakistan hospital
Islamabad, Nov 23 (IANS) One more infant died due to lack of oxygen in an incubator and negligence of the hospital administration in Pakistan, bringing the number of such deaths to 19 in the past five days.
 
 
American whiskey faces challenge in whisky-gulping India
Washington, Nov 23 (IANS) For the most part Indians love things American, but when it comes to their tipple, the world's largest whisky drinkers usually go for Scotch or their very own home-made brands.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Mila Kunis: Jupiter Ascending was like boot camp
Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum ''got in trouble'' for losing too much weight filming 'Jupiter Ascending'. The 31-year-old actress - who has two-month-old daughter Wyatt with fiancé Ashton Kutcher - admits the futuristic...
Read more on Movie Balla
 
Force India finish sixth in 2014
Abu Dhabi, Nov 23 (IANS) Formula 1 team Force India ended their 2014 season in sixth position in the constructors' championship as its drivers Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg brought home 28 points from the season-...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Hamilton seals F1 drivers' title with Abu Dhabi win
Abu Dhabi, Nov 23 (IANS) British racing driver Lewis Hamilton clinched his second Formula 1 drivers' title as he comprehensively won the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the 5.5 km Yas Marina Circuit here Sunday...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
14 killed in Afghanistan bombing
Kabul, Nov 23 (IANS) At least 14 people were killed and 35 wounded Sunday in a suicide bomb attack at a volleyball ground in Paktika province of Afghanistan, a source said. "The blast occurred late in the evening....
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi GP, World Championshi
Abu Dhabi, Nov 23 (IANS) Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton comprehensively won the season ending Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and in the process also clinched the drivers' World Championship for the second time here...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Iraqi forces attack IS-held towns
Baghdad, Nov 23 (IANS) Iraqi security forces attacked two towns held by the Sunni radical group Islamic State (IS) in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala Sunday, police said. Security forces backed by Shia militias and...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon and Sam's Club Black Friday 2014 Sales are Live
The big retailers cannot wait this year and launched Black Friday 2014 sales as early as Friday. These sales are the real deal offering deals that are advertised in Black Friday 2014 Ads. On Friday Walmart Black Friday...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
 
Pune FC seal semifinal berth in King's Cup
Thimphu, Nov 23 (IANS) Pune FC thrashed Assam State Electricity Board FC 5-0 in a third round Group-B encounter to seal their place in the semi-finals of the 2014 King's Cup at the Changlimithang Stadium here Sunday....
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Australia the team to beat at World Cup: Vaughan
London, Nov 23 (IANS) Former England captain Michael Vaughan Sunday said that having hit upon a rich vein of form against South Africa, Australia have emerged as the front-runners and will be the team to beat at the...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Taylor Swift to receive Dick Clark Award
Los Angeles, Nov 23 (IANS) Singer Taylor Swift has been named as the first recipient of Dick Clark Award For excellence at 2014 American Music Awards (AMAs). The 24-year-old, who is enjoying a great year with her...
Read more on Celebrity Balla