I've been wandering around Mobile World Congress and I managed to bump into a startup which – although unable to can't afford the expensive stands here – actually has an app that stands out from the crowd by quite some way. You see, it's obvious to people that getting a decent signal on your mobile is crucial. You'll no doubt recall how the launch of the iPhone suddenly created a massive interest in the quality and reach of mobile phone networks across the planet. Imagine being able to work out which mobile carrier was best for you based on where you are, in real time? OpenSignalMaps does just that.
They are addressing a common problem. Carrier coverage maps are often outdated, exaggerated by marketing and it's rare that you can mash up maps to fairly compare the signal strength of each network's base stations. All the while people make actual life decisions based on whether they can get a good signal strength or not, like travel plans, working out where they should locate their new apartment or office, or just picking a mobile provider.
The OpenSignalMaps team consists of four former Physics graduates: Brendan Gill, Sam Westwood, Sina Khanifar, and James Robinson. They were inspired to start OpenSignalMaps after working with customers of their first startup, RepeaterStore, which sells mobile base station repeaters for domestic use in the US. They got to thinking: what would happen if you could map the world's wireless signals with the users themselves?
In much the same way Waze is solving the mapping problem by growd-surcing maps, OpenSignalMaps is crowd-sourcing the signal strength of mobile base stations. And it's doing that with an Android app and aggregating that data in real time. You'll be glad to know that an iPhone app is on it's way.
The free OpenSignalMaps Android app acts like a "dashboard" for cellular signals by providing information on signal strength, data, speeds, and the cell towers nearby. Users can share the data the app gathers with the OpenSignalMaps site, where the information is processed and visualized on a map.
Thus you can drill down into the data by network and network type and find which network has the best coverage for a location – assuming someone has been nearby and running the app. In the US they've been able to track the rollout of Verizon and AT&T's 4G networks, for instance, by sipping the different 4G signals. Pretty awesome stuff.
And so far, that's a reasonable number of people, with no marketing. The app has been downloaded 80,000 times, contributing millions of signal strength readings and covering 626 carriers worldwide.
In the future, the startup plans to add download speeds on different networks to its data and increasingly verify claims made by carriers about the performance of their networks. Plus, they could start mapping WiFi signals as well.
Incredibly they say they don't need venture backing at their Repeater business is funding the startup from cashflow. Whatever the case, I predict big things for this startup. They are solving a real-world problem and there are multiple ways to monetize the data – from selling it back to carriers, to mapping the rollout of signal in merging markets.