OpenSignal, which taps sensors on 100M smartphones to monitor network speed, raises $8M

The world is awash in data, and while OpenSignal, a startup based out of London that’s probably best known for its mobile network speed reports  — which it compiles by tapping sensors from a network of smartphones from 100 million people — has picked up $8 million in funding to expand its team and products. (Yes, it is hiring.)

The Series B round was led by Octopus Ventures. Previous backers Qualcomm Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Passion Capital also participated. The company is not revealing its valuation — “it was a significant upround over the valuation in our Series A,” Brendan Gill, CEO and co-founder, said when asked. OpenSignal had raised only around $5.3 million prior to this, and was last valued at $15.46 million post-money in its Series A, according to PitchBook.

The funding — an oversubscribed round, according to Gill — comes during a period of strong growth for the startup. Gill said that OpenSignal turned profitable and stayed so through all of the last year. Its network of 100 million people and the resulting trillion data points, meanwhile, is a drastic increase over the few million it had a couple of years ago.

Part of that growth has come as a result of an expansion of OpenSignal’s business model. When the company was founded eight years ago, it was built on the premise of using its own apps to pick up data, first for mobile speeds and later weather (which it no longer tracks, it says). While it still uses these (on iOS and Android), more recently it has started to integrate with a wider group of third-party apps to piggy back on their installations and usage to bring together a wider group of mobile phone users to expand OpenSignal’s data and reach. That is how a startup that might be seen as having a niche appeal has bulked up to being able to reach 100 million in a matter of years.

At a time when all eyes are on data privacy in Europe, and more globally, Facebook and how it and other large platforms have been tapped by third parties both to source data and to distribute content for questionable ends, you might wonder who OpenSignal’s app partners are, and how (and if) consumers are informed when OpenSignal is tapping their sensors for data.

Gill declined to name specific app partners, but said that the list is in the tens, not hundreds, of apps; and that they cover a broad range of areas like gaming, social networking and productivity in order to get “as average as possible” range of mobile uses as possible to find the most accurate, real-world mobile data speeds.

While there will always be people these days like to track how fast their networks work, it seems that this is not the main target audience for OpenSignal. It is carriers looking to improve their speeds especially against competitors (carriers, he says, are never partners on data collection itself, to help keep OpenSignal independent), with telcos in more than 20 countries now using its services to track speeds; regulators who are tracking speeds for rule-making and monitoring purposes; and financial and industry analysts who use the data to help formulate reports on the state of the companies and the industry.

“Our goal is to get brought in as a global standard for network experience or connectivity,” Gill said.

This is no small thing: for years carriers and those whose job it is to stand objectively and check that they work as they are supposed to, have relied on the carriers’ own diagnostics to track speeds, but as anyone who has been saddled with a slow network that claims to be fast knows, the traditional model is a flawed one.

This is also relevant to where OpenSignal wants to develop as a business. Going forward, OpenSignal will continue to provide the services it already does, but, as I see it, the bigger opportunity is for the startup to eventually tap into the wider growth of the Internet of Things.

We now have sensors in millions of objects, and providing the right algorithms to “read” the data from those sensors can help all kinds of systems — especially those that have been tracked in less accurate ways — work more efficiently, be they traffic networks, or a factory running smoothly.

“We now have a lot of data and we see this round as helping us build out more analytics on top of the data,” said Gill. “We are building a team to take that data and interpret it. Real world experience metrics matter.”

On the front of data privacy and user consent on how data is used — two big areas that will very soon become mandatory considerations for all companies that want to do business in Europe — Gill said that OpenSignal is getting this by way of agreements between users and the apps that are OpenSignal’s data partners. Users are able to opt out of apps picking up and sending data when they are not being used, and he said that there is information contained in those app’s terms that will make clear that some of the phone sensor data would be used by the apps’ partners for diagnostics (which is what would cover OpenSignal).

“The good thing for us is that we’ve taken a strong stance on privacy,” said Gill. “Although we could collect more personal data if we wanted, we limit it. We don’t know who our users are, and we don’t share anything with third parties or tracking organizations. We are quite firm about how it’s used.”

Updated to note OpenSignal no longer tracks weather.