Mobile is the future, if you have a signal

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

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I have been using the OpenSignal app for a while now. The app monitors the mobile and WiFi networks and gives you handy information that can help you get a better connection.

For instance, it indicates the direction of the mobile cell tower that you are connected to. So in theory if you move closer to that, you should get a better signal. The app sends information back to OpenSignal, who incorporate it into a database. That too is available in the app via a map with the signal strength overlaid on top.

When I installed the OpenSignal app I checked it regularly, because I was curious how it worked and what information can be gleaned from it. I don’t check it as much now, because I am familiar with the local area, where the nearest towers are and what signal strength I can expect to get. If I go somewhere else, then the app is my go to place for information.

So mostly it just sits there in the background, collecting data and helping OpenSignal build an accurate picture of the mobile networks in the area, which they can then report on. Which in partnership with consumer group Which? they have just done. The report itself makes for a very interesting read and points to the almost excruciatingly slow roll out of 4G nationwide. Rural areas suffer the most, although when 4G is available it is generally faster. Which makes sense, as in less densely populated areas there aren’t as many people putting strain on the network.

The full report goes into much more detail and is available here:
It’s clear that crowdsourcing information is an effective way to generate large and (hopefully) accurate data sets. Ofcom (Office of Communications) which is the government approved regulator, has now launched its own network monitoring app called Ofcom Research.

The app itself is simpler than OpenSignal, being just a single page of information. So at a glance you get a snapshot of various bits of information. Like how much (as a percentage) you have been connected to 2G, 4G and WiFi, data network availability, download speeds, dropped call ratios and network latency (roughly translated as how fast your connection is).

Once you have downloaded and installed the app to your phone, it quietly sits there gathering data. Occasionally it will also ask you to answer questions about your experience. For example, it asked me how satisfied I was with the service provided by my mobile phone operator. Living in Storrington which has next to no network signal for any of the networks, you can imagine my response!

While I think the new Ofcom Research app is important (because it is the regulator we are talking about), I do not think it will replace the OpenSignal app for me. OpenSignal just gives me more information and provides it in a visually pleasing way.

Alan Stainer