Facebook: 1 billion people served (in a single day)

Facebook hit quite the milestone this week. On Monday, more than 1 billion connected to the social network in a 24-hour period, CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg reported on his profile page.

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

At first glance 1 billion may not seem like an impressive number. Facebook hit the 1 billion active registered user mark in 2012 and it’s since grown its active accounts to 1.5 billion. But on any service or app there’s always a wide gap between registered users and people who use it actively. For instance, practically everyone I know my age or younger has registered for a Twitter handle, but only my friends in the tech industry tweet or access their twitter streams daily.

That makes Facebook’s feat quite impressive. Two-thirds of its global user base logged into or interacted with Facebook in a single day, even if it was to merely ‘Like’ a friend’s post or view a photo. 1 billion people represents one-seventh of the world’s population – that’s a whole lot of social networking.

Facebook is quickly becoming a network that could rival the great telecom institutions of the world: global landline and mobile networks and even the Internet itself. In fact, since Facebook depends on internet connectivity to function, its growth ultimately is limited by the reach of the Internet. That’s why we’ve seen Facebook and its enigmatic founder talking so much of late about bringing the Internet to peoples and regions of the world with little or no access today. Connecting the world’s 7 billion people to Facebook requires that all 7 billion have an Internet connection.

Posted in Connecting the World | Leave a comment

What the critics are saying about Google’s Project Fi

Google’s Project Fi has started making its way into the hands of U.S. consumers, and over the last two months we’ve seen reviews from many tech media outlets. We thought it would be interesting to take the temperature of those reviews, to see how the tech world is reacting to Google’s freshman attempt to becoming a mobile operator.

It’s fair to say that most of the commentary is positive. Reviewers in general are encouraged by the service itself and Google’s metered pricing, which essentially charges you only for the data you use at simple, reasonable rates. But it’s also clear Google has some kinks to work out in Project Fi, especially if you’re an avid Google Voice user.

A Nexus 6 phone, which is currently the only device that fully connect to the Project Fi network (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Chris F)

A Nexus 6 phone, which is currently the only device that can fully connect to the Project Fi network. Photo Credit: Flickr user Chris F)

First off, I should explain how Project Fi differs from the usual operator services out there. Google is operating as what’s known as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). That means it doesn’t actually own any mobile networks or spectrum. Instead it buys voice minutes and data capacity off of someone else’s network (for more details, check out my earlier blog post explaining MVNOs).

Most MVNOs, however, have a single contract with a single operator in any particular country, meaning their networks are only good as their partners’ networks. What’s unique about Project Fi is Google is teaming up with two operators, T-Mobile US and Sprint, and it’s leaning extensively on public Wi-Fi hotspots. The idea is Project Fi will deliver you the best data or call experience available in any given moment or place by automatically selecting the best network connection available.

Though reviewers found that speeds on Project Fi weren’t any more impressive than what they’d get on a regular operator, many like Android Central’s Andrew Martonik were impressed with the coverage and consistency Project Fi’s multi-network setup produced. Wrote Martonik:

“The auto-switching networks has turned out to be absolutely great so far in our testing. We’ve been able to get great speeds in the denser parts of the city where T-Mobile has historically done better than Sprint, and in a more rural area where our T-Mobile phones didn’t have better than EDGE service we actually had Sprint LTE on our Project Fi Nexus 6.”

In fact, most reviewers fawned over the multi-network aspect of Project Fi, claiming it handed off calls and data sessions seamlessly between cellular networks and Wi-Fi. Some even described the capability as “magic.” But Canadian software developer Nicholas Armstrong performed a deep dive into the network selection mechanics of his Fi Nexus 6 and found that the service wasn’t quite as flexible as reviewers made it out to be. Instead of flitting between networks like a bandwidth hungry butterfly, Project Fi has some clear rules and limitations on when and how it can move between Wi-Fi, Sprint and T-Mobile connections.

In his blog, Armstrong wrote that Project Fi basically functions like a phone with dual SIM cards, except it can only access one network at a time. That means it has to disconnect from either Sprint or T-Mobile’s network to reconnect to the other. The result is that when active in a call or data session the Nexus 6 needs to remain on single network, so it can’t pass a call or data session between Sprint or T-Mobile’s network even if a better connection is available. While Project Fi can definitely pass a call from Wi-Fi to cellular, Armstrong says, it can’t do the reverse, and even that hand-off from Wi-Fi to cellular comes with a 2 to 5 second hiccup.

This isn’t a knock on Google. These kind of connection transfers between networks are very difficult to do, made even harder by the fact that Sprint and T-Mobile use completely different network technologies (T-Mobile uses GSM, while Sprint is on CDMA. They both have LTE networks, though Sprint uses an LTE variant). Armstrong’s tests just show Google and the mobile industry in general have a lot of work to do before we have devices that can flip between networks on a whim.

The other feature reviewers were particularly optimistic about was Google’s pricing plan, which is done on a simple meter of $1 for 100 MBs. There’s no bucket or rollover plan to consider. If you use 900 MBs in a month, your charged $9. That’s hardly a mind-blowing concept, but it’s been one that the major operators have been loathe to adopt. CNET’s Lynn La writes:

“I did find Project Fi’s pricing structure, an aspect of other wireless networks that many find to be frustrating, to be extremely user friendly. Its transparency is reassuring, and the fact that you don’t have to worry about overshooting or letting your monthly data allotment go to waste is a relief.”

Some reviewers, however, did find one big glaring fault with the service, but one you’ll only notice if you have an active Google Voice number. Voice is Google’s attempt at creating a unified number and service that can be shared across multiple devices. It has a lot of fans, despite the fact Google has been mucking around with it in recent years as it folds Voice into Hangouts.

If you have no Google Voice account, writes The Verge’s Dieter Bohn, you’ll move onto Project Fi with ease. Google will simply assign you a new Voice number, which will work like any other mobile number. If you are a Google Voice user, though, Bohn says, “prepare for confusion.” His review continues:

“It gets worse, I’m afraid. Precisely what happens when you port your number from Voice to Fi (which are kind of the same thing — but not really!) is clear as mud. Many attempts have been made to quash the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt surrounding these issues. While the various explainers you can find on the web are technically accurate, they are also emotionally unsatisfying. Witness! You won’t lose your Google Voice number, and it will still do most of the stuff it did before, but you may have to wend your way back to the 2011-era Google Voice site to manage it. Your texts no longer forward via SMS but they’re available in the Hangouts App. You can’t call people from Google Voice on the web but you can from Hangouts. Oh, and on Android there’s a Hangouts dialer app you can use, sometimes, just because.”

There’s an easy answer right? Just don’t connect your Google Voice number to your Project Fi phone. Nice try. The Washington Post’s Brian Fung writes:

“If Google detects that you have a Google Voice number when you finally register with Project Fi, it prompts you to assign that number to your Project Fi phone. If you’d rather not and ask to use a different number instead, Google will take away your Google Voice number — “no getting it back,” Google’s registration page says.”

If you’re not turned off by the Google Voice issues and are ready to give Fi a try, you’re in for a wait. Project Fi is still in beta, and like other Google beta services, you have to get an invite to join. You can request an invite on the Fi site, but it may take weeks or even months to hear back. But even if you don’t plan on becoming a Project Fi customer, writes Kevin Tofel at ZDNet, it might worth signing up for the $30 welcome kit just for the extra goodies it comes with.

I should also mention that Project Fi customers have started downloading the OpenSignal app (Thank you!), which means we’re starting to collect information on how Project Fi’s unique network performs. We’re still in the process of compiling that data, but in the next few weeks we should have some analysis to share.

Posted in Networks, Wifi | Leave a comment

Wi-Fi in the sky is getting a speed boost

The friendly skies can seem awfully unfriendly when you’re crammed into a bulkhead seat trying to view email on a god-awful Wi-Fi connection. Internet access at 40,000 feet is still an expensive and painfully slow experience on most airlines, but the biggest provider of inflight Wi-Fi in the U.S. may soon deliver a much faster in-plane internet experience – though not necessarily a cheaper one.

Gogo just received permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to roll out a new mile-high wireless network that takes advantage of faster satellite connections.

The new service is called 2Ku, and if it works as planned it will mean a connection of up to 70 Mbps to Delta and Virgin Atlantic aircraft in the coming year. That may seem like a lot, but keep in mind this is shared connection, just like your home or office broadband link. That 70 Mbps of capacity will be divvied up among all of the passengers connecting to the in-plane network.

Diagram of Gogo's 2Ku inflight wifi system

Gogo’s inflight wifi system. Photo Credit: Gogoair.com

Still, compared to what Gogo offers today, that will be a considerable improvement. Most Gogo-fueled flights in North America connect to what is essentially a 3G network – it’s just pointed at the sky instead of the ground – where speeds to the aircraft max out at around 10 Mbps. Gogo also has satellite connections on international flights which top out at 30 to 40 Mbps, but passengers not only have to share that capacity with each other but with other nearby flights in the sky, so as the airspace becomes more crowded, speeds creep downwards.

OpenSignal has tracked Gogo’s performance through our crowdsourced network, though our data is limited considering the scarcity of optimal test conditions (the OpenSignal app has to run its test while a user is both on a flight with his or her phone turned on and logged in to the Gogo network). Of the 100 valid download tests OpenSignal logged in the last few years, speeds averaged 998 kbps.

Gogo’s new service, called 2Ku, will not only make more extensive use of its existing satellite network, but it will use a new type of antenna that steers itself to face those satellites up in geo-stationary orbit. That more resilient link will produce a near doubling in available download speeds over its current satellite service and seven times faster than its current ground-to-air network. You’re still not going to be streaming Netflix movies on a crowded flight (Gogo actually prohibits streaming), but that email attachment will pop up a lot faster.

It’s not just Gogo trying to turbo charge its networks. Many of the inflight Wi-Fi providers are tapping new antenna technologies or in some cases linking to newer generation satellites to boost their broadband speeds. With internet access becoming faster and more consistent on planes, you would expect it become more accessible to more passengers, right? Well, that won’t necessarily be the case.

I recently spoke with satellite broadband analyst Tim Farrar, who tracks the in-flight Wi-Fi sector closely. He expects internet pricing on planes will only increase on the major airlines. The reason for this is the major airlines target business travellers who aren’t footing the Wi-Fi bill themselves; their companies are. Gogo wouldn’t make any more money by lowering prices and encouraging leisure travellers to connect, Farrar said. It would just see a lot more congestion on its already congested networks, potentially angering those bread-and-butter business customers.

JetBlue launch of FlyFi

JetBlue launches FlyFi. Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano

In fact, the business model of inflight Wi-Fi is a bit topsy-turvy. The best inflight internet in the U.S. today is offered by JetBlue — which connects to a new super-satellite run by ViaSat – and for the most part that service is completely free to passengers. While airlines like American and United view Wi-Fi as a money-making enterprise – just like checked bag fees – JetBlue sees it as a loss-leading amenity service. It’s footing its passengers’ internet bills to lure more customers onto its flights.

Posted in Wifi | Leave a comment

State of Mobile Networks Report, Brazil

Today OpenSignal releases the first instance of a new type of report: country-level network performance reports, which will be published for different countries on a monthly basis. The first country showcased in these reports is Brazil, with a fast-growing telecommunications sector and a significant number of OpenSignal users.

So what do we show in these reports? Each Network Performance Comparison, Brazilmobile network in the country is evaluated on five metrics: 3G/4G Coverage, 4G Coverage, Time with No Signal, 3G Download Speed, and 4G Download Speed.

What are these metrics? If you want to know more about how we calculate the results, take a look at our methodology pages, one explaining the concept of “time coverage” and one giving an overview of OpenSignal.

We also give a sense of how each network’s performance changes in the months covered by the report, via our historical graphs. Follow-up reports for each country will be every 6 months, so we’ll get to see how the networks have changed in Brazil in our Feb 2016 report. But that’s looking ahead too much – read the Aug 2015 report on Brazil now! As always, if you have any comments, please write them below or in the forums. Are our findings consistent with your experience or research? We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Other, Reports | Leave a comment

Android Fragmentation 2015

The world Android lives in is a confusing jungle. Today we released our annual report on Android Fragmentation, which takes a look at the complex variety of devices that developers have to build for. This complexity is both good and bad, if you can imagine your dream phone then someone, somewhere, will probably have built it. The downside, however, is that the apps you install may not be optimized for its screen size or features.

One thing we noticed in building this year’s report is the dramatic changes that have occurred in the ecosystem over the past few years: a huge increase in observed devices, great proliferation in manufacturers and (our favourite topic) the rise of embedded physical and virtual sensors. We spotted a few trends that we felt were too broad to be included even under our broad ‘Fragmentation’ umbrella – so we decided to include them in this blog. Screens are bigger, CPUs have more cores and mobile devices now contain more RAM than your average desktop not too long ago.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 16.05.45Over the past few years, and over ten million OpenSignal downloads, we have seen the Android device landscape both fragment and evolve. Devices are bigger and more powerful, and this has changed the way people use their devices, helping to make the web increasingly mobile-first. Interestingly you can see the slight tail-off in NFC growth, as a technology that was supposed to be revolutionary never completely took off, with only around 30% of observed Android devices being NFC capable. Screens have steadily got bigger, a trend that does not appear to be slowing down (and our largest ever screen size, the Slate 21, is recorded in the main report) – in a few years it will be instructive to see similar graphs (perhaps produced by the data teams at Levi’s or The Gap) to see how this technological transformation has influenced 21st century pocket design.

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

WifiMapper and the wonders of data collection

If you’re already enjoying of WifiMapper on your phone, you might know that it is the world’s largest Wi-Fi community – of which you are now part! Indeed, WifiMapper is powered by a database of more than 650 millions Wi-Fi points, crowdsourced by our OpenSignal and WifiMapper users. That means that just by having WifiMapper on your phone, chances are that you’re helping increase the number of Wi-Fis in the database, making the app better for yourself and your fellow users.

Wondering what kind of data WifiMapper collects and how we do it? Then you’ve come to the right place!

Foreground and background data collection

On iPhone devices, data collection only takes place when the app is open. However, things get more interesting if you’re running the app on an Android phone, as you can also collect data on the background. In fact, the app is set to do so by default, though you can disable this feature on the Settings. Simply uncheck the box next to the option to “Automatically collect Wifi locations for the WifiMapper community”.

Say yes to background data collection!

Say yes to background data collection!

What we collect

While on iOS the data that the app can collect is limited to the SSID, BSSID and location of the Wi-Fi you’re connected to, once again the Android platform offers more collection possibilities. The data obtained enables us to create your personal stats page and can lead to a better understanding of Wi-Fi usage. It includes, among other things, the lapse of time spent on each Wi-Fi, the amount of data used and environmental variable readings taken at the beginning and the end of each session (such as pressure, magnetic flux, etc.). We’re currently working on data export capabilities that will allow you to save all your data to your SD card, to produce your own analyses and maps if you so wish!

The permissions we need for this

Some of the app’s permissions might have struck our Android users as a bit odd. They are in fact requested in order to collect the data mentioned above:

  • Device ID and call information: the device ID is employed exclusively for stats purposes. Set against the dataset, it lets us know how many people have seen a certain WiFi, where the data is coming from, etc. Your call information is never viewed and indeed not even needed, but because of the way Google groups permissions together, it is impossible to request access to your device ID without also asking for you call info!
  • Photos/Media/Files: it is only the “Files” bit in this case that we care about. To include in the app the data export capabilities that we’re currently working on, we need permission to save data to your SD card — that is, your files.
  • Identity: this enables Google+ login, which in turn allows you to share with us — and the community — your comments on Wi-Fi points.

Become a champion of data collection

If data collection is your thing, you might be pleased to know that in future versions the Android app will include a leaderboard of the users who have discovered and commented on more Wi-Fi hotspots. Any edits and comments that you leave now will already add up to your total. So, better not loose any time… get out there and start collecting!

Posted in Competition, Crowdsourcing, WifiMapper | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Smartphones in the classroom 3: Learning from our apps

If you’re a frequent user of our apps, chances are that you chose OpenSignal to get better coverage and find the best carrier in your area, or downloaded WeatherSignal to check the temperature and pressure before leaving home in the morning. But apart from their immediate functions, these apps are also powerful data collection instruments that have successfully been employed by academics in different fields of research – from health and meteorology to economics and emergency response systems. Furthermore, we strongly believe that these collection capabilities make of OpenSignal and WeatherSignal potential teaching tools, similarly to other apps discussed in previous instalments of this series.

Why do we think so? What can OpenSignal and WeatherSignal bring to the classroom? How can you learn from them and what can they teach you? The answers to these and other questions can be found in a short video presentation we made with Teresa (in case you were wondering what we sound like, you’ll discover that too!). It corresponds to the contents of a conference we were going to give at the ISTE 2015 Playground via a telepresence robot. Unfortunately there were some technical issues with the WiFi at their venue and we were unable to present. However, we still wanted to share our thoughts on the topic with our users, so here they are.

Are you a teacher interested in using our apps with your students? Do you have any questions or suggestions? If so, or if you want a transcript of the video, send us an email to education@opensignal.com and we’ll get back to you shortly!

Posted in Academic, Crowdsourcing, Education, OpenSignal app, Sensors, WeatherSignal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why have Apple invented a tiny island?

A few weeks ago one of our iOS users had a problem with our new app WifiMapper. Looking for Wi-Fi hotspots near the Eiffel Tower, and so typing ‘the Eiffel Tower’ into the search bar, they were redirected to a the middle of the ocean – near a small Island, shaped a little bit like South America if you cut out large parts of Peru and Bolivia. The island in question is pictured below, unfortunately no other information was attached beyond the latitudinal line, no clues to the size of the island or where in the world it could be – all we knew was that a search for the Eiffel Tower returned us here and none of us recognized it.

Slack for iOS UploadOn a hunch based on similar previous bugs (and guessing that the line you can see is the Equator), we decided to turn our search to the Gulf of Guinea – to the intersection of the Equator and the Greenwich Meridian – 0,0. The centre of the world.

At first we found nothing, there’s no island at 0,0. Zooming in further, however, saw the island rise into view, as though a submarine volcano was pushing its lava spew above the waterline. We immediately went to Google Maps to see if we could find the same thing – but we could not, the screen was completely ocean blue. Our first (and perfectly reasonable) thought was that we had uncovered Apple’s secret headquarters; until we noticed the size of the island – approximately 45 yards across – far too small to hold any respectable secret headquarters.

0,0 on Google Maps vs 0,0 on Apple Maps

0,0 on Google Maps vs 0,0 on Apple Maps

So what is this fake island? What’s it doing there? One possible answer can be found in the history of cartography, as mistakes have historically been a part of mapmaking (and in other works of reference) as a form of copyright protection.

The term for this is a ‘fictitious entry’ (although I prefer the term ‘Mountweazel’, based on a fictitious entry in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia’). Creating maps from scratch has always taken a huge amount of work, as Apple Maps’ far from seamless launch in 2012 demonstrated, and it is paramount for their creators to be able to protect their work from infringement. Since Maps are based on the same physical world, proving infringement of a perfectly accurate map would be impossible, but by creating entries that differ from the real world in small but unmistakable ways, mapmakers are able to prove that their work has been ripped-off. One of the most famous examples of this in action was in 2001, when the Ordnance Survey Company successfully sued the Automobile Association for copyright infringement – with AA ordered to pay out £20m in compensation.

Apple may have created their own island as a mark of ownership. Maps remain huge business, with Google’s billion dollar acquisition of crowdsourced traffic app Waze regarded as a move to protect their own dominance in that space, and it is probable that Apple Maps is full of tiny mistakes designed to make proving copyright infringement easy. If only they’d been able to use this explanation back in 2012 when the mistakes were rather more than ‘tiny’.

Posted in Known Bugs, Mobile Trends | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

WifiMapper for Android

Two months ago we released WifiMapper for iOS – an app to help people find free Wi-Fi anywhere in the world, based on our crowdsourced library of over 500 million Wi-Fi hotspots. WifiMapper was a huge success, with over 100k downloads in the first month and getting featured by apple in over 100 countries, and today, we bring the app to Android.

We think the app will be worth the wait, as it has a few cool Android-only features that will allow you to stay smug and superior over your iPhone using friends. The main differences, I hear you ask? As follows:

  • Connect to Wi-Fi directly from within the app
  • See all the Wi-Fi hotspots you’ve connected to (a kind of wireless location diary)
  • See cool Wi-Fi stats, such as the total data used per hotspot and your total time connected

WifiMapper (as the name might suggest) shows you a handy map of all your nearest hotspots, and lets you look further afield as well. Whether you are running low on data for the month, in a foreign city and don’t want to ring up a roaming bill worth thousands or just want to find somewhere nice to settle down with your laptop for the afternoon, WifiMapper can help you get connected. We’ve integrated Foursquare comments to give you better contextual information about the hotspot you are considering (it’s all very well knowing you can get Wifi in two different cafes, but which has the better coffee?). By including Foursquare comments we are able to give a more rounded perspective on the hotspot venue than just the binary ‘does this location have WiFi? Y/N?’

Never be without a WiFi connection again – get WifiMapper for Android today!

Tl;dr? Watch the video!


Posted in Android Development | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wi-Fi Names: Neighbourhood Watch

This week’s Wi-Fi name blogpost looks at the concerningly passive-aggressive world of public communication using your Wi-Fi  name (yeah, grow up people) and all I have to say is bloody hell, can’t we all just love one another? As ever, these are real Wi-Fi network names detected in the last few weeks by the OpenSignal app.

1) DoNotStealFromNeighbors

Man – preachy, or what? Stop dressing this up like the Wi-Fi version of a subtweet, man up and throw out a proper accusation. This time next week I want this Wi-Fi network to be called ‘HEY. 22B. RETURN MY GODDAMN COPY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES YOU STOLE FROM MY FRONT DOORSTEP ON TUESDAY’. Stop dressing it up like you’re wireless Moses, down from the Internet with a weirdly specific commandment that could relate to ‘oh just about anyone’.

2) We Can Hear You Having Sex

This is crazy popular. In the most recent thousand Wi-Fi networks that vaguely relate to this topic there are many variations. It’s also weirdly ambiguous – why are you letting these people know this in this way? Why don’t you know them well enough to just address it with actual normal mouth-words? The creepiest one is probably ‘We can hear you having sex :)’ – why is there a smiley there? Is it ‘oh, good for you, you have a healthy, if experimental, sex life as a loving couple and I endorse this thoroughly in the context of marriage – you go guys!’ or is it ‘boy am I aroused by the muffled noises that echo through the walls when I’m trying to sleep’.

Both options give me the creeps, pick none of the above.

3) My Neighbors Suck 5G

This is an interesting one. Was there previously a ‘My Neighbors Suck 2.4G’? Could this be ‘My Neighbors Suck MY 5G’ as though the internet is penetrating through their wall in a surprisingly violating outward expression of domestic dominance? Or is it simply, yes my neighbors suck and, yes, this network is 5G so get ready for the faster speeds that implies. Ironically, of course, 5Ghz as a frequency is less good at wall penetration than 2.4Ghz. Oh how we laugh – get it together homeowner.

4) ShutUpYourKids

Won’t someone PLEASE think of the children? Hopefully they’re the kind of socially occluded children who aren’t allowed access to Wi-Fi enabled devices (I’m still traumatised from not being allowed an N64 as a kid – you know when my dad finally bought me one? LITERALLY THE DAY AFTER THEY STOPPED MAKING GAMES FOR IT. The resentment burns). Look, children are noisy, and yes, we all agree they should probably be illegal but for now they aren’t so you’re going to have to deal with it. And parents, c’mon, books are over let your kids play candy crush and snapchat with strange older men. This is the FUTURE. Learn to live in it.

5) Terry n pals- neighborhood watch

Worst paul blart mall cop sequel ever. Listen Terry, you’re not the sherriff in this town, and no, you don’t have a posse. Stop legitimizing vigilantism. No one who walks past and spots this Wi-Fi thinks you’re a badass, they think you probably spend your nights in your mancave with your ‘pals’ dressed up as batman and watching reruns of NCIS.


This goes for your ‘pals’ too.


Posted in Wi-FI Names | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment