Mobile Crowdsourcing: The Next Chapter

Patrick Eggen

Director, North America

In recent times, smartphones have been riding the wave of Moore’s Law with rapid improvements in processing power, multimedia capabilities, storage capacities and embedded sensors. The proliferation of sensors in mobile devices has rapidly changed the user experience. For instance, the camera on mobile phones can be used as video and image sensors. The microphone on the mobile phone, when it is not used for voice conversations, can double up as an acoustic sensor. The embedded GPS receivers on the phone can provide location information. Other sensors such as gyroscopes, accelerometers and proximity sensors can collectively be used to estimate useful, contextual information (e.g., is the user walking or traveling on a bicycle). The combination of these sensors, coupled with their ubiquity have paved the way for a whole new wave of companies who are bringing new business models together in the area of mobile crowdsourcing. We at Qualcomm Ventures envision mobile devices as actual  “probes in your pocket” which collect relevant information in a more scalable, cost-effective and real-time manner than the status quo.

2013_12_31_opensignal_24_hours

Above is a visualization map showing 24 hours of data received from OpenSignal app users

With this approach in mind, Qualcomm Ventures, the venture investment group of Qualcomm Incorporated, emerged as an investing pioneer in the mobile crowdsourcing space. A recent success story for us was Waze. We were early believers in Waze, which was reflected in our Series B investment. Google ultimately acquired the widely popular social traffic crowdsourcing app for approximately $1 billion. Waze truly demonstrated the power of crowdsourced sensor networks as it created the world’s largest commuter community. In the same way that the GPS chip unleashed a new category of such location aware services, we believe each incremental sensor will enable a new generation of applications. As traditional sensor networks are expensive and require manual deployment, Qualcomm Ventures actively began to pursue start-ups which embraced next generation mobile crowdsourcing strategies.

In September 2012, we made an investment in OpenSignal, which offers a crowdsourcing platform that collects data on wireless coverage and informs consumers of the best carrier network coverage. Since our initial investment, the nimble start-up has quietly amassed over 9 million downloads, 35 billion data points and 250+ million WiFi access points. With such comprehensive data, OpenSignal now provides mobile carriers a dynamic dashboard based on real world consumer data. For the first time, carriers have access to data across all competitors in a standard form, a remarkable improvement over existing drive testing which is useful for troubleshooting and optimization but doesn’t reflect what consumers are actually experiencing. Beyond this initial push, OpenSignal is also uniquely positioned to create other vertical-focused sensor networks. Their second app, WeatherSignal, creates hyper-local weather reports by accessing the pressure, light, temperature and humidity sensors to crowdsource weather data.

However, this is just the beginning as OpenSignal’s next chapter offers a much more ambitious vision. They are now quickly marching towards their goal of creating the world’s largest crowdsourced sensor network. All of us at Qualcomm Ventures are very excited to be associated with OpenSignal in this journey and are proud to announce that we have led the latest $4M Series A investment. This round will help them accelerate growth and sprint faster towards building the first next generation sensor network.

Read OpenSignal’s blog on their Series A round.

Mobile Crowdsourcing: The Next Chapter

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