A Cell Phone Coverage App for Digital Nomads

October 27. 2018. 4 mins read

If there’s one thing we love more than researching technologies and smoking cannabis, it’s traveling. Our team has visited and lived in more countries than you can shake a stick at, penning our quality insights from the steppes of Mongolia to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. A fair number of our writers might be considered “digital nomads”, though we don’t like that term because most “digital nomads” we encounter on the road are either broke “travel bloggers” or people who are trying to sell you some program that’s supposed to teach you how to become a digital nomad (rolls eyes). Call them what you will, more and more people are taking their work on the road, using Airbnb and Uber to live some very comfortable and interesting lives. What all these people have in common is that they need to have internet access to make money. In order to find out where the Internet is, you need a cell phone coverage app. We’re going to tell you about a startup that can help with that.

Big Data from Big Telecom

Click for company websiteFounded in 2010, London England startup OpenSignal has taken in $13.3 million in funding so far from investors that include Qualcomm (QCOM) to develop their cell phone coverage app which helps you “get better signal, find free Wi-Fi and see which operator is best in your location.” While the app is totally free to use, the data that’s being generated is being sold through their “business solutions” offering which allows you to generate all kinds of insights like this one:

4G Availability in Major European Cities
4G Availability in Major European Cities

Turns out Budapest is a great city for digital nomads. (Ironically, that’s where one of our writers has been working from for quite a while now.) The company independently “collects and analyzes mobile user experiences on every major network operator around the globe, from more than 100 million Android and IOS smartphones worldwide, capturing over 3 billion measurements every day.” Just imagine how useful all this big data could be if you gave it to some AI algorithms to munch on. In addition to their own app, OpenSignal also generates data from partner apps with metrics available that include 4G availability, upload speeds, download speeds, streaming video experience, and many more in the pipeline.

The OpenSignal Cell Phone Coverage App

When you work on the road, you’ll quickly learn that looking for Wi-Fi isn’t always the best way to access the Internet. In most countries, you can buy a SIM chip with a local mobile provider for a few bucks and then load it with data. Then, you simply use the router function on your smartphone to create a Wi-Fi hotspot and you’re sorted. Then, this opens up a whole new world of places you can go and work from. This means that not only are you looking for Wi-Fi, you’re also looking for cell phone coverage from the 100 or so mobile network providers in the world, some of whom aren’t exactly that sophisticated. Rather than browse through page results on Google looking for a network coverage map that may or may not be accurate, just download OpenSignal instead.

Let’s use Cusco, Peru as an example. There are a number of cell phone networks to choose from, and we tried Claro:

Some Cell Phone Networks Around the Globe
Some Cell Phone Networks Around the Globe

For 35 soles (about 12 USD) you can buy a SIM card and 3 gigs of data from Claro. It’s not 5G speed but it works. Now that you have a functioning cell phone with data, you can begin working in places where there is no Wi-Fi, provided that you have access to cell phone towers. This is where the OpenSignal app comes into play. Let’s say you wanted to take a motorcycle tour through the surrounding villages of Cusco and needed to know which places you could work from. Simply open up the OpenSignal app and you can find your answer:

Cusco Cell Phone Network Coverage - Claro Network
Cusco Cell Phone Network Coverage – Claro Network

That’s accurate based on the fact that it’s not only coming from the network provider but also from people like us who are using the OpenSignal cell phone coverage app. Another cool feature the app has is a compass which points to the nearest cell phone tower. If you’re into overlanding, now you’re suddenly climbing mountains in the wilderness searching for cell phone towers. It works remarkably well.

Cell Phone Coverage App
Cell Phone Coverage App

As you can see, you also have the ability to see where the cell phone towers are located and where Wi-Fi hotspots are located as well. The latter is an extremely useful function for any traveler to have, not just digital nomads. The only thing that we’d like to see added is a feature that tells you audibly as you’re driving when you are getting signal or not and how strong it is.


While we’re still waiting for an economical data plan that we can access anywhere on this beautiful planet (we talked about this in our article on the global internet), the next best thing is to go with local mobile phone network providers and pay for data plans as you go. With OpenSignal, you can see where you’ll be able to work from prior to making any travel plans. While some people say being a “digital nomad” is a great lifestyle, we disagree. It’s not just great, it’s the best way to live life we can possibly think of, aside from being a rock star or a professional sports player. For fifty bucks, we’ll have one of our MBAs hop on a phone call with you and explain how we did it. Just drop us a note.


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