Frequently Asked Questions

What is Portolan?
How will I benefit from using Portolan?
Won’t Portolan interfere with the usage of my device?
What about security issues? Where will the data be stored?
Portolan: what’s behind the name?


What is Portolan?
The University of Pisa and IIT, an Institute of the Italian National Research Council CNR, have developed a crowdsourcing-based system, named Portolan. Portolan uses smartphones and desktop computers as measuring elements. The aim of Portolan is to enhance the current knowledge of Internet at an Autonomous System level of abstraction and build mobile maps of the mobile signal coverage – all with the contribution of volunteers, such as people like you!

How will I benefit from using Portolan?
You will get a whole range of diagnostic network tools (such as Ping, Paris traceroute with Multipath Detection Algorithm, etc.) as well as coverage measurement tools (available only in the mobile version of Portolan). These tools are totally under your control. You can get data collected by these tools at any time. Here you can see the tools available at the moment.

Won’t Portolan interfere with the usage of my device?
Portolan is designed not to interfere in any way with users’ activities. Portolan works in the background and does not to affect the device’s overall performance.

When your smartphone is not connected to a WiFi network the Internet mapping activity generates an average traffic rate never higher than 2 MB/day. The impact of this activity on the battery consumption is negligible.

Signal coverage mapping activity is completely costless in terms of energy or bandwidth, as the Portolan app passively collects signal strength samples using GPS positions generated by other apps. You have to activate the GPS yourself if you want to map the coverage along your route. Given that your route could be up to 50 km or more, then you will obviously use up quite a bit of your battery power. So if you are travelling, make sure to connect your smartphone to a power source in your car or in the train.

In any case, if the battery level goes under 20%, Portolan is automatically suspended.

What about privacy issues? Where will the data be stored?
The app does not send any personal data to our servers, and sends only the measurements results. Thus, it is not possible for us to connect measurements to the device that performed them. You can monitor the amount of resources used by the application whenever they want. Aggregated data is available here.

Portolan: what’s behind the name?
In 13th century navigation was arduous and dangerous: precise positioning systems were still far from being invented and mariners had to rely upon primitive nautical charts called portolans. These maps were based on the directions and the distances observed during navigation, with the help of compasses alone. Portolan charts described coasts with details about harbors and ports, and included those coastal landmarks that could be used by pilots for orienting their ships. The first known portolan chart is the Carta Pisana, dating from 1275-1300, which given the times describes the Mediterranean sea with surprising precision. While the first charts were rough and full of major errors, those produced in the subsequent centuries were significantly more detailed and accurate, since reports and new measurements collected from sailors were used to correct deficiencies and to include new features on the maps. In some sense, this is one of the oldest forms of crowdsourcing. Nowadays portolan charts are almost of no use in modern navigation, but the approach from which they originated, based on cooperation and local measurements, can still be useful to gain knowledge about the Internet or, in general, any other large-scale network.