CTIA roundup: New products for unwiring work and life

Tiny Bluetooth trackers, rugged Android, protecting Wi-Fi outside

Even at a trade show focused on core mobile networking hardware and software, you can find products that further the unwiring of work and life.

CTIA is a trade association for the wireless (cellular) industry, with members including mobile operators, equipment suppliers, and manufacturers and VARS of wireless services and products.

As a result, the annual conference and exhibit held last week in Las Vegas covered a wide range of product news.

Adhesive-backed Bluetooth-enabled trackers

One of the more intriguing products is an enterprise version of a Bluetooth tracking radio that’s packaged into an enclosure the size of two 25-cent pieces stacked on top of each other. You stick the device to an object and then track it and find it using an app on your iOS or Android smartphone.

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The StickNFind Bluetooth tracking radio

Adhesive-backed, the device can be attached securely to … well, anything bigger than a quarter: your tablet, smartphone, the TV remote, pet collars, and now to a range of industrial gear and commercial products.

The consumer version of StickNFind, from Israel-based StickNFind Technologies with U.S. offices in Davie, Fla., was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. At CTIA the company announced StickNFind for the Enterprise. Essentially, it’s now a programmable radio tracker. Among the other changes:

  • Search by SKU, serial number or date the StickNFind was attached; all of these are discoverable and displayed via the mobile app on an iOS or Android device with a Bluetooth 4.0 radio.
  • Scan 5,000 inventory items per minute via the mobile application.
  • SDK and API available for enterprise programmers to create their own apps to use with StickNFind stickers.
  • Unique ID number for each sticker.
  • And it’s waterproof.

StickNFind is a subsidiary of SSI America, which has been designing and building Bluetooth products for other brands, in automotive and health/fitness, for example, for 12 years. Inventor and founder Jimmy Buchheim crowdfounded three ideas, including StickNFind, which had a crowdfund goal of $70,000 and ended up with $1 million.

The company invented three critical elements. First, was the smallest current Bluetooth radio, running the Bluetooth 4.0 Low Emission (LE) software stack to minimize power use. But everything they tried was too big. Finally, by inventing the second key advance, they were able to achieve the first one: StickNFind scrapped the standard Bluetooth software stack and wrote their own. That finally let them improve power efficiency and, their third invention, improve tracking accuracy. The radios have a range of about 100 feet with line of sight.

With better efficiency, they were able to go with the smallest standard watch battery available, a replaceable lithium ion CR2016, which gives the StickNFind 12 months of life, based on 30 minutes of use daily.

The plastic housing was another challenge. The Chinese manufacturers they talked with said that at less than 0.3 mm the plastic would be too thin, and prone to break. StickNFind hit on the idea of making the bottom half of the case 0.2 mm but the top half, which could be popped open to replace the battery, at 0.3 mm.

Finally, was the decision about which adhesive to use. After meeting with 3M engineers in China, the company finally selected one that keeps the device firmly attached; but carefully pressing a knife blade between the StickNFind and the object will separate them.

Both consumer and enterprise versions will be available in June. Pricing hasn’t been set for the enterprise product. Brookstone, the only publicly announced retail partner, will sell them in packs of two for $50 and of four for $90.

Caterpillar’s newest rugged CAT smartphone

Through a licensing deal with UK-based Bullis Mobile Ltd., the heavy equipment builder, Caterpillar, has been offering ruggedized Android smartphones, under the CAT brand.

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CAT B15: rugged Android smartphone

The newest one is the CAT B15, a 3G phone aimed at GSM networks. In the U.S., that would be AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile USA. Officially announced in February at Mobile World Congress, it’s being introduced now to the U.S. market.

It offers the specs of a modest mid-range Android phone with one big difference:  you can safely abuse it and drown it, and you’ll still have a working phone. It’s aimed at everyone from mountain bikers to construction workers.

B15 runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on a MediaTek MT6577 two-core 1 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor, with 1GB memory and 4GB storage, which is expandable to 32GB with a micro SD card.

The 4-inch diagonal multi-touch screen, with Corning Gorilla Glass, has a 480 x 800 pixels resolution. The screen also supports what Bullis Mobile calls “wet finger tracking” – if your hands and the screen are wet, the device can still “read” your touches and gestures.

The dimensions are: 4.92 inches high x 2.74 wide x 0.588 thick, weighing 5.99 ounces. Compared to the popular iPhone 5 that’s pretty chunky:  4.87 inches x 2.31 x 0.30, weighing 3.95 ounces. The difference reflects the ruggedization: The B15 has silver anodized aluminum and shock absorbent rubber, designed to withstand repeated 5.9-foot drops to concrete. It’s certified to the IP67 standard, “meaning the device is dustproof and waterproof,” according to Bullis, and can be submerged in about three feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

  • Other specs:
  • Camera: 5.0 MP rear; VGA at front;
  • 720P video recording at 30 FPS, and Codecs H.263, H.264/AVC, mpeg4/SP, VP8;
  • Talk time: Up to 9 hours;
  • Standby: Up to 9.5 days;
  • Connections: microUSB, microSD 32GB, 3.5mm audio;
  • And GPS: A-GPS mode.

The CAT B15 is priced at $349 unlocked and will be available in July. Bullis says they are in talks with carriers and will announce partners later.

Easy exterior Wi-Fi

Ventev Wireless Infrastructure unveiled waterproof, rugged polycarbonate enclosures into which hotspot owners and enterprises can plug their standard indoor Wi-Fi access points. The idea: Take what you have and know, and quickly extend your Wi-Fi network in outdoor areas, without the need for a separate class of higher-priced access points or for a separate management system.

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Ventev’s rugged, sealed enclosure for WLAN APs

Everything is built in: You mount the enclosure, slot in the indoor access point, then run an Ethernet cable to it. If you have Power-over-Ethernet, there’s no need for separate power connections. There are optional companion PoE and AC power units, and a battery-powered backup power system. With integrated antenna, the base enclosure is $2,300.

The second product is a bit more specialized. It’s a self-contained, portable Wi-Fi hotspot enclosure. Plug in up to four WLAN access points, with one acting as a dedicated mesh network connection for backhauling wireless traffic. There’s a selection of external antenna options. The unit can be lugged from site to site to quickly set up a Wi-Fi hotspot for first responders, medical staff, or for outdoor sports venues and the like.

The base unit is $4,000, with the access points separately priced. The customer has to supply an AC power connection, and provision the WLAN.

Pricing is more expensive than most indoor WLAN access points, but cheaper than many access points designed for outdoor use, according to Ventev. All the units meet specific rugged standards, with surge and lightning protection, cooling fans, and a heater for cold weather.

Ventev is a unit of Tessco Technologies.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwjohn_cox@nww.com

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