The meaning of cool at CTIA Wireless 2011

Innovations address 4G network quality and bring network advances to cars

Cool mobile products reveal how a cluster of new and emerging technologies are shaping our world and our relationships.

Coolness is its own satisfaction. But at this year's CTIA Wireless in Orlando what's cool revealed how emerging mobile technologies are changing our world and our relationship to it.

Those changes are evident both in brand new products and services and in those introduced over the past year and now surfacing more clearly. A cluster of wireless technologies, the spread of 3G wireless data networks, evolving Web standards, and more powerful client hardware and software are catalysts for inventions that have a decidedly personal quality.

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And the invention taking place spans everything from apps on new mobile devices to core network systems for mobile carriers.

The companies below were part of this year's Innovations Showcase, a juried selection of 25 early-stage companies by the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley, which includes members such as HTC, Qualcomm, Sprint, Vodafone and others. The judging criteria were: innovation, momentum, viability and management.

Carrier IQ announced a version of its Mobile Intelligence software that now can glean and interpret data about the end user's experience on HSPA+ and LTE networks. A software agent is embedded by the phone maker or carrier, and provides near-realtime data to the Mobile Intelligence server.

The MI software detects problems in 3G/4G handovers, evaluates how the network is handling voice calls placed during an active LTE data session, finds interoperability glitches involving LTE devices and vendor networks with multiple infrastructures, and maps out 4G wireless coverage and throughput based on data pulled from subscribers' phones.

Systems like Carrier IQ's create a visibility into the mobile data experience that's unprecedented in carriers, whose legacy is voice. That data, and its meaning, is critical for carriers to monitor, optimize and troubleshoot high-throughput wireless data networks.

Several vendors are combining cellular connectivity, GPS location data, the Internet, vehicle-based networks and mobile devices in new ways. They're transforming car and truck fleet management, but also now extending these capabilities, and brand new ones, to drivers and passengers as vehicle networks and electronics become ever-more sophisticated.

Conntect2Car of Houston unveiled at CTIA a new version of its Anywhere system, which combines a vehicle-mounted box with GPS and cellular connectivity, various sensors, and links to onboard systems such a remote engine starter. It has to be professionally installed. The other part of the system is an app that runs on Android and iOS devices, and since January on BlackBerrys.

Via the smartphone, users control various features on their car or truck, such as door locks and electric windows, and turning the engine on or off. The new app release includes GPS tracking for remotely monitoring your vehicle in real time; "listening" for your vehicle alarm and sending you a warning when it sounds; remotely shutting down your car at anytime; and even an alert that tells you when your parked car is being towed. You can check out the company's FAQ.

A generally similar system was showcased by Cimble of Liberty, Texas, which developed the GSM Alarm.

Again, a box plugs into the vehicle's controller-area network electrical system, and the GSM link connects you and your Android smartphone to the remote controls. Screenshots of the app are online.

Wireless is driving more sophisticated hands-free communications for drivers. DriveNTalk, formerly Enustech based in Seoul, South Korea, demonstrated the product with the unsexiest name: the BHF-2000, announced in January. It's a device that clips to the driver-side visor, pairs to your cellphone via Bluetooth, and uses voice-to-text processing to read aloud your emails and SMS messages. It can also accept simple commands via voice or even hand waves to make or take a call or even send a message. A solar panel is intended to keep it charged while mounted on the visor.

Massachusetts startup WirelessESP demonstrated its recently released mobile application, Speedbump, to help parents encourage responsible driving for their teens, but still preserve teens' privacy. That's important to the founder and president, Jon Fischer, who was a teenager himself when he developed the idea, and is currently a senior in college. (Mass High Tech recently profiled Fischer.)

Speedbump downloads to a teen's phone, and can be configured to set and detect different speed limits for different types of roads, such as a residential street or an interstate highway. That's a key difference from rival offerings. Check out the company's FAQ.

It uses proprietary code to sample GPS data, rather than constantly collecting it, a difference that preserves battery life. The app sends the data to WirelessESP servers, to analyze the car's speed and other patterns. The system only sends parents an email or SMS alert when the results fall outside the set limits; it's not constantly reporting the kids' locations. And it works even if the teen is a passenger in a friend's car. The service costs $10 a month. Originally, the company offered a $200 hardware device and charged a higher service fee.

Location data is becoming much more pervasive, much more precise, and extending indoors, a trend that's sparking a new wave of applications.

At CTIA, Annapolis, Md.-based InvisiTrack said its patented Location System now can be integrated with devices using an array of different wireless spectrum: LTE, TV band White Space, and other low-frequency bands.

The lower frequencies increase the range of the signal by a factor of 10 compared to traditional location methods, according to InvisiTrack. These frequencies also let mobile location systems work where higher frequency systems fail. Finally, these frequencies let InvisiTrack fix locations to within about nine feet indoors and three feet outdoors, without having to use other fixed radios assets.

Integrated into mobile radio chip sets, handset users can get reliable, accurate navigation, location and geo-fencing in challenging areas. The improved accuracy can more precisely target location-based ads, so users see ads for products and services closest to them.

Locomatix, a Madison, Wis.-based company founded in 2007, showcased its cloud-based location platform, which offers software developers an API, currently in beta test, to quickly add a range of location features to their mobile applications.

The cloud services include a simple-to-use push notification system to add spatial alerts to an application, instead of having the application constantly asking a server if anything has changed. By itself, that change preserves battery life and minimizes server usage. Another service is "dynamic zones," essentially a geo-fence around a moving person or object. In addition, Locomatix has an extensive array of near real-time location analytics, and a fault-tolerant management service for location data.

The location cloud is targeted at ISVs and corporate application developers, but in mid-2010 Locomatix released a quartet of consumer-facing, mobile location apps for Apple iOS and BlackBerry OS devices: social networking, promotions management, mass transit and geo-messaging. For social networking, for example, you can create groups of family and friends, and the app will notify you when they are in your area.

As the foregoing products indicate, the mobile world is embracing the cloud in a big way, not only in terms of infrastructure but in consumer-facing applications. A good example is Private Planet, a London-based company that was demonstrating a "personal cloud computing" service that debuted last year in beta test.

Private Planet developed the service for carriers, who will then brand and market it to mobile subscribers whose devices use iOS, BlackBerry OS, Android, Symbian or several other operating systems. Mobile carrier 3 Italy began trials of the personal cloud service in February.

Through the service, subscribers use an extensive array of features: printing; data storage, backup and manipulation; peer-to-peer content sharing; remote browsing of desktop and laptop hard disks; chat; synchronization of calendars, to-do lists and notes, and sharing PIM data with other cloud-connected devices. Another service is Snypp, a global clipboard for copying/pasting text or files between any computer or mobile device that's part of the Private Planet cloud.

Yap, in Charlotte, N.C., uses a cloud architecture for speech recognition services. At CTIA, the company announced Yap Voicemail for Android, a free app that works with the cloud service to automatically convert voicemails into text. As text, the messages can be accessed, searched and responded to via the Yap UI faster and more conveniently than text. And you can reply to voicemails by email or SMS. The company estimates that 10 million Android phone users on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon can use the service.

Yap, founded in 2006, developed speech recognition software that accurately converts what it calls "long duration dialogues" into text. The software transcribes voicemails, conference calls and customer service conversations, among other things.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

Email: john_cox@nww.com

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