Why we built Wivity

On October 29, 2013 Google announced a modular phone concept called Project Ara.  That caught my attention, because way back in 1998 I co-founded a company to build modular radios for cellphones.  We had a relationship with Vodafone, who needed a world phone that could connect to Verizon's CDMA network, JPhone's PDC network, and GSM for the rest of the world.  In hindsight, the project was way too ambitious for a startup due to closed carrier ecosystems, large entrenched vendors, and extremely high cellular development costs.  The company was eventually mothballed and over the years I watched other companies, including Modu, UT Starcom, and Willcom, attempt variations on the theme only to fail.  Then came the Project Ara announcement, and finally a company with the resources to make the concept work (one of two in the world) was taking its swing at the plate.  Well, it's now 2016 and although there could be an Ara announcement at Google IO 2016, Project Ara is still nowhere in sight.  

There is a reason for all these failures.  Phones aren't well suited to modularity.  Consumers care highly about form factor, so even the two parts of a phone that have always been modular are either already integrated (the battery) or will soon be integrated (the SIM card).  In consumer handhelds every millimeter counts, and modular components eventually get swallowed by the Borg.  Will Google be successful?  I hope they are, but even for Google the odds are not good.  

Rewind to early 2015.  I had an epiphany.  You may have heard there's a new industry brewing- one that is forecast to eclipse consumer handhelds in shipments, and one in which form factor is not a critical objective.  It's the Internet of Things, and you've heard the numbers.  Gartner predicts 25 billion connected devices by 2020.  Cisco predicts 50 billion.  Modularity might not make sense for phones, but for IoT it makes complete sense.  IoT is different from phones in a myriad of ways.  Unlike phones, which are replaced every two years, many IoT devices (cars, utility meters, and environmental sensors) are in operation for 20+ years.  In that time frame wireless networks change and morph multiple times to devastating effect.  AT&T's 2G shut down is costing the alarm industry billions of dollars upgrading panels from 2G to 3G.  Furthermore, ubiquitous connectivity is mission critical for IoT devices.  No one really expects a phone to work in the middle of nowhere, but lack of connectivity on a soil sensor is the death knell on a high-priced smart-farming solution.  I'll talk more about these differences in a future blog, but to suffice it to say modular radios solve all these issues and the company we started in 1998 now has a bright future in IoT.

So, welcome to our blog.  We'll talk about Project Ara, modular radios, the Internet of Things, and anything else we can think of that you might find useful.

By Alfred Tom on April 5, 2016


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