In the latest edition of The Fonecast we spoke to Richard Kinder, Vice President of Technology and New Business at Red Bend Software. The company specialises in Mobile Software Management, which is probably best known as a service that enables over-the-air (OTA) updates for mobile phones. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview, which started when we asked Richard for a simple explanation of what MSM and OTA meant.
“Red Bend software has been around for a number of years, and our solutions in the Mobile Software Management space allow the software in a mobile phone to be updated in the consumer’s hands.
That has a number of benefits. It makes sure that if there are any problems with the software, they can be fixed remotely; if there are new features that need to be added to the handset, that can be done remotely – without the customer having to take the handset back to a point of service in the retail network. It’s all about making the life of the person who uses the phone easier.
Essentially, our solution allows any piece of software on the handset to be updated, whether that be the part of the phone that actually talks to the radio network and powers that part; whether it be the part that displays the user interface and the functionality that faces the user; or even things such as web browsers. People are using their phones more and more today to access internet services such as social media sites – and what we’ve seen in the industry is that these things things tend to evolve much more rapidly than traditional telco services – and therefore components in the software, such as a web browser, probably need to be updated more frequently to keep pace with the evolution of Facebook and Bebo [and] other social networking sites out there.”
For many people, their experience of an OTA update is a text message arriving with their internet settings or picture messaging settings. How else are these software updates delivered to phones?
“What we’re seeing is delivery of software over the mobile data network but, as we all know, those networks are getting very congested. So we also see our customers use our technology to deliver updates over WiFi, and there’s a lot of debate in the industry at the moment about offloading from the network to WiFi, to femtocells etc, to relieve some of this capacity crunch that people talk about. That’s one element. The other element, of course, we shouldn’t forget solutions such as Bluetooth, which are wireless, they’re over the air, where the PC acts as a kind of gateway onto the internet.”
Red Bend recently announced that 246 new mobile phone models last year included its software. That’s 80% up on the previous year; what’s been driving this growth?
“A number of things. As we touched upon before, we want to make things as easy for consumers as possible. I think the industry is realising that to get people to adopt data services and for people to use those, they need to be as simple and easy to use as possible. So that focus on the consumer experience and making sure people can do things easily has been a big driver for our technology, because what could be simpler than just being pushed a software update, and then clicking ‘yes’ and having it installed on the handset? I think the operators have begun to request the technology more from the handset vendors as well. If you think back maybe ten years to your first GSM handset, essentially it was a radio with a very thin bit of user interface; it had two lines of LCD display. If you look at devices today, they’ve got rich touchscreens, full screens, qwerty keyboards, and the software that goes into these devices becomes much more complicated. Unfortunately with software, the more you have, the more chances you have of something going wrong, the more features that you want to be able to update.
So the complexity of the devices, demand from the end user and also demand from operators and manufacturers to have the flexibility to include this technology, has really driven our penetration of the market. If you look at the way the handset market is going, there are more and more of these rich internet-enabled devices than there are of the simple voice and text phones, and that’s really driven the adoption of our technology this previous year.”
Which manufacturers are you working with at the moment?
“Well, Red Bend has a broad variety of licensees. At the last count, we had approaching 60 licensees for the technology. Some of those are brands that you’ll have never heard of, others are very famous brands such as Sony Ericsson. But we work with eight of the top ten global handset manufacturers.
Red Bend has proprietary technology that effectively allows the amount of data to be sent over the air to enable the software uptake to be dramatically reduced. Some of the manufacturers had been looking at solutions, and trying to figure something out for themselves, but the Red Bend solution was deemed to be the most efficient.”
If I’m a consumer and I’ve decided that I’d like Red Bend software on my next phone, or if I’m a mobile dealer and I want to stock products that use your software, what should I look for?
“If you look at most of the phones on the market, you will see they have a feature called FOTA; Firmware Over The Air. If a phone has that feature, then typically it can be upgraded and updated over the air. It would be a reasonable probability that handset will contain Red Bend’s technology, given that we work with eight of the top ten global manufacturers. I would urge dealers [and] retailers to check when they take a handset and range it, whether it has the FOTA feature because ultimately that will result in happier customers [and] it will result in a lower cost of support for those customers.”
Finally, what’s next? What’s on the horizon?
“We’re going to focus on the mobile space but we also see a big opportunity in other connected devices. If you think about mobile phones, there are about a billion sold every year globally. Industry players are also predicting that the number of connected devices, things like your fridge or your car, will be connected to the wireless network.
Anywhere there is a connected device with some software to be updated, Red Bend wants to play a part in that. So I think you’ll see us offering more solutions in the mobile phone space, I think you’ll see mobile phone manufacturers and operators increasing the frequency with which they update the software there, and I think you’ll see other connected devices – whether it be your PVR, whether it be your car – adopt software update technology… and hopefully Red Bend’s.”
You can listen to the full version of the interview in our special podcast dated 4th May 2010.