When the VC’s choose which companies to go for they often look into things like the number of patents and how an application can be built into mass market products. While this is a good way of finding the applications that will change the world, I’m not sure it’s the way to go for the vast majority. If you add the blood spilled to get there, the road to be world conquering might not be as appealing. Also, the number of companies that get there is maybe one out of hundred. I would advice more to go for other ways to an easier win (the IPO payoff would still be major).
Trying to change the world?
In my role of helping application developers understand wireless I see new ideas and products in this field on a daily basis. One thing that really strikes me is that many companies make things very difficult for themselves. They start working on advanced technologies that don’t comply with existing standards but rather try to create new ones. I don’t say that’s generally wrong, but it is extremely hard. Especially if you are trying to sneak in some of your proprietary solutions that you have appropriately patented in things that others have to use. If you are walking that road you’d better work with some heavyweights in the industry and try to have them realize the value of it instead of going off on your own. The life for a start-up in a major standardization body can be very rough.
Changing complicated systems is tough
Another way of complicating things is to try to change some parts of a large and/or very complicated systems. In the Mobile Internet, handset manufacturers are reluctant to build in third party components, because of the added complexity and dependency. Also, the specifications for the handsets you use today where determined a long time ago, which means your technology has to be way ahead of it’s time (well, I guess everybody says they are). If you really have something that would qualify, and want to get into a handset, a good way is to show it together with an application. A video-coder looks very nice when shown streaming some fun and appealing content on a tiny device but still with great quality. It definitely beats a concept demonstration on a laptop. Note that I’m here talking about building things into the actual device or OS, but you could make it a lot easier by developing for an open platform, like EPOC, Palm or Pocket PC. Though, it is of course more appealing to the developer (and the VC) to have the application built into ALL handsets and not just the ones that choose to download it.
Getting into wireless infrastructure?
If getting things into the handsets can be complicated, I won’t even mention tampering with the infrastructure itself! Trying to deploy things into the actual nodes of GPRS and 3G systems is not easy at all. All major vendors follow the 3GPP standard, and that is where those suggestions belong. The trend now is that the application functionality of the mobile network will be isolated in a logical network called the Service Network. The Service Network will host WAP gateways, API servers, Positioning servers, payment/charging servers and the application/content servers themselves. This architecture will be much more open and I plan to describe it in more detail in later columns. Getting someone to install your fancy Whateverfunctionality-Gateway 4.9 into an open architecture solution should be easier than having the operator change the code of his base stations.
Also, when choosing what products to develop, make sure to check what others are doing. Everybody is keen on getting publicity, so getting information about other applications in development is fairly easy. Just scout around the web and check out some of the Wireless Developer conferences. I’m telling you , there are others who have thought of the idea of having wireless VPN (Virtual Private Network) access, i.e. accessing corporate web and mail anywhere. There are also plenty of companies that can take content that is developed once and present it in WML, HTML, HDML etc.
What is the easy way?
My advice to new companies who, are starting out and are looking into what directions to go, is: Make it simple! Just develop something that is appealing to people. The wireless applications market is wonderful and the operators are screaming for the newest and coolest applications. Remember that they’ve spent billions on building their networks to handle packet data and multimedia. If they can get their hands on applications that their competitors don’t have (or won’t get until later) and the consumers love, they will pay up to get those applications. Also, leading infrastructure vendors, like Ericsson, are now including applications in the end-to-end solutions that are offered. This means they will partner with 3rd party developers to get the best possible solutions.
In summary, if you want to make it easy for yourself, follow these steps:
1. Follow the standards, like WAP, GPRS, Bluetooth and others
2. Develop things that appeal to people and that other groups, like operators, want
3. Move fast and know your competition
I’ve seen developers who started with a WAP application in April and were able to get it into the network of key operators in July. Where is your application three months from now?
Don’t hesitate to drop me a line with suggestions and comments (responses may be slow sometimes, though, due to the huge amount of incoming mails). You can also drop in at one of the Ericsson MAI test labs for tests in a wireless environment and feedback on how to optimize for wireless.