Feature Story

UK Mobile Innovators Set for Global Take-off

by Sue Tabbitt

UK mobile innovators will converge on Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Spain where the hottest contender will be named the UK's Most Innovative Mobile Company.

On February 24-27, mobile technology innovators and enthusiasts from across the globe will converge on the city of Barcelona in Spain. Here, the latest gadgets, apps and other mobile advances will be promoted amid great fanfare at Mobile World Congress 2014. For a lucky handful of rising mobile stars in the UK, this year’s event will provide a unique platform to unveil groundbreaking but so far little-publicized solutions to a global audience.

This is thanks to the Smart UK Project, a UK Government-backed competition designed to give emerging British mobile technology innovators massive international exposure. It is the result of a strategic collaboration between UK Trade & Investment, the Government department that helps promote UK-based companies overseas, and XL Communications , its media partner for Mobile World Congress.

Now in its third year, the competition is open to UK-based companies operating in the mobile industry which can demonstrate a new product or service that has the potential to change the way people use mobiles across the world.  The winner will be crowned The UK’s Most Innovative Mobile Company at Mobile World Congress 2014, a title they can use to significantly raise their profile.

Nominations closed in December, and the contenders (just shy of 70) are strong this year.

Movirtu: multiple mobile accounts on the same device

London-based Movirtu hopes to win over judges with its virtual SIM platform, which lets mobile operators extend the option for different users or user profiles to be set up with their own unique phone number and account on a single mobile device. The original idea was conceived to help encourage mobile use across developing countries, by allowing individuals to have their own phone number even if they didn’t possess a phone. This month, Movirtu will announce a group-wide technology licensing agreement with a large carrier in Africa to this end.

More recently, Movirtu has identified even greater potential for its technology in the developed enterprise market. Here the virtual SIM platform has value as part of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend – where employees increasingly want to use their own preferred mobile devices for work, but struggle to keep business and personal activities separate. A virtual SIM solution will enable each user to maintain two or more numbers and accounts on a single device.

CEO Carsten Brinkschulte explains: “To date, the sort of separation we are talking about can only be achieved in a voice-over-IP [VoIP] scenario, but that requires an Internet connection. Our technology changes all that. Our solution integrates into the mobile operator’s network, ensuring the same quality of service and a good connection even if the signal is too weak for an Internet connection. It fools the mobile network into seeing a SIM card that doesn’t really exist. The additional user profile can still enjoy its own value-added services, billing and voicemail, but without the need for a second device.”

The Movirtu platform maps the virtual SIM to a physical one and tells the network where to route the call. There is a small app that the employee downloads which enables them to choose which number to use for an outbound call. “This means that if they’re abroad and need to take part in a conference call, the user no longer needs to worry about the expense of the call and how to recoup the cost; they simply use their corporate account,” Brinkschulte says.

With Movirtu’s solutions, up to 30 numbers can be added to one standard SIM card.

Safe snaps: 23snaps puts family members in control

Another promising contestant is 23 Snaps , which has created what it claims is the first mobile-first safe, secure and private social network - where parents and families can share photographs and videos of their children without fear of onward sharing. As well as introducing greater controls around access rights compared to more mainstream social networks, the 23snaps forum allows content to be organized in a range of different ways – not just according to a linear timeline. This means photos and videos can be put into context, and be used to create more of a ‘story’.

The site is also designed to be as user-friendly for elderly grandparents as for younger generations, and makes it easy for family members to print their own photo albums or create their own digital photo frames from the content. The UK-based company has already drawn a lot of interest from US-based users; geography isn’t an issue because the app can be downloaded from anywhere. “Families can be dispersed all across the world these days, so staying connected is harder but important,” notes Ivailo Jordanas, co-founder of 23 Snaps. “Our service helps them do that.”

Simplicity itself: SMS ticketing

Then there is PeachInc , a digital event ticketing specialist. It has developed a way of creating secure digital tickets or vouchers (for events, travel, etc) which can be sent by SMS to any mobile phone, cheaply and with attractive immediacy.

PeachInc’s innovation is a proprietary 2D ‘Morris code’. The patented technology, named after the company’s chief technology officer, Dr Daniel Morris, was created as a by-product of a computer science doctorate he was studying for in a specialist area of image processing. Essentially it is a smaller version of the matrix barcodes seen on promotional posters; its smaller size means it can be sent by SMS. As the receiving end – for example the entrance gates to a sports stadium – the unique ticket codes are processed automatically by a PeachInc kiosk.

“In a ticketing context, it means if there are 100,000 people queuing at the turnstiles to get into a major sport or music event, they can be processed quickly and reliably,” Dr Morris explains.

As well as having the potential to reduce ticketing costs by removing the need for actual tickets, the Morris code will enable ticket-sellers to continue selling right up until the start of an event. In a parking-lot scenario, the Morris code could remove the need for attendants and wardens. PeachInc is also working on a verification system that could be printed on medicines to ensure counterfeit drugs are not used. Money transfer solutions are a further application area.

PeachInc’s place at the UKTI booth at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2014 was already guaranteed because the company had already won a free pass through a competition run by its local Mobile Monday group. It will be one of 10 companies appearing in a special UK mobile innovators’ ‘pod’ in the UKTI booth, and hopes to benefit from the global exposure its presence at the event will bring.

Maximizing airtime: the countdown continues

From the 70 nominees competing in this year’s Smart UK Project, a shortlist of around 20 are invited to London to pitch their ideas to the media, and a lucky five finalists go through to Mobile World Congress for the final judgment. This will be presided over by an expert panel comprising venture capital investors, mobile network operators and industry experts.

Of the opportunity, Movirtu’s Brinkschulte says, “We’re excited. We are a small company and this will give us a level of exposure and visibility in Europe and beyond that we could otherwise only dream of.” Meaghan Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer at 23 Snaps, concurs: “This is a unique chance to tell our story and share our product with those most likely to appreciate what we’re doing.”

Last year’s ‘most innovative UK mobile company’ was OpenSignal, a company which maps variations in geographical mobile coverage using feedback from users. The company crowd-sources data on the quality of mobile carriers’ signals from ordinary consumers who have installed OpenSignal’s app on their mobile devices. Consumers can view all of the resulting data either online or in-app in the form of color-coded maps, under the banner ‘Find the best network in your area’. The web site uses graphics to present the unbiased data, allowing consumers to compare the different carriers fairly so they can make informed decisions before purchasing network services.

Other contenders for this year’s title include m-commerce and security specialist AlphaFox Systems; Bluetooth Smart ‘appcessories’ developer Blue Maestro; Geosho , whose Busitty public transport information system provides real-time travel information; m-commerce speech recognition specialist Capito; ETAOI Systems , which has developed a simplified text interface for wearable technology; and uMotif Digital Health , whose apps help patients track, monitor and manage their own health.


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