OnBeep, a San Francisco startup, has raised a series A funding round worth $6.25 million. The money will be used to fund the creation of a new hardware device to make it easy for groups of people to communicate with one another, without having to fiddle with a smartphone.
OnBeep’s product is said to be similar to a “Star Trek” communicator, according to GeekWire. Users can wear it or clip it on, and be able to immediately get a hold of people they want to reach.
The company will combine wearables, bluetooth and smartphones to offer push-to-talk (PTT) capabilities, according to GigaOm.
OnBeep is built to help groups communicate with one another in real time, like families at an amusement park, or a team of people working on an event.
In order to communicate with the outside world, the OnBeep will pair with a user’s smartphone. The company isn’t ready to release exact details on what the device looks like or how much it will cost, but insists it will be available later this year.
OnBeep was co-founded by Jesse Robbins, Greg Albrecht, who previously served as a Senior Software Engineer at Splunk, and Roger Wood, who led product design and marketing for Nextel.
Push-to-Talk Apps can turn your Smartphone into a Walkie-Talkie, notes ReadWrite. Cellular carriers also offer PTT functionality, although these software solutions are generally not as fast as the now obsolete and mostly unavailable Nextel Network which used the iDEN infrastructure (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) for Push-To-Talk.
Vocera Communications Badge is a lightweight, voice-controlled, wearable device that enables instant two-way or one to many conversations using intuitive and simple commands.
It uses WiFi to communicate, but requires everyone be on a compatible WiFi network. It’s often used in medical facilities.
Using unlicensed 900 MHz or 2.4 GHz frequencies results in very limited range, unless multiple WiFi routers are linked. But 150 Mhz may be used for device to device communications.
GoTenna has developed a 6-inch-long antenna that connects to iPhones and Android phones via Bluetooth low energy. The antenna then transmits the data to other GoTennas as far as 9 miles away through proprietary protocols, at 151-154 MHz.
You can send text messages up to 160 characters as well as share your location on offline maps. The gadget is available for preorder at $150 for two devices, since it takes two devices to form a peer-to-peer network.
GoTenna uses the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), an unlicensed personal radio service in the 150 MHz band. The goTenna is dependent on FCC approval and is currently undergoing FCC testing. If it doesn’t pass, money would be refunded, says the company. According to GoTenna, you can send & receive messages for free for several miles, without using a cell antenna.
The 150 MHz VHF band, used by the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), propagates well outdoors. The 450 MHz UHF band is used by the Family Radio Service (FRS) has a maximum output of 500 mW while the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS uses the lower 7 channels of FRS, in the 462 MHz range, with a maximum of 5 watts ERP. It requires a valid GMRS license, but propagates better in buildings and urban areas.
Standalone SIM-enabled smartwatches, that don’t need pairing with a cellphone to make a call, are likely to be coming from Samsung and others this year. Currently, Bluetooth pairing with a smartphone enables cellular connectivity while pairing with something like a GoAntenna may enable direct device to device connectivity (in the 150 or 450 MHz band).
Unlicensed white spaces, between 500-700 MHz, might be another option for device to device communications. Unlicensed LTE Advanced using the 5 GHz band, may also offer direct connections without going through a cell tower. Device-to-device connections is getting baked into the latest LTE-Advanced standard, and is especially useful for first responders.