By Steve McCaskill
Sharedband says its new "Boosty" device can improve the reliability and speed of home workers' broadband by combining fixed broadband with a smartphone's cellular connection.
The company has been operating in the business market since 2003 and has 15,000 businesses, including hotels and retailers, as customers–the majority of which are in the U.K. By combining multiple lines, businesses are able to boost capacity and speed in areas with poor coverage.
Now the company is targeting consumers and home offices with Boosty, a small device that connects to a home router.
"We've been around for a while and we've helped business get faster Internet by bonding connections together. It's not just ADSL, we have a couple of fiber to the cabinet (FTTC) customers too," Paul Evans, Sharedband CEO, told TechWeekEurope.
"It's been difficult to translate that into the consumer space because people aren't paying for multiple lines, but people do have a smartphone connection."
Boosty is priced at £69 and includes a 12-month subscription, after which the service costs £39 a year. The unit is attached to the router and users then install a smartphone application, which allows them to set restrictions, such as mobile data caps and device priority.
Mobile data is used to 'top up' a fixed connection temporarily, with the two connections 'bonded' via Boosty’s servers so they are treated as a single data packet.
"All our Boosty servers are located in the U.K. in two of the top London data centers," said Evans. "We've not got any regulatory issue.
"We don't transform that content at all. We simply pass it on. If your traffic is unencrypted, we don't encrypt it. If you're doing anything office-related, it might be on a VPN and most mail services are HTTPS. We keep that data integrity."
Commercial and government-assisted fiber deployments should mean 95 percent of the U.K. population will have access to superfast broadband by 2017, but Sharedband believes many people can't wait that long to receive a fixed upgrade.
Of course, Boosty requires a certain standard of mobile signal to have any effect. Evans said spectrum license obligations will require mobile operators to deliver an indoor 4G service to a certain percentage of the U.K. population and that coverage is getting better all the time.
But if 4G is more readily available than superfast broadband, why not just get a mobile WiFi subscription from one of the mobile operators? Evans said mobile data has usage limits and is comparatively expensive, while other technologies, such as satellite, also suffer from data caps and latency issues—although these are improving.
Not Just for Rural Areas
Aside from the annual subscription fee, Evans said Boosty would allow consumers to make the most of the mobile and broadband services they are already paying for.
"What we're seeing is more and more that the amount of data people consume each month is going up to around 60GB," he said. "Getting 60GB of mobile data is quite expensive."
Evans also rejects the assumption that Boosty is only for those in rural areas, citing the existence of urban notspots as evidence: "People make that wrong assumption that we're a rural product. Some areas in London don't have fiber available to them. Some parts of London and Westminster. We only need one or two bars of mobile signal to [make a difference]."
Sharedband hopes Boosty's ease of use and immediate results will attract customers, but as more and more communications providers turn to 'quad play' packages to increase revenue, it sees scope for partnerships.
"We think [Boosty] would make an awful lot of sense for mobile and broadband operators to bundle in," said Evans, who suggested that it might encourage customers to take up multiple services. "Even those with fiber understand the need for faster and more reliable Internet. They would prefer getting Boosty through their existing ISP. Not everyone is want to going to buy Boosty themselves."
With BT's £12.5bn takeover of EE and talk of converged fixed-mobile networks, Evans said that Sharedband's technology could even be included natively in broadband provider's routers.
"At the end of the day, our value is in the software," he said. "We could put that on any gateway out there because they run on Linux. We don't see ourselves as a hardware provider."