It’s August already and where has all the time gone? We’ve been watching over Adrian’s shoulder for weeks now as our technical development slowly takes place. Why are things so slow you ask?
Well. It turns out that when we opened our online shop to North America last autumn we were being told by telecommunications companies, electronics providers and many others entities that the things we would need to complete the redesign of the New Good Night Lamp for America were ‘already there’. We’ve found out to our expense (and that of out pre-order customers) that this wasn’t entirely the case.
A little bit of detail for the more geeky ones among you.
As we announced in our last blog, we’re working with the fantastic new boards that our friends at Arduino have developed. These are so new you can’t even buy them right now and they’re attached to Vodafone, a European telecommunications provider. So we have to disentangle them from that network to ‘attach’ them to AT&T and Verizon’s networks in the US. How do we do that? Well we don’t exactly sign a contract the way you do when you buy a mobile phone. We have to work with an intermediary (also called a Mobile Virtual Network Operator or MVNO) who have contracts already with those companies. It means we can be very flexible with the number of lamps we make and connect to the networks. Working with them also means someone else is there to help us with customer support as the MVNO can tell us useful things about the network status.
Also Europe and the US don’t use the same LTE networks. Which means that in Europe it’s called ‘NB-IoT’ or narrow-band internet of things and in the US, it’s called CAT-M1. Why is it different? Sigh. I hear rumours that it’s related to some trade and anti-China sentiment in the US industry, but the why isn’t really important as it’s just something we have to work with. Also NB-IoT isn’t working in the UK yet and 2G networks (what our previous GNL lamps worked with) are set to be shut down. There are only a few test sites for NB-IoT in the UK (Reading and ‘somewhere around the M62’ as it’s described to us). So, *cue soundtrack to the 1990s movie Hackers* Adrian, based in Liverpool, is testing the CAT-M1 network in rural California where our first test unit is right now. We really couldn’t do any of this without the internet right now. Why rural California, well when I was the first UK distributor of the Arduino, I worked with Daniel Soltis. Daniel was one of the most pleasant and creative people I’ve had the chance to work with over the years and after living in London, relocated to Yreka on the border between California and Oregon and surrounded by mountain ranges and National Parks (yes some of the same ones that are on fire right now). So he’s helping us right now as we will have a lot of rural customers and we’ve learnt a lot about what that looks like in Europe (especially in Germany) so we want to be prepared for the rich and varied American context.
We’re currently testing two MVNOs in the US: Hologram and Twilio. They’re both American, but Hologram is a little newer. So far Hologram’s tech team has been pretty awesome and from our conversations we can tell they’ve clearly been working with CAT-M1 before, which helps us a lot.
All that to say that we’re working much more slowly than we’d like but the other day, Adrian managed to connect remotely to the Arduino board and load up a page. This sounds super simple, but this was done securely and with a telecommunication network across the other side of the world, it was a big step for us!
What this slow pace allows us to do though is to own the whole chain of development in ways that we haven’t in the past so I’m very excited. We’ll be posting up more frequent updates in the next few weeks, but yes, we are late in shipping our product. This is really frustrating for me personally but I don’t think we would have been able to move any quicker considering how new and emerging all these platforms, networks, electronics are. I’d like to make sure that what you get, you’re both happy with but that is also is the best technology possible. Laura is with me as always from an unusually sunny Manchester and Lawrence is working on LED panels that will be a massive improvement on what we have now and a warmer glow for the Little Lamp too, which I’m excited about.
So the clock is ticking and we’ll be keeping you abreast of everything as we go. I hope you and yours are enjoying some sun (but not too much) and we look forward to your feedback!