September 2020 Development Blog
Welcome to our September 2020 DEV (Development) Blog. Our goal with these is to keep you informed on what the product development team is doing here at Go Connect. I know you are excited to see the line of products that we will began releasing later this year. We are too.
Hundreds of hours a week go into developing products like these. While we can’t get too deep into the details, it will give you some insight into what we are doing. You’ll see a development blog at least once a month but likely more frequently as we make more progress.
The reality is most hotspots and routers are designed for ideal conditions. We are building ours for the not-ideal. When traveling you generally will experience “not ideal” a lot more often. Go Connect’s goal is to develop products that work and are easy to go use, even when things are not ideal.
Want to know more about the flaws we see with existing travel routers that drive our production development?
Moving From Test To Pre-Production
One of the most significant changes happening during September was beginning our transition from a development and testing environment to a pre-production environment. What does that mean in practical sense? It means instead of small tests on pre-production hardware and software we began implementing our hardware and software at the scale we expect for initial production. How that looks varies slightly depending on whether we are talking about the device hardware or software. But the concept is generally the same.
We’re moving from small amounts of Alpha hardware to larger runs on the manufacturing line that will fill out Beta runs in the coming weeks. Handfuls to dozens, which are the precursor to hundreds and thousands in full production. For software this means instead of isolated test instances of servers and applications with “test” code to help us evaluate how our testing is going to what we need to have in place for actual launch.
We’ll dive a little deeper into each of these in the Hardware and Software sections below.
One offering we haven’t spoken about publicly much yet is our Subscription offerings that will go with our devices. While they are not required on all devices, they offer some substantial benefits. Our subscriptions options include optimization, security and cellular service depending on the plan and device.
We expect to announce those plans and pricing relatively soon. However, for now we want to talk a little bit about what goes into developing those plans.
- Cost of cellular service for cellular devices
- Cellular providers and coverage areas (including which bands they run on and ensuring device capability)
- Amount of data
- Security end point costs
- Optimization costs – since much of this is based in the cloud and a lot of cloud usage costs varies based on the amount of processing and
- User Experience and complexity of choice
We must balance all of these factors to develop our plans. We must also consider what our customers are most interested in. In the end, or focus wasn’t on duplicating the kinds of plans you see on the market today, but rather how users actually need to use their devices. It was critical to us that our subscriptions aligned to the experience, rather than the “market”.
Another area we spent a lot of time working through is Certifications. While much of our platform is based on pre-certified components, eliminating the need for a lot of extensive certification testing once the product is complete, that doesn’t come without its challenges.
First, we must maintain certain technical specs when designing components. We also must test components we are building and with changes to ensure they still meet the specs required to maintain the pre-certification. If we don’t, we could spend 10s of thousands of dollars in certification costs, expose ourselves to liability and delay the product launch.
We are dealing with a number of certifications:
- FCC (for WiFi and cellular radio waves)
- UL (for power)
- PCTRB (for cellular carriers)
Software (App) Engineering
Our mobile app team dealt with two big areas during September. The first is building in device activation. During Alpha testing devices are all fully active. There is user setup, but nothing like you’d experience buying a product. During September we mapped out and began development on full blown device setup and activation.
Since we have two versions of our device, we are planning for cellular activation for the device with cellular. It also involved integration with our ecommerce platform. Finally, marketing and the business teams are still considering all of the sales channels (online, online retailers, physical retailers) which may have different user acquisition methods. So we need to be able to account for each of those. We also must determine which ones we need to support Day 1 (on sale/pre-sale) vs. those that may come at a later date.
For now, our plan is to sell strictly online initially. However, that may change down the road.
iOS 14/XCode Update
Another area that came up during our mobile app work this month was the release of iOS 14 for development. This meant Apple’s XCode development tool update. Sometimes these updates are not a big deal, other times they are substantial changes.
The recent change was substantial. It not only required a few tweaks to our code base and some re-testing, it also required a significant update to the underline mobile app development platform we are using. Like many companies, we use a cross platform development tool. Our current platform is React Native. This update required a number of changes:
- React Native needed to be updated
- React Native leverages a lot of modules and other platforms to enable and streamline development. Almost all of these required updates as well
- A number of these modules had other significant underlying changes required further updates
While React is a great platform for development many of the modules support are provided by the community. This often means asking a lot of questions.
While the upgrade was successful, it took about 5 times as long as expected. This happens in software development. Thankfully it didn’t put us too far behind.
The hardware front had a big month. We received our first production line run of boards (printer computer boards or PCB). This is allowing us to switch out testing from feature and software to testing what our production line run produces.
As we have generally finalized our board we are also now finalizing our case design for full scale production.
In addition, we are finalizing our antenna, an area that is key was to support better range than traditional hotspots and travel routers. Most travel routers, because they focus purely on size, generally have limited range. While this may be sufficient when working at a coffee shop or in a hotel room, we find travel routers get used at Airbnbs, in RVs and conference rooms/conference centers. In these instances hotspots and travel routers almost always disappoint.
Antenna quality also impacts the number of devices that can connect at a time and even impacts latency as you move further away. This can impact business users and gamers as well.
In order to improve on this and ensure we are delivering for the way people actually use their devices when they travel, we have put a lot of effort into our custom designed antenna. We didn’t focus on size, we focused on connection quality. Also, while many devices try to maximize lab speed – that are never achieved – we focused on range and reliability. Not surprisingly to us, when we put our devices to use in a practical sense, we were just as fast as the devices that prioritized lab speed. Actually, when we add in our optimization software we are often FASTER.
Next Update we hope to talk about our opening BETA, our new and improved antennas and additional details on our subscriptions and product features.
We also hope to have some more details around the production deployment of our Security platform and some of the additional work we are building into SmartTraffic optimization.