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AetherPal's Device Diagnostics Spawn New Uses

Sarah Thomas
6/3/2014
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NICE, France -- TM Forum Live! -- Startup AetherPal introduced new Device Diagnostics here this week that have operators thinking what else they can do with the remote smartphone monitoring technology.

The company came on the scene four years ago with a Secure Remote Control that lets an operator's support team remotely log into a user's phone, once permission is granted, to figure out and fix problems, much like they would on a PC. It has since signed up several operators to embed the app, including two Tier 1 US operators, one revealed to be Verizon Wireless .

Now AetherPal is adding in Device Diagnostics, what it calls a "big data" device platform that automatically collects data for technical support once a call is initiated. It is working towards enabling the operator to automatically correct problems by collecting, aggregating, and analyzing enough data to more quickly understand what the problem might be and why.

So if, for example, Candy Crush was consuming too much memory on a phone, the operator would know the average CPU utilization and realize this particular instance was too high. It would be able to push out a fix or kill the app, something it could do without requiring any action on the consumer's part.

This is a huge potential cost saver for service providers. According to Heavy Reading research, the typical call into a call center runs about $8 for the service provider. When it's a call about a smartphone, however, it's more like $25 to $30 due to the complexity of the typical requests and lack of visibility.

Helping operators achieve this ROI is AetherPal's plan, and that's what attracted former venture capitalist Daniel Deeney to take over as CEO in October rather than just be part of the $6 million round his firm, New Venture Partners, helped invest.

"Remote control is well understood and operators are also asking how to be more predictive and proactive about device care," Deeney said. "It improves the entire customer experience and feels like operator really understands the problem."

Beyond device diagnostics
But what Deeney is realizing is this is just the tip of the iceberg for what operators envision for the platform. Deeney calls Device Diagnostics big data, because the operators want to collect all the data from the handset about customer usage, which is something AetherPal can do given its real estate in phones.

Deeney said that a couple of operators have asked the company to think about targeted mobile ad use cases around device diagnostics. Rather than just give permission when support is needed, an operator would ask them to opt-in when the app installed. Today, those programs, like Verizon Select or Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s Pinsight Media, rely on network elements like routers and switches for data, Deeney explained, but AetherPal could add in the device angle.

"We would pull device data, and it would all go into the same platform and a Guavus or Zettics would run analytics on top," Deeney said. "The device becomes a big data platform."

Another use case Deeney is being asked about is analytics over WiFi. Currently, operators lose track of a customer once he or she offloads to WiFi, but AetherPal doesn't. It can provide data on WiFi customer usage and trends data back to the operators.

Deeney is quick to point out that AetherPal only works with the mobile user's permission. It only begins pulling data when permission is granted, a safeguard made all the more necessary by the CarrierIQ scandal. As it expands its use cases, it wouldn't leave the privacy decisions up to the operator either. It has controls built in that can turn on or off the app and dictate how it is used. Operators have to meet its privacy policy even before their own. (See Carrier IQ: We Don't Record Keystrokes.)

For his part, Deeney is excited about another potential use case for AetherPal: other connected devices, especially telematics. AetherPal is in talks with a number of large car manufacturers about embedding its platform, although he said the customer could just as easily be the operator providing connectivity to the car.

"We are doing some smart home, like setting up and configuring Android TVs, but it's still fragmented; still early days," Deeney said. "We're monitoring it and figuring out use cases. Connected car is much clearer."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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