Wednesday, December 9, 2009

FOTA: $140m Saved and Counting!

Jason Lackey

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. - Isaiah 40:4

Every bug shall be patched, every broken feature made whole; the rough spots smoothed over and the defective UI fixed. - FOTA 4:20

Mobile operators have it rough. On the one hand they have huge networks to support, on the other they have subscribers, each and every one of which thinks they are paying too much. Top it off with the fact that many, if not most, want to have the very latest and greatest phone and they want the latest and greatest to do more and more cool things.

OK, fine. Now this creates more than a little bit of pressure, as the operators, particular those in markets like North America where most devices are subsidized, lean on the device makers and encourage them to rush their best and most beautiful devices onto market and top off these demands with a burning desire to have a specially cooked, custom, operator specific ROM on those phones and you have a situation where you have created the perfect storm for bugs.

Indeed, it is surprising that devices don't crawl like Klendathu (homeworld of The Bugs in Heinlein's Starship Troopers) with bugs.

However, like death, taxes and dropped calls for iPhone users, bugs happen.

What's an operator to do? Well, back in the dark ages, you could do a recall and reflash the phones. Or you could invite your subs to bring their phones in so your techs in the back room of the brick and mortar could jack in with cables and reflash. If you are from Cupertino, you could set down the stone axe and pick up a bronze sword and use iTunes to sideload a full system ROM using (you guessed it) a Mac or PC and a cable. Or, you could set down the antiques and pick up a laser pistol (or at least a nice Smith and Wesson!) and do the updates Over the Air with FOTA - Firmware Over the Air.

Nature abhors a vacuum and thinking people abhor inefficiency. When you look at even major updates, they don't usually involve that much new or changed code. This means that shipping over a whole system image involves a great deal of duplication and inefficiency. FOTA is different, because with FOTA you take the old firmware and the new firmware and create a difference package and push that package to the device. A client on the device, a FOTA client, then reads the diff and uses it to gen up new firmware using the copy already on the device. No waste, no fuss, no fiddly cables or other hassles.

While some of this may not matter to upscale powerusers or may be more of a matter of convenience vs necessity, keep in mind that for an increasingly large number of mobile subscribers in the world that the Third Screen (mobile) is the Only Screen - no Mac, no iTunes, just a phone.

While FOTA has been a standard practice in Japan for years (most device there get at least one update at some point in the product lifecycle), FOTA is just getting started in the US.

Just a couple years ago I recall my delight and joy when I discovered that I could do an OTA update of my Sprint RAZR, an update which fixed a really annoying problem with a corrupted address book.

Now, just some of the devices updated by InnoPath servers in North America in 2009 include:

  • Casio C711
  • LG GR500
  • LG VX11k
  • Motorola V750
  • Motorola VU204
  • Motorola VU30
  • Motorola V860
  • Motorola W755
  • Motorola ZN4
  • Nokia 6555
  • Nokia 6650
  • Nokia E71x
  • PCD CDM 8975
  • Samsung Rugby
  • Samsung SGH-A737
  • Samsung u-350
  • Samsung u-450
  • Samsung u-490
  • Samsung u-650
  • UTS GTX75

  • Anyway, considering how delighted I was when my RAZR stopped autohosing itself, I suspect that the 3.5 million devices that have been updated with InnoPath technology, despite the occasional glitch, have brought a fair amount of relief to a large number of people. Things like this make it a lot easier to come in to work in the morning.

    Our press release on this topic is here:

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