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Secret startup OnBeep aims to fill push-to-talk void

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OnBeep , the stealthy startup launched by Opscode founder Jesse Robbins, is intentionally vague about what it’s up to, but some details are starting to emerge. The San Francisco company is working to combine wearables, bluetooth technology and smartphones to offer the sort of push-to-talk (PTT) capabilities provided by specialized radio devices often used by first responders, sources said. I would be willing to bet, however, that the walkie-talkie-like PTT capabilities will be one part of a multi-channel device, but I have no confirmation of that.

All the company itself is saying on its web site (and via various Twitter feeds) is that it’s focusing on “communications” technology  and is in the market for both iOS(s aapl) and Android(s goog) development talent. Oh, and as of August, it had $445,000 in early funding, according to Mattermark.

One of Robbins’ co-founders is Greg Albrecht, who according to LinkedIN(s lnkd), is a “former senior engineer at Splunk(s splk);  founding funder at Noisebridge. EMT. Disaster Worker. Ham.” (Presumably as in ham radio aficianado.)

The third co-founder is Roger Wood, is chairman of Art+Data, and in a past life was a product manager and engineering program manager at Motorola’s  iDEN Group and worked at Nextel(s S). Other team members include hardware engineer Neil Girling as well as product engineers from Apple, Lab126 and Meyer Sound.

This is an interesting combination of talent — Robbins has experience in big-scale infrastructure — he was a program manager at Amazon before Opscode;  to configuration management devops know-how while others at the company appear to be experts in PTT devices and user experience design.

OnBeep may be attempting to fill the void left when Sprint shut down its iDEN network last summer. As Gigaom’s resident expert Kevin Fitchard told me, there are commercial alternatives to that PTT network but none really work as well as it did. If OnBeep could replicate the quality and reliability of iDEN in an app, it could address a potentially huge market army of blue-collar workers. It’s worth noting that Sprint shuttered iDEN not because it didn’t work but because it was expensive to keep running an ancient nationwide network for the sake of what Sprint saw as a niche service.

Robbins, who had no comment other than to reiterate that OnBeep is working on communications,  is a volunteer firefighter. Firefighters and EMTs are the sort of first responders who — along with a wide array of factory floor and other workers — often use walkie-talkie type or PTT devices.

So this is a start anyway. I’m looking forward to hearing more details from Robbins on OnBeep later this year.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Cher_Nika

6 Responses to “Secret startup OnBeep aims to fill push-to-talk void”

  1. Carlos Romero

    You guys should check out another ham named Steve Calabrese KJ4MDZ and his company, Critical RF ( he has been designing and building these exact technologies for 13yrs with about $1M in sales a year and sounds like he might be able to help OnBeep find market traction.

  2. Eduardo Jezierski

    Congrats Jesse! Have you been in touch with Ray Ozzie? Talko seemed sweet last time I saw a demo.
    @Bill – a PTT platform that can span and mobiles, desktop (and heck why not HAM etc) would be super useful. I am a HAM myself but I have a distributed team, and working partly in crisis response, this is a gap in the overall offerings of tech available today that can greatly assist real time collaboration.
    I worked with a team to measure which collaboration technologies got chosen when and why – and it seemed that the ‘activation energy’ was always the first barrier. We even kept skype sessions open for hours on end in the background when in crunch time. With PTT designed in a good way for mobile networks; and with good ‘group’ and ‘direct’ features you could add a lot.
    Of course a common concern is barrier to entry of the big players – seems like a cool feature for Google Hangouts; and something easy for Skype to do (but their execution seems so spotty lately that maybe nothing is easy for Skype to do anymore)

  3. I’ve got a PTT rig here, it’s a Ham Radio handy-talkie. Of course, you need a license, but that’s not so hard, and there’s no monthly subscription fee and just tons of frequencies.