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Interview with Bob Plaschke (Sonim)

Recently Sonim has come up with an all-round protected phone the Sonim XP1, which can endure almost any unfriendly environment. We sat down with Bob Plaschke, the representative of the company to shed some more light on the makers first product and its future.

As chief architect of the company's product and business strategies, Bob Plaschke has brought leadership, vision and passion to Sonim. Before joining Sonim, Bob served as an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Sutter Hill Ventures focusing on wireless investments. Prior to Sutter Hill Ventures, Bob was senior vice president of worldwide client services at InfoSpace, where he was responsible for the implementation of wireless data solutions for the company's worldwide group of carriers. During his tenure, he successfully brought 18 wireless operators online across the globe. Before joining InfoSpace, he was chief financial officer and vice president business development at Prio, a wireless and wireline promotion infrastructure company, which was acquired by InfoSpace in February 2000. Bob also has held management positions with Datacard, McKinsey and Anderson Consulting.

Bob is a member of CTIA Wireless Internet Caucus Leadership Council and, as a respected public speaker, he has appeared on major industry events including CNBC. Bob earned an MBA with honors from the University of Chicago and received his undergraduate degree in computer engineering from Northwestern University.

Mobile-Review (MR) Why does the phone cost so much? This sum of money (approx 400-500 USD) is enough to purchase many other phones including the Nokia 5500 or the Nokia 5140i.

Bob Plaschke (Sonim) The phones are more expensive than average because of the R&D we put in to make the phone very tough, very reliable, and functional for an outdoor worker. For example the phone is rated to be dropped from 1.5m without damage, can be used in temperatures below -30 degrees and still function. Another factor is the size of the phone. Weve made it bigger than the average phone with buttons that are further apart then the average phone so workers in gloves can easily use it. Weve made the battery last longer, put in two speakers rather than one, and added protection (glare and impact) for the LCD Screen.

Supporting that toughness, the XP1 comes with 3 year warranty that allows for the consumer to return it to the shop and get a new phone immediately, no questions asked, no down time for his/her phone. The XP1 comes with a limited lifetime guarantee for the phone housing such that if the phone casing every breaks Sonim will replace the phone, again, no questions asked.

MR Why does the device run on a not very capable Philips platform? In its abilities the Sonim XP1 is in line with budget models launched three years ago. This factor is likely to put many consumers off, saving for enterprise users.

Sonim The Phillips platform was selected because it provides long battery life and has proven to be one of the most reliable software platforms on the market to date. Our customers dont care as much that the phone has an internet browser or a 4 megapixel camera or a mp3 music player, rather they care that they can be tough on it, it wont break and if does, well replace it, no questions asked.

MR Was the functionality limited because of the platform or the point was that the company aimed to emphasize the firmness of the casing?

Sonim The latter, the platform was selected because of performance both battery life and reliability. We then designed a casing that would be

- bigger than an average phone
- larger buttons that an average phone for workers who use gloves
- louder than an average phone. We include two speakers versus the industry average one
- easier to see outside than the average phone
- water and dust resistant

Video, imitating the rain (37,6 mb, avi)

MR Why doesnt the phone utilize the frame that absorbs hits? (I am not sure that the device lacks the frame, but our test proved the fragility of the phone. We dropped the phone on the floor in the office, which left a big crack on it. The phone didnt work, but on the fact of it looked fine)

Sonim The XP1 is the only IP52 phone on the market and as such is rated to be dropped without effect from 1.6 meters. As such its pretty shock resistant based on the rubber which absorbs the impact. Additionally we use a process called underfill (this process used to be done in the past by cell phone manufacturers to make phones more rugged but was cancelled years ago for being too expensive). We have noticed however that the screw holders are prone to crack and thus the phone splitting like youve indicated. Weve just added reinforcements to those screw holders to ensure that the phone is even more resistant to being thrown (vs dropped)

MR Does your company aim at retail networks? If so, how you are going to promote the phone? Better to say, which specifications, advantages are you going to highlight in the campaign?

Sonim We are selling our phones through retailers and as such are signing up retailers through our distributor in Russia, Brightpoint. We know that our phones are the toughest, rugged phones GSM phones in the market and were going to convey this to the consumers in Russia. Were going to encourage them to try the phone out and underscore that we offer an instore replacement so that the user will never have to spend days w/o a phone, which is what happens when you turn in a broken phone from any other manufacturer.

Video,the phone meets firm pavement (25,8 mb, avi)

MR Are you going to produce the software to synchronize the data between PCs and the phone? Now, as far as I see, the phone is unable to synchronize even the phone book and notes.

Sonim Currently the XP1 does not synchronize with a PC for address book and other information. In our conversations with our users, for people who spend the majority of their days outside, this was not a critical feature. We are currently looking into the possibility of adding this feature in next model.

MR How do you estimate the prospect of you phone in different markets?

Sonim We are currently selling the phone in 10 countries and expect to add 10 more to the list in the next month.

MR How much are you interested in the Russian market, are you going to highlight it in any way in your policy?

We believe that the Russian market is one of, if not the largest market, for our phone. There are millions of Russian workers that spend most of their days outside and as such need the XP1. In fact, the first language and keypad produced for the phone besides English was Russian. We have recently received our certification from the Russian government that we can sell the phone, we expect to be in a number of retailers very soon and are now negotiating with two major wireless carriers to have them resell our phones.

MR Thank you for the interview

Sonim Thank you


Artem Lutfullin (artem.lutfullin@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Oleg Kononosov (oleg.kononosov@mobile-review.com)

Published — 23 August 2007

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