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July 20, 2011

Appstravaganza. Interview with Tom Ojala, Joikuspot

GLOBAL – Tom Ojala is CEO and co-founder of Joiku, based in Finland. Its primary consumer product is JoikuSpot, a software utility that shares your 3G data signal with other devices using WiFi (‘commonly referred to these days as ‘tethering’). Joiku also works with networks and manufacturers to integrate its technology and products into their offerings.

Tom, how did you get the idea for JoikuSpot? What did it develop from?

I returned to Finland from Nokia USA (Dallas) back in 2007, after ten years of working at Nokia (dealing with software innovations on S60 and S40), wanting to explore some innovations of my own on top of the Nokia ecosystem. On getting back, I met a very innovative young software engineer, Lasse Mäki, who had an idea back in 2007: why couldn’t a mobile phone serve as a base station for WLAN (Wi-fi)? After all, phones do have 3G and also WLAN, so why couldn’t we connect the two? I thought it was well worth setting up a company for and I set up Joikusoft Inc., which we now operate in Finland and Silicon Valley.

Lasse and I built the application and launched a working product on Nokia phones at 3GSM/2008, the first in the world, well before MiFis and USB modems were invented. People loved the thing and in just a couple of weeks we gained more than 10,000 users, simply by launching a free JoikuSpot ‘Light’ version of our product, via social media, for Nokia phones at the time. Nowadays, millions of users use JoikuSpot for basic WiFi tethering, and in fact this has become a “norm” for smartphones.

By the way, the Joiku brand comes from Finnish mythologies, it stands for ancient shamans communicating over a long distance via a sort of “yodelling”.

How long has it taken to create so far, in man hours? Thousands?

The effort has been huge. We have spent more than 2 million euros over the last 4 years to build a product that actually works (we were a pioneer in this area, and others have replicated the idea already, as we see in the market). The largest investments relate to phone algorithms preserving the phone battery life and stability and security of the internet connection. But, as a result, our product beats every single USB Modem in the world for internet connectivity performance, and it preserves the phone battery life even when the WLAN connection and 3G are in active use.

What have been the hardest and easiest parts of development? Any major roadblocks you’ve had to overcome?

Well, we are not talking about “just another app” on the phone. We are talking about a solution that integrates into the deepest possible level in the phone OS and has to make use of protocols such as the full internet protocol stack, VPN, 3G and WLAN, and in a transitioning context from a cellular coverage point of view. And taking care of the impact to the phone battery. The easiest part has been the UI (one click to turn a phone to a WiFi HotSpot), the hardest part has been the maintenance functions, i.e. how to make sure that JoikuSpot works on every single phone that comes with Symbian, including the firmware updates that come up all the time…

Roadblocks? Yep, Google, Apple, Samsung and RIM didn’t allow us to port JoikuSpot to their platform. They said it was impossible for them to grant a small company like ours access to their OS platform for security reasons. Very annoying: both for us and for potential customers.

What are the tools you’ve used? i.e. What language and/or toolkit do you write in?

We primarily “go native” and “hands on” with the OS. This means hard coding Symbian C++ or Maemo/Meego Linux OS code. We use Qt for the UI, but the biggest part of the product is native code that is well below what (e.g.) Qt has to offer.

How do you test JoikuSpot as it develops?

In our product release testing we follow the ISO standards and complete more than 300 test cases before releasing each new version. And we listen to our users. Joiku PRO-care was recently voted best customer service in the world for mobile software.

How has JoikuSpot evolved since your first versions – why and how?

We have simplified the UI into “one-click wifi tethering”. We have worked the performance and connection stability to a level that no other vendors have. We have included CLOUD into the product, enabling operator or vendor specific network access to specific authentication and session measurement. And in the last quarter, we added speed measurement to the app, so users can see what speed they get compared to what their operator promises!

Where next for JoikuSpot? Any major new features coming up?

More social media stuff for promotion, even better battery life protection, more security features, and specifically more speed! See also our JoikuBoost product that combines network bandwidths into a single WLAN pipeline.

Also, JoikuSpot Premium will ship now pre-integrated in the new Nokia E6 Symbian Anna phone, and we are working with Nokia to develop a custom-made WiFi HotSpot for the Nokia Meego platform, to ship in the N9 product.

What’s your #1 tip (or tips) for someone wanting to get started in mobile app development?

Go for it! And while you go, remember to preserve your intellectual property/innovation (if you have a great idea, it will be copied anyway)! Spend as much money on business development as you do for R&D, as business happens via contacts and even the greatest technologies don’t fly unless you have the right channel. Make your product unique, and brand it in a way that it stands out!

Thanks, Tom!

JoikuSpot are on Twitter, Facebook and their website.