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Young Enterprise Challenge

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Earlier this week I was lucky enough to visit The Charter School in Southwark, London along with my fellow Lab colleague Fahran to judge their Young Enterprise Challenge. The Young Enterprise Challenge is now in it’s second year at the school and tasks year 7 students to design an app to fulfil a problem set by a real organisation.

This year three challenges were set, one by us at O2 which challenged the pupils to design an app to advertise a new device to our customers and to help them understand all of the great benefits the device could give them. The other two challenges were set by businesses local to the school, one to advertise the services provided by a local therapy centre and another to provide information about the local area. The challenges were set around 10 weeks prior to our visit and were undertaken by all year 7 students during their IT classes.

Upon our arrival the students were in their weekly assembly and were ready to begin presenting their apps to myself and Fahran along with the other organisations involved. We had the chance to listen to presentations from nine teams and also ask them questions and it’s fair to say that we were blown away by the effort that the students had put into their designs. We were also impressed by the confidence they had shown when presenting in front of strangers, their entire year group and their teachers.

They didn’t just create wireframes and add them to a presentation either, they had created fully functioning apps using AppShed. They included features such as Google Maps integration for directions to the nearest store, contact details to enable direct calls to our customer service teams and links to be able to be able to purchase a device directly from the O2 website.

After the presentations we left the assembly room to determine the winning team…now that was a hard task! Every team deserved to win as they were all fantastic but in the end we did have to pick one team and went back to the assembly room to award them. The winning app had been designed to provide information about the local therapy centre and was packed with features and content. It also had a great UI and the students had clearly thought about UX as they had chosen a relaxing colour theme which really brought the essence of the therapy centre to life.

This whole experience left me feeling inspired. It’s great to see a school that really values technology, IT, computing and business education. As the students progress through school they will begin to learn more about programming starting with Scratch and using tools like App Inventor to program Android applications. By the time these students leave school and enter the world of work they really will be ready for the challenge proposed by a world which is becoming more and more defined by software and technology in general.

Bringing GSM to Electromagnetic Field – Part 2

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EMF is a camping festival that ran over a long weekend from 29th–31st of August this year.

The festival is full of geeks, crafters and technology enthusiasts. Who better to turn up than us here at The Lab!. The site offered a power grid and internet access, so we rocked up with three base stations under our arms

The Lab, along with Geeks of London, Sam Machin and some other great people covered the site with a test GSM layer for attendees of the camping festival. The GSM layer that we are talking about here is a basic 2G coverage that you would expect to have on your normal mobile handsets, provided through one of many Telecommunication operators available. The 2G network usually provides us with voice, text and data. However, as we are were running on a very small scale, we were only going to offer voice and possibly text.

The base stations were provided by range networks that offer multi-protocol IP wireless platforms that enable simplified, lower cost mobile networks.

Turning Up To The EMF Site

It was a nice sunny afternoon on Thursday when I finally made it to the camp site and parked up.

There I found Sam Machin (Ex-Lab member and all round good guy) already on site and plotting out where to set up the 3 large tents that were arriving with Kevin (supplied by O2, thanks guys :D ). When Kevin arrived, we got started setting up our base with the help of Dan Knell.

Next we had to find a data cabinet, where we could secure and run the RangeNetwork base stations.

This was the Data Cabinet :)

As you can see the data cabinet was a porta-loo, which actually worked really well for securing the equipment and for keeping them safe against the elements. Each data cabinet was kitted out with a power feed and network switch.

We managed to feed the antenna cable out of the data cabinet, (thanks to Sam for that), in order to mount the antenna pole to an existing light fixture. Then there was just the matter of networking the base station so that it could talk to our asterisk box inside the main operations centre. We setup another two base stations at other ends of the field in order to provide 99.99% coverage :). All base stations were talking to the same asterisk server in order to register and manage calls.

Running FieldPhone

On the Friday morning we performed a few checks to make sure calls were working ok and then started to get ready to run the shop (our front tent facing the main path, stocked with phones, sims and an example of the RangeNetworks BTS we were using).

The camp site started to get rather busy :).

Technical Part

The fieldphone setup is as below:

We had a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) core built upon Asterisk, OpenBTS was running on the Range base stations that provided the GSM interface. We were also using Twilio for outbound calls to non-field phones as well as incoming calls via the Twilio number. The inbound call to Twilio linked to an IVR that requested an extension number to enable routing the call to the correct field phone handset. The GSM network provided was 2G and is a development network built upon OpenBTS. We operated it on 1800mhz at 100mw.

Over the Weekend we had around 100 EMF users on our GSM network and making calls. It was great to see so many people interested in the technology and popping over to our village to find out more. Most people who visited us left with a SIM that they inserted into their spare handset (this had to be an unlocked device) and were away making calls over field phone!

Bringing GSM to Electromagnetic Field

Over the past year we in the Lab have been playing a lot with OpenBTS including taking our developmental network to Over The Air last year.

Happy Kev

This weekend we will be testing an expanded network to provide the GSM layer of the Field Phone project. We will have three base stations covering the site provided by Range Networks.

You can find out more about the project at the fieldphone site.

EMF runs August 29th–31st at Bletchley Park, tickets are still available.

Up The Down Staircase – Testing With Users

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In our office, we have a lovely spiral staircase. It is a beautiful and practical feature – it’s also healthier than taking the lift every day!

But there’s a problem. Other people. When I’m walking up, I’ll quite often find someone coming down on the same side as me. We then have to do that awkward shuffle thing where we both try to swap sides at the same time.

Well, The Lab are here to find “quick wins” for common problems. So we decided to stick these signs up.



We didn’t sit in loads of committees, or have endless planning meetings. JFDI my friends, JFDI!

There are, of course, limits to the idea that we should “move fast, break things.”

At the very least, you need to do a quick sanity check with other people – preferably those outside of your team.

We put three different messages on the posters we stuck up:

  • Always test with real users.
  • Are you taking the same journey as our customers?
  • What’s the overall experience?

These aren’t the only things to consider. But they’re a great first step to making sure your quick-fix doesn’t cause more problems than it solves.