Guest Post: RatPlug! It started at Telco 2.0 with a USB cable, a HomePlug, and a phone...

We like it when we manage to stimulate innovative new product ideas. Here's one from Jeremy Penston, previously a consultant and now, thanks to a convergence of stimuli at a previous Telco 2.0 event, a consumer electronics entrepreneur. Here Jeremy describes his product, which he demo'd to as many people as he could at the 5th Telco 2.0 Exec Brainstorm last week in London:

I would like to thank the Telco 2.0 team for the opportunity to write this post. Telco 2.0 has been the source of a huge amount of insight and inspiration for me as we have developed the product that I'll describe in this article. The RatPlug addresses the Achilles heel of the mobile ISP - video.

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The RatPlug is an intelligent charger. It acts as an internet access point for your mobile devices, automatically saving and sharing your pictures, downloading YouTube videos and podcasts while you charge the battery of any USB device.

It uses the time that you spend charging the battery to sideload your portable devices. The RatPlug uses powerline communications to connect to your home broadband, and USB to connect to your device. The whole process is automated so the upload and download is started simply by plugging the device in to charge. There is no software required on the device.

When your battery is charged up, so is your memory card. Mobile phones, PSPs, digital cameras, photo frames, MPx players, internet car radios can all interchangeably use one RatPlug because each device is uniquely identified and linked to the user by our service platform. The user is at the centre of our system.

The RatPlug eliminates friction. It gets the files where they need to be - simple as that. We are not going into the content space - that is not our business. We complement devices too, making it easy for users to get stuff to play on them.

Our company, Omniplug Technologies, is a data logistics company. "Data logistics" is one of many Telco 2.0 concepts that we have based our thinking on. We move the fat files from A to B like Martin Geddes' shipping containers analogy from the October 2007 Telco 2.0 event. We deploy intelligence at the edge of the network - an old James Enck concept.

The idea for the RatPlug was the result of the second Telco 2.0 conference in March 2007. At that event we heard two contrasting stories. One described how mobiles were going to have 40GB storage, the other that operators were asking themselves why they should go down the same route that ISPs had pioneered - all you can eat gluttony?

The answer was simply an accident of circumstance - all these conversations going on while I had a Homeplug in my bag, my phone and its USB cable.

The idea was to use the existing broadband networks when they were quiet at night and the device was plugged in to charge. Move the fat files around quietly in the background. Use existing user behaviour. Create something simple, approachable and affordable.

The content we are focused on is what we call disposable media; the sort of stuff that you would like to have, but if you can't get easily or have to pay for, you won't bother - the sort of stuff that is out of date if it is more than a few days old. If you produce or are trying to distribute such media, you will already know that getting it to mobile users is full of friction. Why spend 90 seconds downloading a video that only lasts 5 minutes?

We aim to give the user stuff to fill the snippets of free time that we all have as individuals - waiting for the train, the bus or for your friends to show up. "Snippets of free time" was another takeaway from Telco 2.0 - Dawn Nafus of Intel gave a presentation in the 2007 Digital Youth section that was inspirational and has led us to where we are now.

Which is where, exactly?

We have a prototype, we have applied for IP protection and we are showing this to anyone who is interested. We are going to launch it next year.

What we really like about the RatPlug is that it fits so nicely with what everyone else is trying to do.

Being a Telco 2.0, a Web 2.0, a CE Manufacturer 2.0, or a pick your industry 2.0 is all about openness. It is about the link elements in the value chain that tie all the pieces together so that everyone wins. It is about moving data around so that everyone can build the best possible services that customers find really easy to use.

So much of the inspiration for the RatPlug has come from Telco 2.0 that it is only right that we are starting to tell people about it through this blog. Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon.com may just have answered another big question for us in his presentation at last week's event...

If you want to know more about Omniplug or the RatPlug, please contact me: jpenston@omniplug.net