The guys behind the Silicon Valley startup Naratte have been creating buzz with an inaudible signal that gives application developers the benefits of Near Field Communication (NFC) using the simple speaker and microphone found in mobile devices. Pitched at a frequency commonly used by dolphins, frogs, and other animals, the signal is inaudible to humans. Naratte co-founder and CEO Brett Paulson calls the ultrasonic technology "Zoosh."
Paulson says developers can embed the software into applications from payment processing to coupon distribution. The inaudible signal, emitted through the audio system in a smartphone or comparable device, creates a wireless connection to process a near-field transaction. No chips or silicon are required. The co-founders, who have backgrounds in wireless and audio technologies, have devised a means to encode 1s and 0s in the audio stream. The microphone on the other end receives and processes the sound waves through the software.
Not many people think about sending a wireless transaction through audio, but this software enables digital signal processing on the phone. Until recently that hasn't been possible. Three technology advances had to occur: ability for signals to transmit above the audible range, smartphones turned into media players pushing higher-quality sound, and better microphones to accommodate speech recognition.
Naratte engineers developed a security protocol to protect data transmissions simultaneously with the technology that transmits the communication. The software controls and restricts the distance the signal can travel. Each transaction has a unique and perishable ID, so encryption and other techniques ensure the data can't be replayed or relayed to another source.
Paulson says it's not intended as a replacement for the NFC technology in Google Wallet. Nor is it meant to disrupt the traction made by NXP Semiconductors N.V. (Nasdaq: NXPI), Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), and other NFC Forum member companies. He calls the software a "bridge" to NFC adoption. "NFC is still coming, but every smartphone user in the US will not have a phone with an NFC chip until at least 2015," he says.
Zoosh also provides features not available through NFC technology. For example, a Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) application allows consumer product companies to provide "coupons." An MMS coupon received on a phone can be redeemed in a grocery store at the point of sale. An audio sound might say "Thank you for being a loyal customer, Laurie," as the inaudible signal processes the discount. NFC doesn't allow for MMS messages to connect with audible and inaudible signatures.
Naratte, endorsed by companies such as Pay Pal, Texas Instruments, and Vodafone, offers retail stores a docking station, a $30 gadget, to accommodate tablets or other devices that process these wireless transactions. Many point-of-sale terminals built on Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) platforms already have an audio system and simply need a "$2 piece of plastic" that has a speaker and a microphone, Paulson says. Naratte supports devices running Apple iOS and Google Android operating systems.