The Why and How of Whistle's Wireless
When we set out to build the Whistle Activity Monitor, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to get data off the device and onto their phones, while providing them with access to their pet's information wherever they were. Keeping these priorities in mind, we evaluated a number of options for wireless connectivity.
Step 1: Identify Device Requirements When we first started evaluating how to connect the Whistle device the first step was to clarify how owners want to access data and under which conditions. In other words, when do pet owners want to be updated about their pets?
As we developed the product and our understanding of the market we held focus groups with pet owners. A consistent point of feedback was that many owners are busy, often away from their dogs durring the day and would like more insights into what their dogs do during this time.
As a result of this feedback Whistle decided to target a design that enables the device to wirelessly communicate while dogs are away and with their owners.
Step 2: Explore Options that Address the Requirements
The foremost options that came to mind for connectivity were Bluetooth, Cellular, Wi-Fi and 802.15.4. Our assessment of each was as follows:
Bluetooth did a great job of enabling communication while a pet is with their owner (assuming the owner has their phone nearby) however, alone, Bluetooth didn’t work because this meant our users (and their phones) had to be near the device or had to purchase an additional Bluetooth base station.
Cellular didn’t work because we wanted to offer our users a solution that wasn’t bundled with a monthly carrier fee.
Wi-Fi worked well because this option offered the right balance of connectivity, convenience and cost.
802.15.4 based networks (e.g., ZigBee) offered one of the lowest power options, however, standard users do not have 802.15.4 networks for the device to communicate over and thus would require the user purchase an additional proprietary base station.
It became quickly apparent that to best enable owners to view their dogs’ information while away Wi-Fi was the right choice.
Step 3: Execute the Solution
A key challenge that remains with Wi-Fi is configuring it. As the Whistle Activity Monitor is a small battery powered device; we don’t have a spacious display or a keyboard to input the user’s network name and password.
To address this challenge we identified a few possible solutions:
[Option A ] Plug the device into the computer: User downloads and installs a program and drivers on their computer, plugs the device into their computer and goes through the setup steps.
[Option B] Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS): A method by which a user pushes a button on their router and on their device near the same time and they associate with each other.
- [Option C] Mobile app + Bluetooth: Use the mobile app that users will be using to view their dog's data to also set-up their Whistle device by connecting the two with Bluetooth.
Our assessment of the option is as follows:
[Option A] Plugging the device into the computer was a far from ideal and fairly outdated solution. Users don't like downloading and install programs and drivers.
[Option B] WPS is theoretically a terrific solution and there are devices out there that have nailed this. The challenge with WPS is there are still many routers that do not support WPS and instructing users to find their router, much less find the right button, was not the experience we wanted to create.
[Option C] Bluetooth, on the other hand, is a common and familiar feature for those of us with smartphones. It also enables the Whistle device to send data to our servers whenever the dog is with its owner but away from Wi-Fi (e.g. while taking a dog for a walk).
The choice was clear, Bluetooth provided the best method for configuring the Wi-Fi network.
We're excited to be the first to employ this simple method to configure a Wi-Fi device (patent pending). With this comes an industry known RF challenge: getting Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to play well together as both of them in the 2.4 GHz RF band (Wi-Fi @ 2412-2462 MHz and Bluetooth @ 2400–2483.5 MHz). But that's a topic reserved for a future blog post...
We think we have a great wireless solution that is the perfect combination of ease of use and coverage in what, as far as we know, is the smallest device to have the two. We hope that you, our fellow pet owners, enjoy the benefits these features bring you.
May 13, 2013