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Canary Wireless

It is the era of being unplugged, and Canary Wireless is determined to help people cut those cords by finding Wi-Fi spots with more ease.

It’s the era of being unplugged, and Chicago-based Canary Wireless is determined to help people cut those cords by finding Wi-Fi spots with more ease. Co-founder Benjamin Kern talks about booting up, war-driving, and feeling positively 007.

How did Canary Wireless get started?

I’ve been a Wi-Fi fan for a number of years. In the Moline, IL airport in January, 2003, I booted up my laptop and scanned for wireless networks, only to find that no networks were available. After spending five or ten minutes in the process of booting up, scanning for networks and powering down, I realized that there had to be an easier way to determine whether a useable Wi-Fi network was available. The idea stuck in my head, and an engineer friend directed me to Delta Mobile Software, a group of experienced former Motorola RF and IC engineers led by Boon Meksavan.

Ultimately, Boon and I teamed up and formed Canary Wireless to develop and market a Wi-Fi detection product. We got some friends and family funding, and ultimately developed a product that exceeded our expectations.

Why do you feel there’s a need for what you provide?

I’ve seen statistics indicating that 90 percent of the laptops sold this year have Wi-Fi functionality built in. Business travelers, students, and consumers are getting used to having broadband access at home and in the office, and naturally want to be able to have this kind of access while they’re on a trip, visiting relatives, or any other time that they are away from the home or office. Canary Wireless offers the only convenient and inexpensive way to find useable Wi-Fi connections. It’s also a great tool for helping set up or troubleshoot home or office networks, and for auditing network security.

Even non-Wi-Fi users who try the device quickly understand the attraction of war-driving, or finding and identifying wireless networks. I’ve heard from a number of people that the device makes them feel like James Bond. There are lots of interesting things to learn about the widespread nature of Wi-Fi and the creativity of the people who use it.

Your background is in law. What made you decide to movefrom being a technology-focused attorney into actually creating technology?

I’ve always enjoyed helping clients pursue new business ideas. One of the main reasons I wanted to pursue this opportunity was to really understand what the process is like from the other side. Mechanically, much of what I’m doing is the same as what I’ve been doing for years. But I’m developing a much deeper understanding of the pressures involved in working with investors’ money, being first to market, and anticipating competition. Most lawyers don’t have the opportunity to develop a visceral understanding of the pressures their clients face. I enjoy aspects of both roles.

What kind of challenges is the company facing as it gets the word out about the Digital Hotspotter?

We are introducing a new type of product into the marketplace without an enormous marketing budget. The device is easy to understand if you’re a Wi-Fi user, but much of the general public would benefit from a bit more education about the product.

What do you like best about what you do?

It’s really great to see the product move from a concept to a tangible device Everyone has ideas they’d like to see turned into products. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to see the device actually make it to market.

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