The tiny lab lets product developers test out how their devices or apps will work in different situations, such as strong network signals near a cell tower, weak coverage at the edge of the cell, and even traveling at high speed through a certain type of network, Puranik said. All these can be simulated in the sealed room, using Verizon's regular frequencies, because the signals from Verizon's commercial network can't interfere there, he said.
All this makes mobile development more sophisticated than simply creating technologies with a theoretical mobile network in mind.
The room can also be used for pre-testing new devices in preparation for official certification to run on the Verizon Wireless network. Certification can take four to six weeks, but time in the shielded lab may help vendors get their products closer to the carrier's requirements and speed up the formal process, Puranik said.
The carrier started the Innovation Center to help create an ecosystem that would drive usage of its LTE network, which now carries about 60 percent of Verizon's mobile traffic, according to Verizon Executive Vice President and CTO Tony Melone. About 300 potential partners have engaged with Verizon through the Innovation Centers, more than a dozen resulting products are on the market, and there are more than 100 in the pipeline, he said. The recent expansion in San Francisco doubled the center's size to about 32,000 square feet.
Verizon doesn't charge for its assistance at the Innovation Center, and it doesn't try to acquire a startup's intellectual property or corner an exclusive right to sell the product or have it run only on the Verizon network, Puranik said. Though it wants to get promising new wireless products into its retail stores and other sales channels, startups are free to work with other carriers. The idea is to expand the mobile ecosystem, which should in turn help Verizon.
"We're trying to create a bigger pie," Puranik said.
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