Open Garden, Inc. is an American company based in San Francisco, California, that developed a free, closed source mobile application called FireChat that enables peer-to-peer mobile Internet connection sharing with faster and more efficient data transmissions by automatically and actively choosing and switching to the best available network without requiring users to manually sift through available networks to find the best one available. Open Garden supports and promotes open wireless networks and is a member of the Open Wireless Coalition, which was founded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Open Garden, Inc. was co-founded in 2011 by businessman Micha Benoliel, Systems architect Taylor Ongaro, Internet architect Stanislav Shalunov and software developer Greg Hazel in San Francisco, California in the United States. The company's co-founders share similar backgrounds in Internet infrastructure and peer-to-peer technology. In the period between 2004 and 2005, Benoliel was working with Skype, as well as negotiating the deals with European telecommunication companies that provided the fundamentals for Skype In and Skype Out. Ongaro spent much of his career with IBM's Federal Chief Technology Office. Meanwhile, Shalunov has spent much of his career working on Internet infrastructure, in the beginning at Internet2, the US academic network consortium, then at the peer-to-peer filesharing service BitTorrent, where he met Hazel, lead developer of the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent, used by more than 200 million peer-to-peer users worldwide.
Currently, Open Garden is most popular in the United States, followed by India, Mexico, France, Brazil, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Germany. The company is already talking to a number of mobile carriers in a few countries about cooperation and is currently working on raising additional capital.
Kevin Restivo, a senior analyst from International Data Corporation, stated that Open Garden is most likely to be popular among consumers in emerging mobile markets such as Africa, where relatively few people have cell phones, incomes are low, and people are more likely to share their phone service.
Open Garden previously offered a software solution of the same name, a proprietary internet community-based connection sharing software application that shares internet access with other devices using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. When users have no direct Internet connection available within Open Garden's network, the application automatically connects to the Internet through links to other devices such as laptops or mobile phones. When the person whose Internet connection is being shared leaves the network, the application automatically detects and connects to the next best available connection by introducing a way to access the Internet over multiple channels at one time, improving speed and reliability. Such a network is self-healing and self-forming where each of the nodes operates only with local knowledge and together they build a network using a probabilistic distributed algorithm. Because Open Garden’s solution is built on software, rather than on hardware, it requires no operational expenses and minimal capital expenses from mobile operators, compared to alternatives such as femtocells and microcells.
After raising $2 million seed money from a group of leading technology industry angel investors, Open Garden started developing and incorporating roll out multi-hop connectivity and channel bonding into their application, features that have been on the company’s roadmap since it was launched. The new funding team was led by Allan Green, an early investor in Phone.com and Mobileway, David Ulevitch, CEO of OpenDNS, Derek Parham, creator of Google Apps for Business, and Digital Garage, which also invested in Twitter and Path.
As the application is free for download, Open Garden's key people stated that they intend to use a freemium business model, where they plan to obtain revenues from special enterprise-level services for business customers, sponsorships, and advertising. They also said they aim for a freemium model with extra features like VPN access for business users.
The application was available for Android devices and Mac.
- Seamless connectivity - This feature enables users to connect any supported device to the mesh and thus to the Internet without any installation, configuration, or pairing. Open Garden uses different physical ways to connect in general, where devices learn about each other in a variety of ways instead of Bluetooth discovery, including through a cloud service and using local chatter.
- Channel bonding - Nowadays, users access the Internet using only one path. Open Garden introduced a way to access the Internet over multiple paths at once, thus improving speed and reliability.
- Automatic path choice - Once connected, devices find a path to the Internet also completely automatically. If a path fails, a new one will be chosen and, if necessary, new connections will be established with other devices.
- Multi-hop - When there is no direct Internet connection, devices will access the Internet through chains of other devices. Again, if necessary, network chains will grow to reach the Internet connection.
Awards and recognitions
Open Garden and its product were introduced on October 11, 2011 at the Android Open 2011, where they won the Startup Showcase Award. On May 26, 2012, Open Garden won the Most Innovative Startup Award at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference 2012. Toward the end of Conference, one of the judges, venture capitalist Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures, said that Open Garden was his favorite all along, stating that what the company does is the most worthy of the conference name - Disrupt. The following year, on October 23, 2013, Open Garden won the G-Startup Award at the Global Mobile Innovator's Conference. In 2015, it won SXSW's Innovation Award, and Financial Times' Boldness in Business Award.
From the beginning, mobile carriers have been afraid of losing revenue they might obtain from mobile Internet users.
AT&T, one such carrier, requested that Google Play block its customers access to Open Garden. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel stated that Open Garden violates company policies by enabling unauthorized tethering and mobile connection sharing.
Open Garden's founder and CEO, Micha Benoliel, stated that his company does not do anything illegal. The block remains in force as of January 2014 but can be circumvented by sideloading of the APK made available on Open Garden's mobile website.