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June 1, 2016updated 30 Aug 2016 5:28pm

SOLARIN: How a mobile security startup is taking on BlackBerry in the business market

Analysis: Is SOLARIN the most secure smartphone ever?

By Alexander Sword

Imagine a smartphone designed specifically for business leaders, entrepreneurs and partners in financial firms – what would it look like?

This is the question that start up SIRIN LABS set out to answer as it embarked on a path that would lead them to the launch of their first product, SOLARIN, on 31 May, a smartphone that it claims is the most secure ever.

The three founders Moshe Hogeg, Kenes Rakishev and Tal Cohen, now President, Chairman and CEO respectively, were apparently inspired to form the company after a high-profile phone hack led them to question why the kind of secure device they wanted was not available.

Two and a half years and $72 million of funding later and the founders claim that they have built such a device.

"The most important computer these days is the smartphone," said President Moshe Hogeg, at the launch event for the device.

"When we look at the different assets we have as human beings, it’s funny. If you have a lot of money you put in the bank, if you have jewellery you put it in a safe.

"But the most important asset today is information. It’s our privacy. It is frightening to see how exposed our privacy is."

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Attendants from Zimperium, which provided software used in SOLARIN, went on to demonstrate a hack, taking a picture from a smartphone that had earlier been given to guest Rachel Riley, of Countdown fame.

So what exactly is new about SOLARIN? Security has of course been the watchword of many a technology company, not least BlackBerry, whose handsets are now in direct competition with SOLARIN.

To build the product, the company directly interviewed its target market, trying to work out what kind of device business leaders wanted. It hammered out some key concerns, such as not dropping calls, having good call quality and being able to quickly connect to wi-fi.

The main focus of SOLARIN is security. A novel feature of the smartphone is the simple physical switch on the back of the device, which when flipped can transform the device between its normal Android interface and a special secure mode called Security Shield.

In the normal mode, the phone’s interface is much like any other, with the ability to download apps and browse the web. However, when secured, the user effectively works within a containerised environment.

The user has secure calls and messaging, with hardware-based, encrypted Voice over IP calls and messages. Email is encrypted end-to-end, powered by ProtonMail, which uses a combination of public key cryptography and symmetric encryption protocols.
Customers will also have access to SIRIN LABS’s real-time security team.


Co-founder Moshe Hagog

However, there are many mobile security solutions out there, not all of them in hardware. For example, many people use mobile device management software on conventional consumer devices, or BlackBerry handsets.

SOLARIN differs from other handsets though in offering extremely high specifications.

It has a 5.5" screen, with Quad-HD display and high brightness. The camera is 24 megapixels. The speakers, microphone and design are all of high quality as well, with a fast-charging, high capacity battery.

Addressing one of the complaints from its interviews, it also has 24 LTE bands and uses 2×2 MIMO technology to offer higher bandwidth when on wi-fi.

SOLARIN, then, doesn’t want to just be the most secure phone but the most powerful. The device is easily up there with iPhones in terms of performance.

BlackBerry, designed for the same security-conscious market, cannot really compete with the specifications.

SOLARIN also uses the Android operating system, giving users access to a user-friendly experience and the applications that they are used to.

However, this comes at a cost; another novelty of the device is the price tag. The company website makes it clear that this is a device targeting the "international elite", saying that "extraordinary people should not be restricted to ordinary devices."

At the launch event, the founders made clear that they simply did not consider price as an issue, simply trying to build the best device possible regardless of cost.

This is reflected by the fact that the most basic models will cost at least £9500. BlackBerry devices by contrast are priced in the hundreds, as are Apple devices and most premium Android devices.

These other companies also already have the other benefit of brand recognition.

Time will tell if there is a market for such an expensive device. If SIRIN LABS can establish SOLARIN as a luxury brand rather than just a secure device for business, then there may well be a lucrative market for it.

But for the time being at least, other device vendors shouldn’t be too worried about losing customers.

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