Provo-based MULTIVOICE receives $5 million in funding for radio that could save lives

By Rebecca Lane from UtahValley360 PROVO — Provo-based MULTIVOICE is changing the face of radio interaction with it’s new Wireless Mesh-Network Intercom, and now they will be able to take it further with its new investor OTTO Engineering, who announced their contribution of a $5 million round of strategic seed funding Wednesday morning. “As a leader in the design and manufacture of critical communications accessories, OTTO has been searching for a cutting-edge solution for local team-talk or ‘wireless intercom,’” said Tom Schreiber, general manager of OTTO, in a press release. “When we saw the advancements MULTIVOICE had made that bring new capabilities to the wireless industry, we knew we wanted to do everything we could to support their efforts. We’re very pleased to now be a part of Team MULTIVOICE and to help take MULTIVOICE’s technology throughout the world.” In exchange for its investment, Chicago-based OTTO receives a minority stake in MULTIVOICE at a post-money valuation of $25 million. OTTO, which specializes in designing and manufacturing radio accessories for military, public safety and industrial use, will help raise awareness of MULTIVOICE’s new wireless communications platform. MULTIVOICE has been in “stealth mode” since it was founded in 2011, but now with the new funding, MULTIVOICE is able to break deeper into the technology market. MULTIVOICE intends to use the funding for research and development efforts, expanded sales and marketing programs, and general operations.

In the beginning

Ron Fraser had spent 30 years designing and developing wireless communications for companies such as Texas Instruments, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Porta Phone and more. In 2011, Fraser wanted to take a risk by venturing out on his own to develop technology that would make a difference for the criminal justice system. So Fraser came up with an idea to change the push-to-talk (PPT) radio — an industry that hadn’t changed in nearly 60 years. Fraser began to research by learning what problems businesses face with PPT radios. After a crowd stormed the field at a BYU football game, Fraser hung around after the crowd dispersed to talk to the officer managing the chaos. When Fraser asked the officer how he communicated with fellow officers while they are busy controlling a crowd, the officer answered, “We don’t.” This disconcerting answer motivated Fraser to find a way to make radios hands-free. “There is no way for them to push a button — it is so loud — and talk through their microphone which is on their chest and be able to communicate,” Fraser said. Fraser worked to develop the technology, got feedback from demonstrations and eventually brought on MULTIVOICE’s other co-founders Todd Rapier and David Politis.

What makes it different

The 10.9-ounce radio can reach up to a 4000 ft. range (greater distances possible with upgrades) and seeks to fulfill the company’s slogan, “BE HEARD”. Fraser was able to invent a hands-free radio where people don’t have to hit the button in order to talk — but that isn’t all that he invented. Whereas most radios only allow one person to talk at a time, Fraser found a way to allow eight people to talk (or be part of the conversation) at one time and have up to 20 more people listening in. Not only that, but Fraser invented Whisper Technology, where people listening over the radio can clearly understand everything you whisper. “You could be sitting three feet away from me and could not here me whisper and yet everyone can hear me (on the radio),” Fraser said. The headset, by OTTO, protects the ears and eliminates the sounds, but allows for conversations to still be held. The co-founders tested this at a shooting range where they held a conversation while shooting machine guns, shotguns and handguns. “Normally when you are shooting a gun, you don’t want to be talking because the gunshot sound will blast over the system,” Fraser said. “But with this you can shoot a gun and talk at the same time, so it actually takes out the gunshot.” Another difference Fraser developed in the radio is through eliminating the base station. Instead the system uses Spread Spectrum Frequency Hopping where the network switches frequencies every 30 milliseconds, making it relatively impossible to jam. “Even if someone was trying to … eavesdrop, they would have to know the exact pattern of the frequency changes to be able to listen in,” Politis said. “And if bad guys are trying to zone in on your radio signal, they can’t do it.”

Where it will make a difference

All of these technology changes add up to what MULTIVOICE’s co-founders say will save lives. “Any time you’re involved in an endeavor that potentially changes the way people are able to behave and interact, it’s an exciting proposition,” Rapier said. “We’re talking about individuals who otherwise are doing their job, but are not able to interact with the group, that are now able to validate and be heard in the group.” Politis even believes it would have been a different game for the Navy SEAL in killing Osama bin Laden if MULTIVOICE’s technology would have been around. Before troops invaded bin Laden’s camp, the team had to train for six months in a replica of bin Laden’s compound. They trained because once they were in the mission they could only communicate through hand gestures. “We think that if they would have had our technology they could have shortened that at least by half,” Politis said. “It would have changed the way they could have gone in.”

Where it’s used

Currently, MULTIVOICE’s radios are being used in coaching for high school and college football games, the military, industrial/manufacturing settings and public safety. They even had their first police department purchase the radios. As Fraser figured out the solutions to radio issues, he realized that the radio could be used for many regular-Joe activities including skiing/snowboarding, paintballing, motorcycling, hunting and more. However, they haven’t quite developed the simple technology necessary, but that is in the works. And MULTIVOICE has plans to continue solving the “Can you hear me now?” questions in the future.