High-security luxury smartphone launched for global elite

Daniel Thomas
High-security luxury smartphone selling for $14K

A luxury smartphone that offers military grade security and high level cyber protection for the "international elite" has been launched by Israeli and Kazakh investors.

The Solarin range of phones will cost at least £9,500 ($13,765) for the most basic models, which puts it into a similar range to other high-end smartphone brands such as Vertu. But the devices claim to offer greater privacy and threat protection software.

The company behind the phones, Sirin Labs, raised $72 million in seed funding to launch its first phone range, which has been in development for more than two years.

The phone will be launched next month from the UK, alongside a flagship store in Mayfair in London.

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Moshe Hogeg, an Israeli venture capitalist who founded the company, said that its device would be very different from "jewelry" phones, with a focus on quality of the hardware and the technology behind its security.

Sirin was founded by Mr Hogeg, Kazakh businessman Kenges Rakishev, and Tal Cohen, a former McKinsey consultant. Additional investment was raised from RenRen, a Chinese internet services company.

The company said that the phone would appeal to international business people who carry a lot of sensitive information.

The device features a mobile threat protection that claims to address mobile cyber attacks, as well as privacy technology that it says is "currently unavailable outside the agency world".

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The KoolSpan chip-to-chip 256-bit AES encryption system is used by the military to protect communications, said Sirin, and is activated by a security switch on the back of the handset. This "shielded mode" allows encrypted calls and messages.

Mr Cohen said: "Cyber attacks are endemic across the globe. This trend is on the increase. Just one attack can severely harm reputations and finances."

He added that that the potential market was in the tens of millions of people, given the size of global smartphone sales.

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"It's not a bling phone. It's a discreet phone for business people," he said. "All companies have a small group of executives with highly sensitive information. Add to that hedge fund managers, traders and so on.. and also high-profile people [such as celebrities]."

Mr Cohen said that the company was looking at other products such as tablets.

There are already smartphones that claim to protect privacy, such as the Blackphone which uses a modified version of Google's Android operating software with a bundle of security tools.

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The Solarin range has an additional focus in luxury design, however. The phone uses the Android operating system, a 23.8-megapixel camera and 2k resolution screen. The metal and titanium phone uses Gorilla Glass to protect a curved display screen and camera lens, with a leather back panel.

"Exceptional audio and vision capabilities feature highly on our target audience's wish list," said Mr Cohen.

Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight, said that the global market for ultra-expensive smartphones was relatively small.

"In a global market where 1.5 billion smartphones will be sold this year there is always going to be a 'long tail' opportunity to sell a very exclusive device," he said. "However as Vertu has found, the allure of the iPhone continues to draw even the most affluent users limiting the market opportunity."

Mr Wood added that the security software might provide a bigger draw, however. "There appears to be a small number of users who will pay a significant premium for a very secure smartphone — however even with encryption and other security measures there will always be digital footprint left by a user."

The phone's design team was led by Fredrik Oijer, a former product director of Sony Mobile, in Tel Aviv and Sweden, while sales and marketing for the phone is handled in the UK.