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Surprise! British phone wins Best Product at Mobile World Congress

Rugged mobe wows industry's great and good. Rule Britannia!

MWC16 When’s the last time a British company won Best Product at Mobile World Congress? In fact it was yesterday - but few people realise how British this product actually is.

The rugged CAT S60 phone was one of the most unusual and talked about devices in Barcelona this week, sporting a thermal imaging camera.

Although it’s marketed under the brand of Caterpillar, the global industrial group, it’s actually made by the Bullitt Group, a British manufacturer of high tech rugged gear.

You might not know that, because Bullitt designs for brands. With its phones it’s been able to tap into the Shenzhen economic miracle, with rapid advances in engineering and manufacturing in the Pearl River Delta, home to Huawei and Foxconn, along with much of the supply chain behind today’s mobile technology.

Based in Reading, the Bullitt Group was founded in 2009. Keenly aware that brands can easily slap their badge on anything, but end up with something either nasty or generic, Bullitt set out to do bespoke design that was in keeping with the nature of the brand.

The first product was a rugged phone for JCB. That got in the door with Caterpillar, and the first CAT-branded phone was a rugged smartphone released in 2012. Two years later it released a range of audio gear it had designed for business group Ministry of Sound in 2014. That year Bullitt turned over £50m.

The Audio L multiroom speaker gives you great punchy bass - just what clubbers want at home. Last month it picked up a Design Award. Both CAT and Ministry know who their customers are, and what they might like. Bullitt provides the missing link, sourcing the right parts, and producing a design to order. It has since added Kodak and Ted Baker to its customers.

It was Bullitt who thought that the name Marconi still meant something, and licensed the mothballed brand from owner Ericsson. Ericsson had picked up the IP in a firesale of GEC assets back in 2001. Marconi’s “comeback” device will be a Bullitt-designed DAB radio.

Around a dozen engineers were set to work on the CAT S60, with the goal of being the first smartphone to incorporate thermal imaging, previously the domain of industrial and military uses. The €649 metal-framed smartie has a dedicated FLIR thermal camera, as well as a 13MP underwater proof camera. The device is waterproofed and drop proofed up to 1.8 metres.

We keep hearing British manufacturing is a thing of the past. Far from it; manufacturing generates over £150bn for the UK economy and is over half of our exports. And if you’re smart enough, you can find a winner. ®

Catch up on our MWC16 Coverage.

More on the winning phone here.

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