Wireless and mobile companies worth watching

From IT management services to Apple iPhone apps, mobile vendors are targeting enterprise users with some unique offerings

We took a look at wireless and mobile companies whose product innovation and ambition reflect the mobile industry ferment, which is being expressed in all kinds of products from IT management services to unique Apple iPhone applications. These companies are trying to enable better mobile e-commerce and empower business class mobile users.

Company name: Apperian  

Founded: January 2009

Location: Boston

What it offers: Apperian offers the ability to make the Apple iPhone a true extension of the enterprise network and data. Apperian does consulting, application development and is creating a set of enterprise application frameworks for mobilizing secure enterprise data, e-commerce and intranets as iPhone applications.

Why it's worth watching: Created by Apple iPhone veterans, Apperian is entirely focused on enterprise-class mobile applications for the iPhone. Its application frameworks promise to provide much needed middleware to support mobile e-commerce and services for enterprise iPhones.

How the company got its start: A group of Apple employees had been involved in building applications for early enterprise customers, but it wasn't a business Apple would invest in. The group decided to split off and create their own company.

How the company got its name: "App" from, well, app. "Ian" means "belonging to, coming from, being involved in, or being like something" but it's also intended to echo "sapien" as in "homo sapien" (literally knowing man or wise man).

CEO and background: Chuck Goldman spent eight years at Apple as director of field engineering and professional services, helping enterprise customers integrate Macs and iPhones. Previously, he founded Interactive Media Solutions, which created online recruiting tools for colleges and universities.

Funding: Apperian received $200,000 in founder and angel funding, and in July closed a $1 million round of venture capital led by CommonAngels, a group of private investors and limited partners in two co-investment funds. 

Who uses the product: Apperian has had several engagements, developing iPhone applications for American Greetings, DuPont and Timberland among others.

Slideshow: Good and wicked cool wireless and mobile companies to watch

Company name: Glide Health 

Founded: September 2009 launch

Location: New York City

What it offers: Mobile device access to electronic medical records, for both doctors and nurses and for patients. A subscription-based cloud service pulls data from third-party EMR systems, and reformats it on the fly for a plethora of mobile devices, operating systems, browser and displays.

Why it's worth watching: Glide Health offers healthcare practices of all sizes a cost-effective way to access existing medical data at patient bedsides or their homes. It leverages location data, auto-fill forms and other features to create a simplified workflow for highly mobile workers using a wide range of client devices.

How the company got its start: Glide Health is a spinoff from TransMedia, which had created Glide OS, a cloud-based software layer to interface back-end databases and applications with a multi-vendor swarm of handhelds. TransMedia identified healthcare as a hot market for this approach.

How the company got its name: The name, from the underlying software, is intended to suggest the "effortless data transfer between platforms."

Company name: Mavenir Systems  

Founded: October 2005, but changed emphasis, and with venture capital funding in late 2008, introduced in February 2009 a mobile carrier platform for what it calls converged IP-based voice and messaging.

Location: Richardson, Texas

What it offers: Mavenir created a set of application servers for voice and messaging, which plug into the existing network cores of mobile operators. The servers let operators deploy enhanced versions of these cash-cow services to their subscribers, for both legacy 2G phones as well as new IP-based devices of all types, over a range of wireless access networks. These "Lego block" modules on Mavenir's mOne hardware/software platform work with existing mobile switches, control systems, third-party systems, subscriber billing servers and new IP-based cores.

Why it's worth watching: Regardless of their wireless access or the evolution of their core network, mobile operators can use Mavenir's application servers to quickly deploy new generation services -- Mobile VoIP and increased SMS capacity coupled with instant messaging, presence and even a "social network gateway" -- to a wider range of subscriber devices. And the entire infrastructure carries forward as operators shift to IP at the core. The company's unnamed Tier 1 operator in the United States plans to use the Mavenir platform to create a "connected home" service: as an add-on to their mobile plan, subscribers will be able to talk and message between any mobile phone and PC or a special home "hub."

How the company got its name: Originally, Mavenir formed in expectation of a fast industry migration to a new IP MultiMedia System (IMS) core networks. The company planned to create an "adapter" to let legacy devices work with the new infrastructure. When the IMS move stalled, Mavenir shifted focus to enable delivery of new services over existing networks.

How the company got its name:  M for mobile, "avenir" in French means "future" -- the future of mobile.

CEO and background: Pardeep Kohli, formerly co-founder of Spatial Wireless, a software-based mobile switch vendor that was bought in 2004 by Alcatel, where he worked as senior vice president of the mobile next-generation network business. At the former PacBell, he was part of the network implementation team for the first big GSM network in the United States.

Funding: Someone likes this company -- in the depths of the financial crisis last December, Mavenir raised $17.5 million in a third round of financing. So far: $51 million raised since its October 2005 founding.

Who uses the product: Four operators, two of them announced: Wisconsin-based Cellcom and Viettel Telecom in Vietnam; the other two are "Tier 1 operators in the U.S. and Europe."

Company name: MeLLmo  

Founded: 2008, decloaked and announced availability of it product May 2009.

Location: San Diego 

What it offers: MeLLmo's Roambi server software will suck in an Excel spreadsheet, a Crystal Reports file or other data, and then format it to visualize the data according to four interactive, customizable, prefabricated views. It then generates this data as a native application that downloads and runs on your Apple iPhone. A special free version, with more limited features, is available at the company Web site.

Why it's worth watching: MeLLmo co-president Quinton Alsbury says viewing a big spreadsheet on a smartphone is like "looking at it through a straw." MeLLmo's Roambi ("rome-bee") software strips out the data and recasts them based on data visualization principles. Instead of seeing raw numbers for quarters of sales data, you can see bar codes that show relative growth or decline, click to see in graph form the trends for one or several sales representatives, and so on. The idea is to let you see the meaning of the data, and do it all on the iPhone.

How the company got its start: The founders saw the iPhone, and the scales fell from their eyes. The problem with handhelds, they say, was not so much accessing corporate data, but rendering it on the device in a form that lets the user derive meaningful insights. The reason: all those business intelligence and data analysis tools were designed for big screens. The iPhone UI showed "there was a real opportunity to use it as a platform to fundamentally change the nature of how people interact with and comprehend data on a mobile device," Alsbury says.

How the company got its name: In stealth mode, the company was going to be called "Roambi" to reflect "roaming" for mobility and "business intelligence" reflecting its target task. But in talks with prospects, the name was so effective in expressing the intent and focus that the founders feared word of their plan would leak out. So the opted for a non-descript name, created when Alsbury asked his 4-year-old son for a suggestion.

CEO and background: No one carries that title. Santiago Becerra is co-founder and chairman, a former management consultant and founder of Infommersion, which released in 2002 the Xcelsius data visualization and dashboarding application. It was bought by SAP in Business Objects in 2005, and in turn by SAP. Co-president Alsbury focuses internally on the software user experience and functions, while Co-president Jamie Zuluaga works with partners and clients on the same issues. Both were formerly executives with Business Intelligence Studio, a consulting firm focused on data visualization and dashboards.

Funding: $10 million to date from founders and unnamed angel investors.

Who uses the product: No announced customers but the software is being deployed with "two very large and high-profile companies."

Company name: MobileIron

Founded: July 2007, decloaked and announced product August 2009

Location: Sunnyvale, Calif. 

What it offers: With the MobileIron Virtual Smartphone Platform, agent code on the enterprise smartphone talks to the server, which creates and stores a phone clone: a mirror image of the device's content, activities and applications, such as locally stored files and dropped voice calls. Via the clone, the IT department has complete visibility into the mobile device and its data, analogous to the visibility into a desktop computer on the corporate LAN. There are two service packs: IT management services, dealing with device and application management, and mobile activity intelligence, a kind of data mining and analysis for improving service quality and cost management.

Why it's worth watching: Because enterprise smartphones are worth watching, and watching over. Megabytes of corporate data are in handsets and SD cards, with no central understanding or control of what's out there. Through a set of detailed reports, IT departments can identify cost controls, optimize service quality for users and control application downloads.

How the company got its start: Founders Ajay Mishra (a co-founder of  wireless LAN vendor Airespace) and Suresh Batchu concluded that the growing number of smartphones with masses of corporate data posed new challenges that IT departments lacked tools to address. The MobileIron software was designed to let IT see and control that data, along with mobile usage.

How the company got its name: The name is intended to suggest a strong framework and foundation for enterprise mobility.

CEO and background: Bob Tinker, also president, previously worked at Cisco, where he headed business development for the company's wireless business unit. He joined the company from Airespace, which Cisco bought in 2005.

Funding: In August, MobileIron closed a second round of funding, adding $11 million from venture capital backers, bringing  the total to $19.8 million.

Who uses the product: Announced customers are Fenwick & West, a technology and life science law firm; and Windsor Foods, a southern California retail chain.

Company name: Pixtronix

Founded: Pixtronix was founded in 2005 and introduced in October 2008 its breakthrough low-power, high-quality display technology for mobile devices.

Location: Andover, Mass.

What it offers: Though its screens can be built with existing LCD manufacturing systems, the PerfectLight Display discards multiple LCD components and layers by introducing a radically simpler means to control light: a tiny, electro-mechanical shutter, one per pixel, that opens and closes in software-controlled sequences.

Why it's worth watching: Deceptively simple in concept, the MEMS shutter has a wide-ranging impact on many elements in the display and its ability to be manufactured. PerfectLight passes through 60% to 80% of the light from the backlit display, compared with 5% to 8% with today's LCD technology, says Mark Halfman, vice president of marketing. That translates into a 10-fold optical boost, the vendor claims. You end up with full-speed, no-blur video with 24-bit color, a 170-degree viewing angle and a 75% reduction in power demand. Mobile screens can get bigger, brighter and have higher resolution, yet without sucking the life out of your battery.

How the company got its start: Founder Nesbitt Hagood was considering several technology options to launch a company. The idea for a MEMS-based display garnered very strong positive reaction from prospective customers.

How the company got its name: Hagood created the name from "pixel" and "electronics" even before he had decided on the company's specific product focus.

CEO and background: Anthony Zona, most recently a senior executive with Motorola's fiber-to-the-premises business unit. He landed there after Motorola bought Quantum Bridge Communications, which Zona founded to build fiber access solutions. Nesbitt Hagood, president and COO, is the former founder of Continuum Photonics, creating products for optical telecommunications and testing.

Funding: Series B round of $11 million in August 2009, bringing total investment to $19.8 million.

Who uses the product: No one yet. The company has signed contracts with "multiple display makers" and is transferring the Pixtronix technology to those licensees. The vendor expects production prototypes in 2010, with large-scale introductions in 2011.

Company name: Rhomobile 

Founded: Fall, 2008; released its open source mobile application framework in March 2009.

Location: Cupterino, Calif.

What it offers: A set of components for designing, creating and deploying native applications to a range of different mobile platforms. Rhodes is microframework for designing mobile applications, using HTML to code them. (Underneath is the first mobile implementation of the Ruby object-oriented programming language.) But these are not Web applications: Rhodes generates code to run the application natively on iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian or Android. The company makes its money offering the RhoSync server, which lets these apps synch with any enterprise application that exposes a Web services interface, and RhoHub, a hosted development site.

Why it's worth watching: Mobile development remains a hodgepodge of approaches and tools. Rhomobile lets developers leverage HTML skills, provides the underlying plumbing and code generation to run applications natively on all major mobile OS platforms. With the synchronization component, smartphones become two-participants in the enterprise mobility.

How the company got its start: Founder Adam Blum had managed back-end engineering for Good Technology, where he discovered that 80% of the ongoing engineering was simply ensuring the company's applications would run right on the three  different mobile operating system platforms that Good supported. He was approached for the CEO spot at Aeroprise, but so impressed then-CEO Dan Turchin (now Rhomobile's chairman) with his idea about usable application frameworks that he was asked to turn the idea into a reality.

How the company got its name: Blum admits it’s a "bad pun" on "roamable." But there is a geek component: "rho" is the term in physical coordinate systems for the distance from the center, the implication being that Rhomobile lets mobile users get further from the business center.

CEO and background: Adam Blum, formerly senior director of engineering at Good Technology. He's been a technical executive for several earlier start-ups, including Mobio Systinet and Commerce One.

Funding: An undisclosed amount from vSpring Capital.

Who uses the product: Sample applications created for SugarCRM and Siebel Field Services suites; among other developers. Carry the Day will offer its Trail Guide mobile client for Web-based project management based on Rhodes.

Company name: Sand 9  

Founded: May 2007, announced series A funding of $8 million in July 2009

Location: Boston 

What it offers: A micro-electro-mechanical resonator. Resonators act like clocks, keeping very precise reliable time. In mobile handsets, cellular radios need a highly precise clock to synch with a base station. But today, this is done with a rock: tiny, superthin slices of quartz crystal, which resonate at high, precise frequencies. (Most handsets have a second crystal that keeps the time when the phone is off.) The use of quartz is "older than vacuum tubes" and hasn't changed much in 90 years except now they're grown rather than mined, says Matthew Crowley, Sand 9's vice president of corporate development. Company founder and CTO Raj Mohanty was researching the use of such resonators in his role as a Boston University physics professor. He realized he could create a semiconductor-based micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) that would do everything the quartz slice would do.

Why it's worth watching: Sand 9 claims to be the first venture to achieve very stable frequencies and very low noise, which is a requirement for cellular applications. The MEMS resonator, about one-fifth the size of a grain of rice and thinner than two business cards, can be reliably and repeatedly manufactured, much more affordably and much faster than crystals, using well-understood, mature silicon wafer technology. Eventually, a single chip, one-half the thickness of a single crystal, will have the equivalent function of multiple crystals. Mobile phones will be more reliable, and you'll be able to cram more into them in an even thinner package.

How the company got its start: Mohanty, who was working on venture capital funding for technology spinoffs on behalf of Boston University and others, realized there was a lot of commercial value to such a resonator if it could be built at scale. They collected $2 million in seed money to find out.

How the company got its name:  Sand is a reference to silicon and quartz, and 9 refers to the nine zeroes in "gigahertz".

CEO and background: No CEO -- David Lyons brings executive skills as he's done before at two previous start-ups, PCSI and Silicon Wave. Previously, he served as executive of business units at M/A-Com Linkabit and RF MicroDevices. He has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Funding: $10 million to date.

Who uses the product: No one yet. Sand 9 is a fabless semiconductor company and plans to sell the resonator as a component to equipment makers. Initially it will be pin-compatible with existing designs so it can be quickly adopted.

Company name: Sense Networks  

Founded: 2006; publicly launched June 2008

Location: New York City

What it offers: Algorithms -- the MacoSense software sucks in tons of location data individual mobile devices, via cellular radios, Wi-Fi and GPS. The data can come from the likes of network operators, scrubbed clean of personal information, and from users who opt in. Then, using techniques from machine-learning research, the application analyzes each new data point in the context of billions of others. The result: you quantify aggregate consumer behaviors, and reveal large-scale trends in spending and even "sentiment" in real time. The power of the technology has been on display via Citysense, where BlackBerry and iPhone mobile users opt in and download, revealing the patterns of nightlife activity in San Francisco.

Why it's worth watching: Sense's insight is that wireless signals are the basis of capturing "natural human behavior" and using that to predict what users may or may not like based on the attributes of the groups they fall into. If you spend time hiking and camping, you're likely to be interested in news or promotions on everything from rain gear to ruggedized GPS, or a gathering in your area of kayaking enthusiasts How important is this? Sense's original investors were hedge funds, which were trying to identify real economic spending trends to guide investment strategies. And yes -- Sense execs are aware of the Creepiness Factor: "I think consumers are very willing to trade even the most personal data, if the process is transparent and the data anonymized," says Christine Lemke, COO for Sense. "Grocery store loyalty cards are just the beginning of this."

How the company got its start: Founder Greg Skibiski has always been intrigued by the idea of the kind of data humans generate through everyday behaviors.

How the company got its name: The name reflects what the software does: analyzing information collected from sensors.

CEO and background: Skibiski, also chairman and co-founder. He previously was principal architect for the business development group at BackWeb Technologies, which created mobile infrastructure software. He also oversaw BackWeb integration with Microsoft, IBM and SAP software.

Funding: $10 million to date, including $6 million Series B in June 2009

Who uses the product: Two pilot projects, under nondisclosure deals. One is a carrier, the other a "big mobile Internet company."

Company name: SkyBlox

Founded: Early 2008

Location: Atlanta

What it offers: SkyBlox is a throwback created by several survivors from Earthlink's failed municipal Wi-Fi business: it offers indoor Wi-Fi hotspot services to local businesses to meet the growing demand for Wi-Fi-equipped smartphones. About 70% of SkyBlox non-laptop traffic is from the iPhone. The venue's visitors or customers can jump on a free, open wireless connection at the site, and also see information on the venue, and an updateable list of events and promotions on the site's Web page. SkyBlox intends to create an interconnected cluster of local content from surrounding SkyBlox-enabled locations. It's hyperlocal free Wi-Fi for users, coupled with a private back-end Wi-Fi network for employees, all as a managed-service utility, for $50 per month at each site.

Why it's worth watching: Wi-Fi is rapidly becoming a utility, an expectation or even an assumption for the mobile generation. SkyBlox makes it simple and affordable for a business to deploy it. But it's going further -- instead of focusing on creating Web sites for a pizza place or coffee shop, SkyBlox is helping businesses plug into the trend to localize social networking sites and tools, and exploit capabilities such as SMS. You can set up a site on Yelp and respond (and listen) to what reviewers say; create a business Facebook account; post an event or promotion and invite friends. The company also hopes to become the digital wireless equivalent of a neighborhood newspaper, providing a locus for current, local information  and paid ads, directly relevant to users.

How the company got its start: Founder David Payne and a handful of other Earthlink Wi-Fi veterans left when the company prepared to shut down its Wi-Fi business. Though they considered a move such as buying the outdoor municipal Wi-Fi network in Philadelphia or New Orleans, they concluded that local-focused indoor service for small businesses was a viable model.

How the company got its name: Wi-Fi is the means to an end: creating a virtual guide to the neighborhood "blocks" of a city.

CEO and background: Payne was Earthlink's director of Wi-Fi strategy, and previously its director of corporate development. Previously, he was director of strategic growth at Kosmo.com, an online company founded in 1998 that promised free one-hour delivery of just about everything. Its fate was portrayed in the 2001 documentary "e-Dreams."

Funding: An undisclosed amount from an anonymous angel investor through a very private equity investment firm, SGIO LLC. Some of the funds were paid via Twitpay, the first use of this Twitter-based payment service for investing.

Who uses the product: Users in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Austin, Texas, are making use of just under 200 SkyBlox wireless routers.

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