Nine wireless companies to watch

Convergence, advanced chip and energy-savings technologies lead the way in wireless innovation

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Wireless and mobile technology is speeding up. This year's crop of companies focuses on voice and data convergence, spectacular technical advances in radio technology, the personalization of cellular, and what can only be called mobile spontaneity.


Want a visual aid? Check out our slideshow of the 2008 wireless/mobile companies worth watching


In our latest update, as always, we focus on products and services that can impact corporate computing. This year we find that smartphone accessories are all the rage, while RFID improvements and keeping energy costs down are but a couple of the leading developments.

Here are nine wireless companies that should be on every network manager's radar.

Company name: Celio Corp. July 2006 Salt Lake City, Utah The ultimate Windows Mobile smartphone accessory: Redfly, a notebooklike display screen, compact keyboard and mouse. It links to an expanding selection of phones via Bluetooth or USB (with the USB cable, it charges the phone and still gets eight to 10 hours of battery life). No operating system, no CPU, no disk, just a video card that processes the screen from your handset so it's . . . big. Often compared to Palm's ill-fated Foleo device, Redfly differs because it's not something that has to be managed or secured. Drawbacks: no speakers so it's not great for playing "World of Warcraft" online. Some early users are taking Redfly and deploying it along with remote access and virtualized desktops: handset users now have access to their desktops wirelessly, via a $500 device that doesn't have the ongoing management and security burdens and costs of notebooks. Check out our own video of the Redfly in operation. Main investor VSpring Capital had the idea that the smartphone should be and could be the only computer anyone needed. But to make that possible you needed exactly what the handsets sacrifice: a big screen and a full keyboard. Redfly was designed to fill the gap. Pronounced SEE-lee-oh, it's a play on "cellular" and "i/o." Kirt Bailey, whose previous job was director of strategic investments at Intel Capital. Earlier, he was general manager for Intel's Network Components Division, a $100-million-a-year business. $8 million, from VSpring, founders and angel investors. Celio unveiled Redfly on March 31. There are no announced customers, but a company executive says there are hundreds of pilots being run by enterprises with big Microsoft client and server infrastructures.

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Company name: GainSpan September 2006, as a spin-out from Intel Los Gatos, Calif. A 802.11bg implementation via a dual-core ARM system-on-a-chip, and software, that uses so little power you can run Wi-Fi-based sensors for years on simple batteries. An astonishing achievement when you think how long you can run your notebook's Wi-Fi radio before you get a blank screen. In-depth analysis of where all the power went led to, among other things, the SOC design to cut bus lengths and enable extreme component integration. And it's all IP. It introduces IP and 802.11 as a viable, and proven, networking technology for wireless sensor networks that can be easily integrated with the enterprise, without gateways, or separate networks and protocols stacks. The vendor claims it has customers with Zigbee, or other protocol-based products, who say they will supplement or replace those products with GainSpan-based Wi-Fi. The company incubated in Intel's New Business Initiatives Group, where co-founders Vijay Parmar and CTO Lewis Adams were exploring sensor networks, drawing on work by Intel Research, and talking extensively with potential customers in building automation and industrial markets. The constant refrain: "we want IP" and "we want integration with the enterprise." Work shifted from the initial focus on a 802.15.4 chip and Zigbee to 802.11. The founders first picked "Emphany Systems" but scrapped it when people kept asking if it was "Infamy Systems." They hired Brighter Naming guru Athol Foden, who put together "gain," a radio term usually referring to improved signal, and "span," the idea of running across different networks and technologies. Vijay Parmar, also president, who headed up the Intel business unit that was the basis of the GainSpan spinout; formerly an executive with VxTel, a VoIP silicon company, and with AMD in that company's networking, communications and personal computing businesses. $20.6 million, with the completion of second-round funding in December 2007, from Intel Capital, New Venture Partners, Opus Capital, OVP Venture Partners, Sigma Partners and CampVentures. Shipping in production since December 2007, the chip is or will be used in OEM products from Aginova, RF Digital and most recently Hitachi Plant Technologies. Others will be announced in coming months, according to GainSpan.

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Company name: Mojix Incorporated August 2003; formally launched April 2008 Los Angeles The Mojix STAR System, a distributed passive RFID system that lets a single Mojix-patented antenna array read tag emissions as far as1,000 feet away, compared to the typical RFID reader range of just 30 feet, and do so with "triple nine" reliability. In conventional RFID, the reader beams out a signal that activates the tag, which reflects part of the energy back to the reader along with the identifier data. The Mojix technology could finally make it cost-effective to deploy full-blown RFID systems across big, and numerous, distribution and manufacturing facilities, giving enterprises what they want: visibility into where stuff is. The signal processing technology was developed by Mojix founder Ramin Sadr, who began applying it to software-defined radio research, and then focused the research on a commercial product for the RFID market. "Moj" is the Persian word for "wave." The "x" was added to denote excellence or perfection, and the "i" added to make it pronounceable. The idea: "the perfect wave." Ramin Sadr, holder of 15 NASA achievement and recognition awards for his work in the space program. In the 1980s, he led a team at University of California's Jet Propulsion Lab to design a prototype all-digital receiver for NASA's deep space program. His previous entrepreneurial gig was founder, president and CEO of Telecom Multimedia Systems, which created WAN infrastructure gear, and was acquired by Inter-Tel. $22.5 million to date ($20 million from a second round in June 2007), mainly from Oak Investment Partners, with InnoCal Venture Partners and Red Rock Ventures. The product was released in April, no customers yet announced. Extensive, year-long field trials were held with Kraft Foods, Kimberly-Clark, and Procter & Gamble.

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Mojix splits the reader in two: the beaming to tags is now done by simple "eNodes," which can be easily set up anywhere. They're wired (and in future wirelessly linked) to the Wow Thing: the STAR Receiver, which uses some signal-processing technology drawn from NASA, for reading very faint signals from deep space probes. Mojix says its receiver boasts a 100,000 times improvement in receive capability. The result: It can pick up the tag emissions at unheard-of distances.

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Company name: Ozmo Devices December 2004, as H-Stream Wireless Palo Alto, Calif. A driver for your Windows laptop, and a small, low-power, Wi-Fi silicon-and-software component that manufactures build into its headsets, mice, keyboards, printers, speakers, webcams and anything else you might want to connect to. In effect, your laptop's Wi-Fi radio becomes an access point for these peripheral devices. If peripheral vendors buy into this scheme, and install the Ozmo silicon, you'll be able to dispense with Bluetooth, and create an extensive wireless personal area network based on your PC’s Wi-Fi adapter, as easily as plugging USB devices into a USB host controller. The protocol and silicon have been engineered to use very little power, according to the vendor. Co-founder Katelijn Vleugels had been designing analog and radio-frequency circuits for WLAN chipsets at Atheros. According to her husband, and co-founder, Roel Peeters (currently Ozmo's vice president of marketing), by 2004, she was convinced that Wi-Fi could network all kinds of devices, not just PCs, and was frustrated with the apparent limitations of Bluetooth. She started puzzling over how to connect peripherals via Wi-Fi signals. Picked as the "most appealing" from a list of possible names. Dave Timm, formerly managing director and founder of the notebook power business unit, for Maxim Integrated Products, where he spent 15 years. It grew to a $250 million-a-year business. $13 million to date, from Granite Ventures, Intel Capital and Tallwood Venture Capital. Belkin, Wolfson and Avago have announced they'll use the Ozmo chip in future products.

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Ozmo developed a TDMA-like extension to the 802.11 protocol, making it possible for the laptop and devices to exchange information on a predictable schedule (your laptop uses 802.11's contention mechanism to connect to an access point). The 9Mbps connections are point to point within a 30-foot range, and can use both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Security is enabled with the Wi-Fi Protected Setup standard, from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Users see and control connections just as they would with wired USB devices.

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Company name: Strata8 incorporated December 2006 Bellevue, Wash. Local area cellular service for your enterprise, via its own spectrum in the 1900MHz band, available in 16 U.S. markets. The company can set up a UTSTarcom base station on your site (the charge for the base station varies with the site), you select from a gradually growing set of CDMA cell phones (including Moto Q and Treo 700wx), and pay $29.95 per month per subscriber (for the "io.cellular.plus" service, which includes voice mail and unlimited domestic long-distance). The service was launched in January. In effect, it's like a personal cellular service for the enterprise, which means potentially big savings on per-minute costs. Strata8 estimates that many companies can cut their cellular bills by half. The PBX integration links what is often two separate worlds. And you don't need to deploy and manage VoIP Wi-Fi/cellular convergence products from vendors like Agito, DiVitas, Siemens. The five founders, all telecom vets, saw enterprises with out-of-control wireless expenses, being served by carriers who focused on consumers. A local cell service targeted at the enterprise offered potentially better control, savings and service. Telecom networks referred to as "clouds" provided the idea of "stratus" (a Latin word for "layer"); the seven-layer OSI network model suggested a new layer, number 8, as the one tying all the others together. Andrew Buffmire, one of the original five founders, was previously director of business development and strategy in Microsoft's Unified Communications Group. Before that he was CEO for a hosted VoIP carrier and an executive at UbiquiTel, one of Sprint's biggest affiliates. $8.2 million, from WireFree Partners, Globespan Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners. The vendor says it has Fortune 500 customers but won't say who or how many. It's begun targeting small to midsize businesses with 50 to 250 employees per location.

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You get unlimited free calls to all Strata8 cell phones in your company, and to other Strata8 subscribers, and to your desk phone extensions via integration with the corporate PBX. Outside the office, cellular calls roam to Sprint’s network. Long-distance calls are unlimited and free if Strata8 terminates the call. If the call terminate in your PBX (the carrier does the integration), the calls cost your standard landline rates.

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Company name: SynapSense May 2006 Folsom, Calif. SynapSoft 4.0, a wireless sensor-based system to monitor and manage energy use and cooling in big data centers. The system is a package of temperature, air pressure and energy sensors; a proprietary wireless radio network and networking software; server appliance; and gateways and server software for management, administration and analysis. The battery-powered sensors are placed all through the data center, including the subfloor area, and the readings are used to create a real-time model of the center's temperature ranges, air pressure and energy use over time. You use the results to change air-flow directions, air pressure, cut back on overcooling and make energy use overall more efficient. To keep data centers problem free, administrators typically over-cool them, an increasingly costly "solution" in terms of total energy spending, and losing electricity that could go to powering the center's equipment. Yahoo reported in July on the results of a trial run using SynapSense in one 8,000-square-foot room in its massive data center. With the sensor data, SynapSense sealed the "cold aisles," slowed cooling fan speeds, and raised inlet air supply temperatures to 72 degrees. Yahoo was able to reduce its cooling energy use by 21% and projected yearly energy savings of $563,000. Working with National Science Foundation funds at University of California Davis, co-founder Raju Pandey created a highly extensible and scalable wireless sensor network architecture, which became the foundation for SynapSense. He joined forces with Peter Van Deventer, a global sales and marketing executive with Intel. "Synapse" is a term representing the synaptic nerve system, which uses electrical pulses enabling communications through the central nervous system; "sense" for sensing. Peter Van Deventer, a 10-year Intel veteran, working in the chip maker’s mobile product group, flash memories, and global sales and marketing. In the last-named role, he was involved in the rollout of the Centrino mobile platform. $13 million, including an $11 million second round finalized in September 2007, from American River Ventures, Emerald Technology Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Nth Power and DFJ Frontier. Just under 100 customers, but none officially announced; Yahoo and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District have been identified from published sources as customers.

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Company name: Varaha Systems April 2003 Dallas uMobility, a set of three applications that together create a secure, optimized connection for data as well as voice, and for cellular-only phones as well as more advanced Wi-Fi/cellular phones. The software spans different kinds of cellular and Wi-Fi networks, and is designed to extend desktop PC and phone (via SIP PBX support) desktop phone features to mobile devices. Varaha sees the mobile phone as a platform for data as well as voice applications. The goal is to forge a secure, high-quality, reliable link between mobile phone users and the enterprise data and voice features they need to do their jobs effectively. The founders saw the opportunity to create a "mobile desk" – enabling cell phones as the primary communications tool, by exploiting enterprise data and voice features that have only been available to office workers. Varaha is the name of a Himalayan peak, "one of the harder ones to climb," says co-founder and CTO Prasad Govindarajan, and therefore a metaphor for what the company is trying to accomplish. It's also the name of mountainous incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Jogen Pathak, co-founder, formerly founder and CTO for Cyneta Networks. He holds several patents in wireless and convergence. Not disclosed, from various individual investors. One customer has been announced, QMS Healthcare, a British medical group; new customers, along with distributors and partners, will be announced in September 2008.

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The applications are a mobile IPSec VPN that works with lots of popular VPN concentrators; software that on the client side gives end users a GUI to make and manage cellular and VoIP calls, with access to PBX features, and on the server side optimizes and manages voice call quality and handoffs across different networks (this was formerly two applications); and client/server code to automatically manage and maintain IP data, video and voice sessions, and support single sign-on, between different wireless networks.

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Company name: Visage Mobile Originally formed in October 2001, providing back-office subscriber management functions for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) like Disney Mobile; acquired Agistics in June 2007, has just sold off its original product, to reinvent itself as an enterprise mobility management company. San Francisco MobilityCentral, a hosted software service launched in April 2008. It pulls user information from your enterprise directories, along with data pulled from your deployed mobile devices, and account data from your cellular carriers. It correlates all this, and creates up-to-date Web dashboard reports on the devices, their software loads and usage. You can compare planned cellular minutes and spending with actual usage data, for example. Monthly fee is typically about $5 per user. It means you can scrap all those Microsoft Excel spreadsheets you're using to keep track of this stuff, and get a centralized, accurate, up-to-date picture, based on hard data, about how your business is using, or misusing, cellular resources. Then you can refine policies, scrap plans, renegotiate rates, and predict and budget consistently for monthly cellular costs. The original software was developed by Agistics, under CEO Dean Alms, who's now general manager for the hosted service at Visage Mobile. Visage Mobile acquired the company to exploit a growing need for enterprise control over burgeoning cellular costs. The company's original business let MVNO's brand cellular service, creating a "new face" (hence, "visage") in the wireless market. Executive Chairman Tim Weingarten is currently the acting CEO, taking over from Matt Johnson, one of Visage's original co-founders. Johnson left after the recent sale of the MVNO business to explore new opportunities, according to a spokeswoman. Weingarten has been a general partner at Worldview Technology Partners for eight years. He's been a seed investor and director of several start-ups, including Cogent Communications and Force10 Networks. About $90 million, from Advanced Technology Partners, Emergence Capital Partners, Mobius Venture Capital, Worldview Technology Partners, Vesbridge Partners LLC. Chordiant Software and Visioneer have been announced. The company says there are others in high-tech, bio-tech and financial services.

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Company name: Wireless Grids Corp. 2004 Syracuse, N.Y. Innovaticus, in beta test with students at Syracuse University: software that lets wireless (and wired) devices negotiate automatically with each other to share any kind of digital content. The core software is about ad hoc, distributed resource coordination over a mix of networks.What that means is Innovaticus users create and manage their personal network of devices, and designate files of all types (and soon "things" in their network like screens, disk drives, speakers, keyboards, printers and digicams) for access and use from anywhere by other Innovaticus users. It's all done through a set of simple icons and menus. Think of it as a structure for mobile spontaneity: your personal or business devices become part of an interoperable grid that amplifies what you can do, but letting you do it with and through the resources others make available. The intellectual property grew out of National Science Foundation grant to Lee McKnight, an associate prof at Syracuse's School of Information Study, for research on "Virtual Markets in Wireless Communication and Computational Grids." The company was formed to obtain exclusive license to the IP, and then commercialize it. Though the software can work over wired as well as wireless networks, McKnight wanted to emphasize that Innovaticus was agnostic with regard to the underlying radio-frequency network layer. And he wanted to turn the meaning of "grids" inside out: focusing on end devices, and making the grid highly personal. Lee McKnight, also chairman and founder. He was a co-founder of the Internet Governance Project and co-director of the Wireless Grids Lab, both at University of Syracuse. He's president of Marengo Research LLC, a consulting and investment management firm. He is co-author or co-editor of four MIT Press books, and of more than 50 peer-reviewed academic publications. $4 million from various government and industry backers, as well as from McKnight and other individuals through a convertible debt offering. Currently in beta test at Syracuse University, with support from Nokia; additional testing with Clear Channel, and a host of new university locations beginning in the fall, and with companies or government agencies overseas.

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