Nine wireless network companies to watch

Smarter smart phones, beyond the BlackBerry and exploiting XML

Wireless and mobile companies you might not know but that are worth learning more about. Specializing in everything from smarter smart phones to going beyond the BlackBerry to exploiting XML data.

Management: Co-founder, President and CEO Lo Alker came to the United States from China in 1960 to attend Arizona State University. She has held the top spots at big and small companies since the mid-80’s, including her start-up Counterpoint Computer, which bought Acer, where Alker eventually became president of Acer America’s sales and marketing group. She headed Network Peripherals through most of the 1990’s, and took it public in 1994. Most recently, she was president and CEO of Amplify.net, which was bought by its Japanese partner in 2004.

How it got its start: In early 2005, Lo Alker, a serial entrepreneur, began visiting with Asian mobile phone vendors and repeatedly heard the same complaint: it took too much time and money to develop products based on proprietary platforms. She became convinced a specialized Linux would have wide appeal and persuaded both co-founder Fred Kiremidjian and Venrock Associated to back her play.

How company got its name: The phrase “a la” means “in the style [or manner] of” and, being French, still has for some at least a patina of class. The name thus suggests the main focus of the company without making the focus too narrow. Plus, “it starts with the letter "a" which makes our company name appear at the top of most listings.” Just like this listing….

Funding: Series A funding, June 2005, of $3.5 million from Venrock Associates.

Who’s using the product: GUPP Technologies, the Malaysian subsidiary of 3P International, selected a la Mobile's Linux stack for its new dual-mode (Wi-Fi and GSM) smart phone.

emoze logo

emoze, subsidiary of Emblaze Group

Founded: March 2006

Location: Raanana, Israel

What it offers: Software that in effect “BlackBerry-izes” any mobile device: it creates a “push” mobile e-mail capability that exploits the native e-mail client loaded on existing mobile phones, ranging from low-end “feature phones” to advanced smart phones running Windows Mobile, Linux or other full-blown operating systems. The software handles secure synchronization of e-mails, scheduling, contact and task data over cellular or Wi-Fi connections, without the expense of dedicated BlackBerry devices or monthly service fees. In August, the company announced support for Gmail users worldwide.

Using the free personal edition, you register at the emoze Website, and the emoze-hosted gateway then keeps track of whatever e-mail service you use. When it finds a new message, it checks to see if you’re online, and if so, it sends the e-mail to your handheld. The corporate edition, now in final stages of development, packages the gateway as a Windows or Linux PC application behind the firewall, where it runs the same functions. No client code is needed, but for advanced operating systems, the gateway downloads a small program that adds some features to a basic native e-mail client. The corporate edition will be available later this fall, priced at $500 per year for up to 50 users. A Professional Version of the personal edition is due out later this year, with added but as yet undisclosed features for a low fee.

Why it’s worth watching: Because it’s a beautifully simple idea – if an infrastructure for push e-mail and PIM synchronization already exists, why not use it instead of paying for something you have to then run yourself? The emoze solution is aimed mainly at the SMB market. You can tell, because it is dirt cheap (personal edition is free; corporate version costs $500 per year for up to 50 users). At least one other company, U.K.-based Synchronica, is taking a similar approach.

Management: Benny Ballin, CEO. Previously was general manager of the messaging business unit within Comverse; was president and CEO of NetEye, which developed an advanced fraud management systems for network operators. Currently co-founder and board member of diaX, a medical technology start-up focused on blood spectroscopy using remote-sensing technology.

How it got its start: Two software engineers at emoze’s parent, Israeli-based Emblaze, were frustrated getting e-mail and PIM synchronized data. They wrote their own program, which Emblaze first adopted and then spun out as a separate company.

How company got its name: This is the most complicated name explanation we’ve ever printed. The two software engineers responsible for the code are both named, in the English transliteration of the Hebrew, “Moshe” (Moshe Levi, Moshe Gani), which is usually rendered in English as Moses or Mozes, with both forms sounding identical. The founders wanted to use “mozes” in the company name but found a California mobile start-up www.mozes.com already uses it. The short form of “Moshe” is “Mosh,” so they shortened “Mozes” to “Moze” and added the “e” for the reason most high-tech companies add that letter to anything.

Funding: Emblaze is bankrolling the company; amount undisclosed.

Who’s using the product: Anyone worldwide who registers here.

Formotus

Founded: October 2005

Location: Bellevue, Wash.

The Formotus service stores, maintains, and links forms like this one with enterprise data sources

What it offers: FormoPublish, a software application and monthly subscription service that manages XML-based data access forms created by users with the InfoPath forms tool in Microsoft Office, distributing them to any Windows Mobile device. Using these FormoApps, downloaded wirelessly, mobile users can access and update any enterprise application that has a Web services interface, without any IT involvement or resources. Users can create their own forms and update or extract any data exposed via a Web service on back-end ERP, CRM or other enterprise systems.

Why it’s worth watching: Formotus exploits, and exploits simply, what mobile users already know and have – InfoPath and Microsoft Office – and what enterprises already have – existing data in back-end applications accessible via Web services. That combination covers an awful lot of corporate data access and update requirements for mobile workers. And it doesn’t require a new IT application development infrastructure or network changes.

Management: Joe Verschueren, co-founder and CEO, with several start-ups under his belt, including ImageX in 1995, for which he eventually raised over $160 million and took public in 1999. Twice a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, he was one of the original members of US West NewVector Group, a cellular company now part of Verizon Wireless. Co-founder and CTO is Adriana Neagu, one of the creators of the InfoPath technology at Microsoft, where she worked for a decade on products such as SQL Server.

How it got its start: The founders met when Verschueren, looking for a mobile start-up play, was in talks with Microsoft to create a mobile version of InfoPath. Neagu, looking for a career change after 10 years with Microsoft, was ready for a start-up. Kismet. The founders saw a chance to leverage the then-new InfoPath technology to simplify data access and updates for the growing number of mobile workers.

How company got its name: The prefix “Form” relates to the kind of mobile applications – electronic forms – that the company’s product creates and deploys. “Motus” is Latin for “motion.”

Funding: Total to date is $2.6 million from several angel investors (and board members), including former vice president Elwood Howse, pioneering Oracle database engineer Roger Bamford, and famed Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell.

Who’s using the product: Mobilise IT, a mobile solutions company, is offering FormoPublish as a subscription service to IT customers in Australia and New Zealand.

KORE Telematics, U.S. subsidiary of KORE Wireless Group

Founded: May 2002

Location: Herndon, Va.

What it offers: A mobile virtual net operator, KORE buys wholesale GSM cellular capacity from a group of carriers. What’s different is KORE’s “subscribers”: electric meters, pumps, natural gas pipelines, landfills, semi-trailer trucks, even temporary ATM machines. The company works with over 400 application service providers (ASPs) to wed an array of sensor devices with GSM interfaces to enable machine-to-machine data communications, telemetry, and voice services for monitoring and control. Round the clock, KORE supports services such as specialized VPN interconnects, provisioning and billing, all based on the company’s proprietary software and low-level connections to carrier networks. The company claims to be the largest all-digital provider in the machine-to-machine market.

KORE¹s wholesale cell net collects and sends data from sensors.

Why it’s worth watching: KORE exploits the trends in wireless sensor networking – the ability to more easily collect data from the physical world with miniaturized, long-lived sensors – and leverages them by using widespread GSM cellular networks. It creates a medium to identify, collect and transmit data from almost anywhere to enterprise applications and databases, where it becomes grist for decisions on such critical business issues as return-on-investment, compliance, efficiency and safety. Others in this field include Aeris and Numerex.

Management: Alex Brisbourne, president and one of the four founding investors, most recently a general partner with Aegis Management, a technology incubator, and previously served as general manager for Microcell, a Canadian GSM mobile operator; CEO Chris Scatliff, also a founder, was formerly president and CEO of UUNet Canada (now MCI Canada).

How it got its start: The founders foresaw a market growing quickly to hundreds of millions of sensor units that could supply data vital to businesses. The missing ingredient was a vendor that could marry a highly reliable, digital wide-area network with integration tools and support for ASPs.

How company got its name: The all-caps name deliberately echoes “core,” to suggest a company and product that was central to powering network applications.

Funding: Undisclosed. Investors controlling in excess of 95% of company are Terry Jarman, Chris Scatliff, Richard Burston and Alex Brisbourne.

Who’s using the product: RFTrax uses KORE for its remote asset management telemetry solution for freight transportation companies. The Asset Management Platform for locomotives lets railroads see in real time what’s happening aboard locomotives equipped with the RFTrax transceiver.

Sensor Wireless

Founded: April 2002

Location: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

What it offers: Several intriguing products based on the same basic patented technology originally developed for detecting and measuring impact-related damage to fresh fruit and vegetables. You put sensors, a processor and a radio link on a PCB board, design a package around it that mimics the size and shape of an egg or pineapple, and run the device through the same harvesting or processing cycle as the produce to see the damage associated with that process.

But the egg-shaped device¹s sensors and a wireless link let you track and measure the shocks that eggs are subjected to.

The first product was Smart Spud, in 1999 before the company itself was actually launched: a rugged, battery-powered package about the size of potato, with accelerometers to measure shocks that create bruising and a radio to transmit the data to a Palm handheld. The same idea was used in the Crackless Egg, introduced in 2002. Farmers could find crack problems in minutes or hours instead of days. More recently, the company is applying its technology to custom-built acrylic replicas for manufacturing or processing glass objects such as bottles.

The ultimate goal: Being able to track what’s happening to objects as they traverse a supply chain from the point of origin to the final sale or use.

Why it’s worth watching: Even if you’re not a farmer and know nothing about farming, how could you not watch an electronic egg or potato getting roughed up and telling you how it feels? It’s a fascinating example of applying high technology to low technology to improve and maintain quality with measurable data. The company’s success suggests that active RFID, with battery-powered radios, may have a greater impact on supply chain efficiency and quality than passive techniques. Finally, the image of the rolling farmlands that were the site of “Ann of Green Gables” also being Canada’s “Silicon Pasture” is just cool.

Management: Wayd McNally, inventor, president and CEO. Brother David is manager of the company’s agricultural products. General Manager Serge Serviant was recently brought on for his background in business management and administration.

How it got its start: Founder McNally, with a degree in plant science and an entrepreneurial streak, was working as an agricultural consultant, even as he launched a couple of small start-ups. He was granted a patent in 1999 for an “impact detection device for delicate articles.”

How company got its name: Plain as a potato, the name was chosen to reflect the company’s expertise in the use of wireless communications for its sensors and associated firmware.

Funding: About $2 million via convertible debt from an unnamed investor, plus another roughly $520,000 in provincial or federal business grants and rebates. The company has brought in new executive talent and will launch a bid for its first round of venture funding, about $5 million to $8 million, in early 2008.

Who’s using the product: A Who’s Who of the global Fortune 500, including Coors, General Mills, SC Johnson, EG Gallo, Miller and Kraft.

Tango Networks

Founded: October 2005

Location: Richardson, Texas

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