Nine Wireless Companies to Watch

Convergence, advanced chip and energy-savings technologies lead the way in wireless innovation. Here are nine wireless companies that should be on your radar.

Company name: Celio Corp.

Founded: July 2006

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

What does the company offer?

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.Why is it worth watching? 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.

How did the company get its start?

 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.How did the company get its name? Pronounced SEE-lee-oh, it's a play on "cellular" and "i/o."

CEO and background:

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.

Funding: $8 million, from VSpring, founders and angel investors.

Who's using the product? 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. Company name: GainSpan

Founded:

September 2006, as a spin-out from Intel

Location: Los Gatos, Calif.

What does the company offer? 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.

Why is it worth watching? 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.

How did the company get its start? 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.

How did the company get its name? 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.

CEO and background: 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.

Funding: $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.

Who's using the product? 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.

Company name: Mojix

Founded: Incorporated August 2003; formally launched April 2008

Location: Los Angeles

What does the company offer? 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.

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.Why is it worth watching? 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.

How did the company get its start?

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.How did the company get its name? "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."

CEO and background:

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.

Funding:

$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.

Who's using the product? 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.

Company name: Ozmo Devices

Founded: December 2004, as H-Stream Wireless

Location: Palo Alto, Calif.

What does the company offer?

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.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.

Why is it worth watching?

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.

How did the company get its start?

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.

How did the company get its name?

Picked as the "most appealing" from a list of possible names.

CEO and background:

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.Funding: $13 million to date, from Granite Ventures, Intel Capital and Tallwood Venture Capital.

Who's using the product?

Belkin, Wolfson and Avago have announced they'll use the Ozmo chip in future products.

Company name: Strata8

Founded: incorporated December 2006

Location: Bellevue, Wash.

What does the company offer? 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.

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.

Why is it worth watching? 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.

How did the company get its start? 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.How did the company get its name? 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.

CEO and background:

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.Funding: $8.2 million, from WireFree Partners, Globespan Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Who's using the product? 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.

Company name: SynapSense

Founded:

May 2006

Location: Folsom, Calif.

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