Wireless and mobile companies worth watching

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

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.

This story, "Wireless and mobile companies worth watching" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon