Building the Wireless Web for Enterprises

W-Technologies helped brokerages, but can it help other firms deliver mobile services?

The business case for wireless access comes into sharp relief when spokesman Charles Salmans describes how his company, Quick & Reilly Inc., and its Web site have benefited from w-Trade software from w-Technologies Inc.

"We don't have a big group of our customers using this," he says. "It probably accounts for only 1% or 2% of our customers, but they account for probably 5% to 10% of our trading volume." The New York-based brokerage chose w-Trade because it integrated easily with its existing infrastructure and was flexible enough for future growth.

W-Technologies got its start in 1997 when co-founders Donna Oliva and Sergey Fradkov spun off a wireless project at New York-based Unif/X Inc., an IT services company. Their flagship product, w-Trade Wireless Trading System, lets brokerage customers receive quotes and trade securities on Wireless Application Protocol phones, Palm Inc.'s handhelds and pagers. W-Technologies claims that it has 30% of all brokerage firms as customers. Now it's diversifying.

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w-Technologies Inc.

150 Broadway, 15th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10038, (212) 406-7685

Web: www.w-technologies.com

Niche: Customizable wireless applications, development tools and services

Company officers: Donna Oliva, CEO and co-founder; Sergey Fradkov, chief technology officer and co-founder

Milestones: April 1997: Company founded as w-Trade Inc. March 2000: Introduced e-commerce, content and communications applications September 2000: Changed name to w-Technologies Inc.

Employees: 200

Burn money: Approximately $50 million from Westway Capital LLC, First Union Corp., Merrill Lynch & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and others

Products/pricing: Installed systems start at $60,000 for a basic configuration of 10 to 50 concurrent users and one application. Larger implementations may cost $400,000 to $900,000.

Customers: Dreyfus Brokerage Services Inc., FedEx, First Union, Quick & Reilly, U.S. Discount Brokerage Inc. and others

Red flags for IT: Most of the firm's expertise is in financial services applications. It faces many established, larger direct competitors.

After releasing its w-Bank software for banks in 1999, the vendor introduced 25 applications based on its underlying Mobilero wireless application server software, geared toward the finance, e-commerce, Web content, communications and the enterprise markets.

Mobilero includes six applications, including for customer relationship management, logistics and help desk.

Prices start at about $60,000 for Mobilero and a single application supporting 50 concurrent users and can reach $500,000 or more for the entire application suite, technical training, a development kit and distributed hosting for up to 200 users.

Mobilero's competitive advantage, says Fradkov, is its flexibility in providing enterprises with both prepackaged applications and a development tool kit for custom applications that supports thin and fat clients. Server templates allow applications to be used with a wide variety of mobile devices without the need for porting, Fradkov says.

W-Technologies is aggressively pursuing vertical markets such as manufacturing and retail. One early success story is FedEx Corp. in Memphis, which on March 12 unveiled a Mobilero-powered service that lets customers track packages and locate drop-off stations.

W-Technologies beat several dozen competitors, explains Randy Roy, FedEx's vice president of network systems. "A good part of it was the amount of experience they had and the success they had in the business sector," he says.

Main Benefits

Cost savings from avoiding customer service calls and increased customer convenience are the main benefits, says Roy, who reports an easy four-week development cycle and no performance glitches so far. "They've been very responsible and able to do what they said they would do," he says.

Oliva says productivity and cost-savings benefits will keep wireless on many companies' buying schedules despite the economic slump. "We have to grow the company at a pace that keeps up with demand, but we have to be a lot more careful about how we spend money," she says.

Analysts say the company has done an admirable job of just that. "They're well-positioned going forward," according to Ed Kountz, a senior analyst at TowerGroup in Needham, Mass. "They have some talented people and they have some advantage in being early in the game."

Proving w-Technologies can succeed outside the financial services sector is an important hurdle, which is why the FedEx win is so important, says Jennifer DiMarzio, an analyst at Summit Strategies Inc. in Boston.

"In the last couple of years, there have been a lot of companies offering a mobile platform," she observes. "It's going to make it hard for these guys to prove their value-add."

The Buzz: State of the Market

In Search of Wireless Winners

As w-Technologies seeks to expand beyond its financial services roots, the vendor faces increased competition from companies that take a more plug-and-play approach. It's also smaller and less well-funded than its rivals, at a time when venture capital is scarce. A shakeout is likely, and IBM is coming on strong with WebSphere Everyplace, say analysts.

Still, the vendor's experience with highly customizable software may be attractive to large companies. And the market for mobile e-business services is strong: Despite the current high-tech slump, Framingham Mass.-based IDC predicts that the U.S. market will grow from $261 million last year to $2.1 billion this year.

724 Solutions Inc.

Toronto

724 Solutions hasn't moved much beyond its financial services niche, but general manager Alistair Rennie says the firm will exploit its core competency - secure mobile transactions - in its new products.

Aether Systems Inc.

Owings Mills, Md.

Aether Systems has a daunting size advantage over w-Technologies, but it views its niche as "a full-service company to financial institutions," says John Shepley, Aether's corporate vice president of financial services.

Brience Inc.

San Francisco

Chief Strategy Officer Keyur Patel calls the newly released Brience 3.0 software "a pure-play Internet platform that connects to your existing systems." The company has $200 million in funding, Patel says.

Everypath Inc.

San Jose

Everypath focuses more on providing plug-and-play software products than on development services and hosting.

Essex is a freelance writer in Antrim, N.H.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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