Nine wireless network companies to watch

Smarter smart phones, beyond the BlackBerry and exploiting XML

New or emerging wireless and mobile companies continue to be a fountain of innovation, as our selection this year shows.

We chose this list for one or more of several reasons, but we were interested in companies whose mobile products or services could directly affect the enterprise. We looked for little-known companies, although that's a subjective criteria. Several on this year's list have been around since the early 2000s. But they may have only recently introduced their product, or recently added significantly to a product's capabilities. In other cases, after several years of work, they're starting to gain traction in the market place.

a la Mobile

Founded: June 2005

Location: San Ramon, California.

What it offers: The Convergent Linuz Platform (CLP), a complete mobile Linux operating system designed for the fast-growing smart-phone market, and competing directly with platform offerings from Microsoft and Symbian. The package integrates open source and third-party software elements, including Linux Kernel 2.6, GMS/GPRS software from HelloSoft, firmware-over-the-air from Red Bend, the Qtopia application framework and Trolltech's user interface among others. First released in June 2006; updated earlier this year with VOIP support and most recently, improved security.

Why it's worth watching: The old David-and-Goliath thing: Founder Pauline Lo Alker is taking on Microsoft. ABI Research projects Linux will be the fastest growing smart phone operating system for the next five years, with an annual growth rate over 75 percent. But open source development for handhelds is still immature, and a la Mobile wants to propel the industry forward by being, in effect, the Red Hat of smart phones. Linux adoption faces determined competition from Microsoft Windows Mobile, not to mention Microsoft's controversial contention that Linux infringes on its patents. But there's plenty of room for someone to become the dominant Linux platform supplier in this market.

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 US$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.

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