By Thor Olavsrud
December 05, 2002
UPDATE: AT&T; Intel and IBM, with investment partners Apax Partners and 3i, are pulling together a new company which will offer nationwide wholesale, broadband, wireless Internet access.
Gambling on the future of wireless connectivity, tech bellwethers AT&T; , Intel and IBM Thursday pooled their resources behind a new company that will offer wholesale nationwide wireless Internet access.
The company, Cometa Networks — backed by investment concerns Apax Partners and 3i — will leverage its backers’ technology to sell services to telcos, ISPS, cable operators and wireless carriers, which will then be able to offer their customers broadband wireless Internet access.
“Cometa’s vision and plan for this is to offer a single sign-on, single authentication, seamless-roaming nationwide network,” said Michael Mass, vice president of marketing for the Communications Sector at IBM.
That vision would allow every Internet user in the U.S. to access their existing accounts wirelessly, anywhere in the United States, without changing their accounts or service providers. End-users will be able to keep existing sign-on procedures, e-mail addresses, IDs, passwords and payment methods regardless of the access point, whether its an ISP, corporate VPN, telecommunications provider or cable operator.
For service providers, it will mean the ability to offer wireless services to their customers without having to invest in the wireless infrastructure themselves.
The nationwide network will be founded on 802.11 , otherwise known as Wi-Fi technology. According to the partners, Cometa will work with major national and regional retail chains, hotels, universities and real estate firms to deploy wireless hot spots throughout the top 50 U.S. metropolitan areas, and will offer wireless Internet access to enterprise customers through participating carriers.
The company will begin its rollout in the metropolitan centers in 2003, and is in talks with customers and additional partners.
Theodore Schell, Cometa Networks’ chairman and general partner of Apax Partners, said the company plans to have ubiquitous coverage in the U.S. — defined as no further away than 5 minutes walk in an urban area or 5 minutes drive in a rural area — by 2004. Schell said that will require the deployment of more than 20,000 hotspot access sites across the U.S.
AT&T; will provide network infrastructure and management, while IBM will provide wireless site installations and back-office systems. Cometa is also working closely with Intel, and Cometa President and CEO Dr. Lawrence B. Brilliant said the company will deploy Intel’s forthcoming wireless-specific processor, code-named Banias, after Intel launches the chip in the first half of 2003.
“Cometa Networks plans to achieve critical economies of scale by building on the retail brands and customer reach of service providers,” Schell said. “Our goal at Cometa Networks is to provide the quality of service, nationwide footprint and seamless integration into corporate networks that will stand the test of demanding enterprises.”
“Wi-Fi will bring distributed computing into the general public environment leading to increased business productivity and new consumer applications,” Brilliant said. “Mobile professionals want a consistent, integrated solution that makes it easier to access reports, customer information and e-mail using their existing Internet accounts, whether a mile from home or across the country.”
The company plans offices in San Francisco and New York. The initial board will consist of Brilliant, Schell, and Robin Murray, general partner at 3i. Intel will have a non-voting board observer status.
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