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IBM, Intel, AT&T unveil US Wi-Fi JV

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Three tech giants, backed by two venture capital firms, yesterday announced the launch of a joint venture, Cometa Networks Inc, which intends to pepper the US with 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots starting next year.


Cometa will be a wholesale-only wireless internet access provider, serving carriers, ISPs and enterprises. The New York and San Francisco-based firm is being backed by Intel Corp, IBM Corp and AT&T Corp, with funding from 3i and Apax Partners,

Kevin Murphy writes

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The company will start deploying wireless access points using the 802.11a and 802.11b protocols some time next year in nationally branded retail chains, hotels and universities. It will also seek to partner with companies that are already deploying Wi-Fi networks in locations such as airports, potentially including AT&T Wireless.

Cometa CEO Lawrence Brilliant said in a conference call that the company, which started as a research project codenamed Project Rainbow, spent nine months interviewing potential buyers about what they would require from such a service.

"[They wanted] an access point within five minutes walk of any employee in an urban setting and within five minutes drive in a rural setting," Brilliant said. He said that means about 20,000 hot spots will have to be deployed across the country, but that Cometa will initially focus on 50 major metropolitan areas.

Technical details were not immediately available, but it is known that AT&T is providing the backbone, IBM is providing the hardware deployment and that Intel's forthcoming Banias mobile processor architecture is expected to play a role. Users will be able to access the services via their regular service providers.

These carriers "will continue to own their own customers, but will not have to invest their own capital to build their own network to be able to offer this valuable service," Brilliant said. No changes will be needed for login, security or billing, Cometa said in a statement.

Financial details of the venture were not disclosed. An Intel spokesperson said the cash invested by the chipmaker comes from the $150m it has earmarked for investments in Wi-Fi companies. Its technology commitment to the enterprise was not immediately clear.

"When Intel launches its Banias products in the first half next year, Cometa will be coordinating its service offering with the new generation of mobile PCs," Cometa's Brilliant said in the conference call.

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