By Jo Maitland 3Com Corp has set up an ISP that it hopes will spur business people on the move to check email and browse the internet. In turn, the struggling network vendor expects this will boost demand for its Palm computer and turn around its souring stock price and weak first-quarter earnings. The new […]
By Jo Maitland
3Com Corp has set up an ISP that it hopes will spur business people on the move to check email and browse the internet. In turn, the struggling network vendor expects this will boost demand for its Palm computer and turn around its souring stock price and weak first-quarter earnings. The new venture, called OpenSky and based in Palo Alto, California, is jointly owned by 3Com and Aether Technologies, a Maryland-based company specializing in wireless data services for large companies. Last year, 3Com took a $6m investment in Aether and this is the first time the two have made a joint announcement since the funding.
In conjunction with mobile phone companies and service providers across the US, OpenSky will offer wireless data services such as email, news, stock quotes and sports updates to mobile phones, PDAs and paging devices. The first services are scheduled to be available to customers by the end of the year. Neither company would disclose how much they are investing in OpenSky until they announce further funding and the first round of carrier partners this summer. The services will be co-branded like TCI@Home.com , with the service provider and OpenSky doing joint marketing initiatives.
OpenSky will combine 3Com’s web clipping technology with Aether’s AIM.net wireless connectivity middleware. Web clipping is a way of simplifying and condensing information on a web site so that it can be downloaded onto a Palm device or Windows CE platform. AIM.Net comprises server-based software that can hook into Windows NT or Unix or any internet based device to extract information and send it to the transport layer that sits on the client – a Palm device, Windows CE machine, pager or mobile phone. Mike Dolbec, VP of business development at 3Com, said that carriers have been after a managed service that would allow people to get access to email, but they didn’t want to get locked into one device, which is why the services will be available for both the Palm and its number one competitor, Windows CE.
Also involved in the new startup will be software developers from SmartCode, which 3Com acquired for $17.5m in February this year. 3Com bought the French company primarily for its skill in writing data applications for mobile phones and wireless devices and for its relationships with the mobile phone manufacturers in Europe. So far, OpenSky has 15 developers headed up by Patrick McVeigh, former VP of sales for 3Com’s Palm computing division but the companies would not say how many from each firm would be working for the new organization. While SmartCode’s technology and skill set appears to compliment what the new organization is trying to do, other areas of 3Com’s Palm strategy are more murky.
Last week, the network vendor announced it would be porting the Palm platform to a new cut down version of Sun Microsystems’ Java technology called Java 2 platform, micro edition. The aim of this, the companies said, was for wireless access to corporate email, back office applications and the internet, which would seem to be exactly what the software from Aether Technologies does. 3Com’s, Mike Dolbec disagreed, that’s like comparing apples with oranges, he said but admitted one of the main reasons the company decided to create OpenSky as a separate company outside of 3Com, rather than just acquire it was to, keep it apart from the Palm Computing Business. This seems a little confused considering the reason 3Com has set up OpenSky in the first place is to grow the infrastructure for the Palm business. He said the new company would be able to move faster, be more focused and adapt to change quicker than a large organization.
Another service from 3Com that seems to clash with the OpenSky operation is Palm.Net, a wireless service the company launched with the Palm VII in May. This enables users to get information from the internet using web clipping, to conduct e-commerce transactions and send and receive instant messages, according to 3Com. Content providers include ABCNEWS.com, E*TRADE, MasterCard, Mo
viefone.com, Ticketmaster, Travelocity.com and the The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition among others. Dolbec told ComputerWire: At one level they do the same thing, but when we launched Palm.Net, which had been in development for two years, the market and demand for new devices and services had boomed so we took the decision to offer customers even more choice with the launch of OpenSky.
3Com has clearly realized its road to salvation is through its Palm computing platform, Brendan Hanningan, analyst with Forrester Research said: This new initiative OpenSky, or rather Pie-in-the-Sky, is the most radical departure yet for the Silicon Valley hub and router company and it would seem they are going about re-inventing themselves in the most muddled and haphazard way.