Freedom to Roam - Page 3

Nov 15, 2000

- Staff

Follow the Money

While wireless technology remains an uncertain investment for most mainstream companies, the opposite is true in the venture capital space, where the drive toward pervasive computing is in full throttle.

Venture investments are migrating away from tech start-ups and toward late-stage funding of aggregated technologies, according to Udayan Gupta, a former senior writer for the Wall Street Journal and author of the recent book, Done Deals: Venture Capitalists Tell Their Stories. Wireless is the ideal venture investment, he says, because it is mature and cash-hungry enough to sop up the $10 million to 20 million most venture capitalists are looking to spend.

"If you have $1 billion to invest, $100,000 invested in a start-up is a rounding error," says Gupta, who recently founded a multimedia news and information Web site for entrepreneurs. "Wireless is almost less risky and a great way to make the aggregation play," he says.

The full-scale drive of venture capitalists into the wireless arena is actually good news for CIOs. Yes, it means more confusion in the short term — more new technologies, applications, vendors, partnerships, and, of course, more marketing hype. But it also means that IT execs can afford to sit on the sidelines for another year or so while keeping an eye on what the big boys are doing.

Some top-tier venture capital firms to watch, according to Gupta, are Charles River Ventures and Patnacoff & Associates on the East Coast and the big five on the West Coast: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mayfield Fund, Accel Partners, Matrix Partners, and Sequoia Capital.

These firms are seeking to leverage synergies in telecommunications and its extensions — "compunications," as it used to be called in the 1980s, says Gupta with a laugh, when people were experimenting with new words to express the new worlds of technology they were inhabiting. That same kind of energy and experimentation is alive today.

In addition to following the venture capital firms, technologists should take a close look at how industry leaders are spending their research dollars. For example, Nokia Research Center, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co., among others, are supporting MIT's Oxygen project, which aims to make computing "as pervasive, free, and natural as air."

IT executives who follow the money will be in the best position to predict which software and applications will win out over others, and a wireless future will play out in their own highly specific business environments.

Wireless and the Winds of Change

The idea of one global device and standard is "nice," says Auld, but it will never happen in the IT area, where systems constantly change in the march of progress. "Businesses are always pushing for competitive advantage and increased functionality," he says.

With platforms still immature, the short-term issues are more on the infrastructure side than on the application side, writes Jack Gold, author of the META Group report, "Pervasive Ergonomics 101." He predicts that the number of devices (Palm, PC, WAP phones, screen phones) will only increase in the near term. Consequently, companies will have to deploy multimodal interfaces, including full browser, microbrowser, WAP browser, voice command, and text-to-spee

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