February 18, 2001 9:00 PM PST

Start-up lures $34 million and Microsoft

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Microsoft and two of Europe's largest mobile service providers have signed a pact with a wireless software start-up to create what it says will be the world's first way for network operators to sell wireless services directly to businesses.

The start-up, Seven, will also announce on Monday that it's received more than $34 million in funding.

What makes Seven different, according to executives and analysts, is that it can provide a wireless voice and data system for companies that can support any wireless device an employee prefers. Because of that, businesses can turn to a carrier for any wireless technologies it needs, rather than building it themselves.

BT Cellnet, which has about 2.8 million users, and Genie, the mobile Internet division of BTOpenworld, will begin offering the one-stop, wireless Web enabling program within a few weeks, according to the company.

Seven is able to patch together all types of systems and--more importantly to the wireless world--any of the half dozen standards fighting for dominance right now, said Jim Forbes, an analyst with market researcher IDC.

"Software that does that is very important," Forbes said. "It breaks the boundaries of one system to another."

Microsoft will be incorporating the Seven software into its Mobile Information Server, and its ongoing .Net venture, according to Paul Gross, senior vice president of the Mobility Group at the company.

Seven's founder, Bill Nguyen, said carriers and companies like Wireless Knowledge have been able to offer mobile Internet access, but usually it was to individual customers. The complexity of different standards, managing firewalls, and security measures prove to be "a nightmare" to sell directly to companies, Nguyen said.

Plus, companies had to spend tens of millions of dollars installing software behind their firewall, then upgrade it each time wireless Internet services are added.

"Now, all they have to do is flip a switch," and a series of servers that create a secure network between the carrier and the customers is created, Nguyen said.

According to IDC's Forbes, short messaging between customers of different carriers is commonplace in Europe, for example, but because of the standards fight in America, "you can't do that (in the United States)," he said. Seven would allow companies to make sense of the different standards.

Board members include Alain Rossman, a current board member at Openwave Systems and Nguyen, who's work in the past includes a stint with Onebox, which later was acquired by Phone.com.

Openwave is a wireless Web browser maker, which was previously known as Phone.com. Its wireless phone browser is on an estimated 71 million cell phones worldwide.

 

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