The initial focus is on perfecting the technology. Plans call for a prototype system to be ready late this year, with a commercial offering set for the second half of 2001. Flarion officials say they can’t estimate the cost savings of their technology because it depends on network size, traffic volumes and other factors. But they stress that the savings will be significant-enough for that California family to do its Web surfing affordably. With conventional systems, quips Dolan, “I don’t think anybody can afford both the automobile and the connectivity.”
Even presuming it can bring wireless data into mainstream use, Flarion doesn’t expect to get the bulk of the wireless pie. First come the big carriers on conventional networks-the Nortels, Ericssons and Lucents. Flarion must also contend with startups such as San Jose-based ArrayComm, which has its own dedicated data scheme. Still, Dolan foresees winning a major, and increasingly important, portion of the wireless-data business. He envisions a future for data traffic that mirrors the evolution of air freight shipping. Commercial airlines began carrying freight because they saw the chance for extra revenue. But as air freight usage grew, a separate industry sprang up to serve it; freight takeoffs and landings now rival commercial airline traffic. So it will be with data, contends Dolan. Data may have started out on conventional wireless networks. However, he asserts, “The tidal wave of demand that’s about to hit carriers of wireless data will require a Flarion solution.”
Back in the carpeted confines of NVG, everyone hopes Dolan is right. But it’s only one of many seeds being planted, a fact attested to by dozens of paperweight-like deal icons-each commemorating successful financing rounds-covering a long birch cabinet in Tom Uhlman’s expansive office. So far, Uhlman’s people say they’ve examined nearly 250 projects in detail and launched about 25 ventures, though not all have been announced. Not every one has been a winner. Two didn’t make it even to the spinoff stage. One particularly high-profile disappointment was Inferno, an attempt to develop a new operating system partially conceived by legendary Unix and C-programming-language pioneer Dennis Ritchie. The effort failed to live up to its buzz and was ultimately closed-though it has recently been reborn under a different business strategy and may yet find a way to survive.
No doubt there will be others that, as Uhlman puts it, “I wouldn’t call failures, but didn’t meet expectations.” But the New Ventures head isn’t much troubled by that right now. Indeed, he’s on a roll, helping Lucent do what few companies have been able to accomplish: find ways for people like Rajiv Laroia to challenge the status quo and bolster the establishment at the same time. That task may not make for the stay-in-one-job stability of yesteryear, but for big companies and their employees, it can provide a different type of security.
Company Year foundedSelected areas of focusIdeas screened annuallyAnnounced launchesRecent launchesIntel New Business Development Group1998Data services,Internet hosting, networking, digital cameras and toys1002Vivonic: fitness-planning software for handheld market
PassEdge: digital-rights management for Internet streaming videoLucent New Ventures Group1997Wireless, multimedia, e-commerce, networking, semiconductors7525Flarion: wireless data
SyChip: chips for wireless Internet appliances
CyberIQ: Internet traffic and content managementNortel Business Ventures Group1996Internet and networking technologies150NAEntrust: encryption and digital security
Elastic Networks: next-generation DSL
Netgear: network computing
NetActive: digital-rights managementXerox Technology Enterprises1998Internet technologies5012 (est.)Inxight: Web navigation and viewing software