WiFi company secures Nokia deal


US software company Devicescape is expected to follow its licensing deal with Nokia, which sees its Wi-Fi connection tool embedded on Wi-Fi enabled Nokia handsets, with agreements with other tier-one manufacturers by the middle of next year.

Devicescape Connect stores users’ Wi-Fi settings and automatically connects their handsets when in range of Wi-Fi networks. The user is not required to ‘log-in’ at any point. It selects the local network, and connects to it via the user’s pre-programmed user codes.

The Nokia deal represents Devicescape’s first official foray into the UK market, a $20 million business opportunity, according to chief executive Dave Fraser (pictured). Its software has been popular among early adopters within Europe already, who have loaded the application onto their handsets themselves (see box).

Fraser said: “These things usually take 18 months – the design win normally takes 12 months, and getting it to market usually takes another six. With Nokia, it took only a year because Nokia had already decided to put Wi-Fi in all its handsets.

“The device market is huge, but it is limited and Nokia is entering digital content provision – selling mapping, music, games, videos and so on. Wi-Fi is a way for users to access that content. But it needs to be taken on by the mass market, and ease-of-use has so far been a barrier to wider take-up, which is where we come in.”

The Devicescape tool is activated via the ‘Easy Wi-Fi’ tool in the download folder on Nokia handsets.

Devicescape, funded by US venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins, is targeting a turnover of $100,000 million by 2010. Fraser reckons the UK can make up 20 per cent of its business.

It is looking at licensing deals for its Connect tool with mobile phone manufacturers such as Samsung and Motorola, Wi-Fi handsets by the likes of Netgear and Belkin, games stations from Sony and Nintendo, and digital cameras from Nikon and Kodak.

Fraser said digital imaging is a huge growth market for Wi-Fi, with the camera makers now selling devices that automatically transfer digital images to online photo archives over Wi-Fi when in range of a network. The innovation disposes of the need to manually transfer and back-up photos from digital cameras.

It works on around 300 Wi-Fi, according to Fraser, including all big name Wi-Fi networks and can be set up on personal, local and municipal networks too. It also enables automatic roaming, so customers can roam on to Wi-Fi networks abroad that have roaming agreements with UK networks.

Devicescape takes a 10-15 per cent revenues share from network partners for every new user it introduces to the network, or for every new customer it gets using Wi-Fi data on it.

Unlocked iPhones helping Devicescape’s rise

Devicescape has a customer base of around 100,000, of which roughly half reside in the Europe.

In the US, the software service has proved popular among students, who have rushed to buy Apple iPhone and iTouch devices and use them for content services on their university campus Wi-Fi networks.

As it stands, Devicescape does not have a distribution deal with Apple, but the software works on its devices.

Around 300,000 iPhones have been software cracked (the same number Apple has said have been unlocked in the US) using a facility called ‘Jail Break’, which is more than one in five devices sold in the US so far, in order to run non-approved software on the devices.

Devicescape chief executive Dave Fraser said: “Universities are mad for the iPhone and iPod Touch. There are campus-wide Wi-Fi networks, so the adoption rate is extremely high, and we’re seeing 1,000s for activations for iPhones everyday.

“The iPhone is EDGE only; it’s 2.5G. YouTube traffic, which is often the kind of content people want, will saturate the network. Wi-Fi is fast and unrestricted, and we are making it easy for customers to use.”

Devicescape’s European customer base, of around 50,000, has grown up by word-of-mouth and online tech blogs. Its deal with Nokia, announced last month, is its first European licensing deal and the first time the company has spoken up.

Its UK operation is run by Silicon Valley executives jetting across the Atlantic every other week. Fraser said staff will be installed in a UK office forthwith.

“Except for iPhone, US is a primitive market. Europe is quite different, and there is a huge appetite for Wi-Fi and new technology. European cities are rolling out huge municipal Wi-Fi networks. Paris has just set up 400,000 hotspots around the city for locals and tourists. It makes roaming affordable,” said Fraser.