Tech titans launch Wi-Fi company

Intel, IBM and AT&T announce a new company that combines technologies from the trio to provide wireless broadband Internet access nationwide.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
2 min read
Intel, IBM and AT&T have officially thrown their combined weight behind the effort to create a nationwide network of public "hot spots" that would give people wireless broadband Internet access from just about anywhere.

As expected, Intel Capital, along with Big Blue, AT&T and investors Apax Partners and 3i, announced the creation of Cometa Networks--formerly known as Project Rainbow--a new company focused on deploying hot spots throughout the United States. Hot spots are public areas where people can access the Internet using products based on 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, a wireless networking standard with a range of about 300 feet from a network's access points, or radio transmitters.

"Wi-Fi will bring (wireless) computing into the general public environment, leading to increased business productivity and new consumer applications," Lawrence B. Brilliant, chief executive officer of Cometa Networks said in a release Thursday.

The Cometa effort is the latest in a series of moves to create a nationwide Wi-Fi network. A handful of companies already exist that sell monthly subscriptions that provide access to hundreds of different hot spots. There are also a number of free public networks created by those who don't mind sharing their Wi-Fi connections, but cable companies have recently begun an effort to crack down on such setups.

"There's a landgrab mentality in the market right now, as companies look to attract carriers who want to avoid undertaking the capital expense of building out a national Wi-Fi network," said Navin Sabharwal, an analyst with research company Allied Business Intelligence. "Cometa will act as a wholesaler to wireless carriers looking to add Wi-Fi to their services."

Sabharwal expects others to attempt similar nationwide services.

Cometa plans to deploy 20,000 Wi-Fi access points in the coming years. Since the company will act as a wholesaler, selling access to carriers and large companies, it will not set pricing for services and will not market itself as a brand name.

Cometa's network and service will be designed to work with the same sign-on procedures, e-mail addresses, IDs and passwords people use on their desktop PCs, so they can move out into the field with a notebook computer or handheld device and continue Web surfing and e-mailing with few hassles.

Cometa will sell the service, based on technologies from Intel, IBM and AT&T, to telecommunications companies, Internet service providers, cable operators and wireless carriers, which will in turn sell it to corporate or consumer subscribers. The new company will begin setting up hot spots throughout the top 50 cities in the United States next year, with AT&T providing network infrastructure and management, and IBM providing wireless site installations and back-office systems. The deal's financial terms were not disclosed.

Cometa will have offices in San Francisco and New York.