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Nomadix President and CEO Kurt Bauer

Kurt BauerAs far as Wi-Fi goes, Nomadix is a pioneer. The company has been in the wireless Internet business since 2000 when it received a patent for a "nomadic translator or router" that allowed mobile users to connect to the Internet regardless of the configuration of the laptop or computer. With some funding from Intel , the company caters to service providers, wireless ISPs and venue owners with public-access hotspots.

Earlier this year, the Westlake Village, Calif.-based firm introduced its Nomadix Interconnect Services (NIS) to augment its Nomadix Service Engine (NSE) software with plans to support VoIP and location-aware advertising. On Dec. 1, the company secured a controversial patent for hotspot launch pages.

Internetnews.com recently sat down with President and CEO Kurt Bauer to talk about Nomadix's future with WiMAX, mesh networking, wireless VoIP and the untimely passing of the company's co-founder, CTO and senior vice president Joel Short.

Q: You recently received a patent for the HTML-based pop-up windows that launch when a browser is opened at a hotspot. What are you hoping to accomplish?

This is one of the innovations that Dr. Joel Short had come up with. The important part of the console is that it allows operators to tailor services to the user in this public access environment.

In that environment, you have people from all over the place. Some are just hanging out and surfing the Web. Others are busy working because they have a plane to catch. So this technology is a way for the operator to deliver a very flexible solution set that is easy for the user to self-administer. Some will use it to get a little more bandwidth or get a particular service that may or may not be in the base fee. As a result, the operator can create a little more revenue.

Q: What is your take on the growing number of free public wireless sites disrupting the hotspot market?

Well, the "free" movement is largely driven by the hospitality issue. They have taken a view that broadband is like coffee. It's an amenity to offer to put a body in a bed. I think we will start to see more of these "free" locations. But as soon as that happens, the hotspot owners need a way to make money. It can't be just a cost center for the operator. So we are seeing public access service operators delivering a service that may or may not be a part of the larger carrier.

What they are looking to do is to layer these fee services on top of the free services. We expect to see this in the media wireless market as it starts to evolve with municipal governments. San Francisco has one on the table. Philadelphia has theirs. We're right in the middle of that mix as well.

Q: To what extent?

Our NSE product allows you to create services and build them in a specific way -- by the user, by the service. For example, the city of Hermosa Beach in California has an outdoor public network announced. What they can do is give the service for free but then they have the ability to start charging for specific content and layering other services on top of that without changing the infrastructure.

The other thing we do is the NIS. We are out there in a lot of locations and we have the opportunity to blend that mosaic together into a full picture with a large footprint in a rent vs. own situation.

Q: Does this help the growing need for ubiquitous wireless computing?

Yes, it does. And more importantly, a subscriber can go out into that world, and if there is a roaming agreement, that user's mobile operator can go into a Nomadix location and have the same experience. In some cases, they don't have to pay for the privilege of using the network. As we go forward, the "free model" is actually conducive for this whole subscription service.

Q: What about the privacy concerns? Some users may not want their surfing history monitored.

Any type of lawful intercept is not invoked. It has to be actively turned on by the delivering public access service. What we do from an opt-in point of view is merely authenticate the service.

There is a movement by a number of carriers to turn that on but it has a bunch of security issues and we are paying attention to. There may be legislation passed from a regulatory point of view as part of the Patriot Act that requires it down the line. We have the capability, but it is not up to us. Being a startup, we don't have a lobbyist in Washington.

Q: Can you consider yourself a startup if you've been around since 1998?

Yea, kind of. I do. We survived the bubble. (Laughs)

Q: I think that makes you a veteran.

(Laughs) Seriously though, we restarted the company from 120 people at some point and brought it down to 35 people. We doubled revenue year over year so we have startup growth now. And we are projecting a good year ahead for 2005. We did well during the harder times because we adapted to changes in the market.

Q: Speaking of changes, you recently lost your co-founder and CTO Joel Short. How is the company dealing with that?

First of all, Joel was a wonderful guy and an amazing character. Not only extremely intelligent and driven but a really good person on top of it. His strategic thinking with tactical execution was magical. We're going to miss that.

We have a plan that is definitely through 2005 into 2006. We are not short on vision. We have a lot of folks that trained under Joel. If there ever was an increase in the desire to make Nomadix successful, Joel's passing was a good one for the people inside the company.

We need a CTO. And we are searching for one. These are huge shoes to fill figuratively and literally. Joel happened to be 6' 6" (Laughs). But we are looking for a person that understands how service providers and carriers run their networks, as well as has a deep understanding of TCP/IP.

Q: Take us through some of the projects you are working on now.

We expect that if WiMAX and mesh networking can realize the promise of coverage and deployment of WLAN networks more efficiently, that is good for us. Bring them on. The sooner the better. The more networks that are out there, the more opportunities there are for us to bring public access intelligence with either product or services.

We think voice over wireless or voice over IP are going to be really important. There are two dimensions where we can add value. The first one is Marriott's "Wired For Business," where for $9.95 you get broadband access and unlimited long distance. Those telecom charges cost money. If we have the ability to deliver and to propagate VoIP or Voice over Wireless capabilities into that environment, they can minimize their telephone calls using LAN-based voice.

The other dimension is cellular convergence with, say, wireless WAN or wireless LAN. With a dual-mode phone or laptop there might not be a UTMS signal, but there might be a wireless LAN to take advantage of. Being part of that handoff and accounting for how well those systems work together, Nomadix has a place for that. We are in the middle of the authentication process and traffic gets handed as it gets authenticated from one side to the other.

Q: Does this signal a trend for public hotspots?

I think what is going to happen is that, like in hospitality and municipal wireless, there is a big opportunity for operators and service providers to take a bigger role than what they have today. We think there will be some consolidation.

The other thing we see is that organizations that have traditionally built their own access networks will succumb to the market as the service delivery becomes more complex. It's likely that they will look to outside services to make that happen. We supply product into those customers so they look like a channel to us.