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Intel, IBM, AT&T join to create Wi-Fi firm

Intel Corp. (http://www.intel.com) last week made good on its promise to invest $150 million in Wi-Fi technology. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker disclosed that it has joined forces with IBM (http://www.ibm.com), AT&T (http://www.att.com), and investment concerns Apax Partners and 3i to form open-access Wi-Fi company Cometa Networks. Financial details weren't immediately disclosed.

Intel executives say Cometa, previously code-named Project Rainbow, will set up high-speed wireless Internet access ''hot spots'' in hotels, universities and other buildings in the 50 largest U.S. cities.

The business plan calls for Cometa Networks to provide services to telecommunications companies, ISPs, cable operators and wireless carriers, who then can offer wireless Internet access capabilities using Wi-Fi technology, also called 802.11, to customers. Cometa will also offer wireless Internet access to enterprise customers through the participating carriers, officials said.

Cometa's service will be designed to make it possible for users to keep existing sign-on procedures, e-mail addresses, IDs, passwords and payment methods, whether they are accessing the Internet via an ISP, corporate virtual private network, telecommunications provider or cable operator, according to Intel officials.

The agreement calls for AT&T to bring network infrastructure and management to the enterprise and for IBM to provide wireless site installations and back-office systems. Intel's contribution, according to Cometa CEO Lawrence Brilliant, will be the new wireless-specific processor, code-named Banias, which the firm promises will begin shipping during the first half of 2003.

The new system will not be Intel-dependent, insisted Brilliant. ''Provided that they adhere to 802.11 standards, any user radio can use our network,'' he said.

Brilliant contends that Wi-Fi technology can ultimately extend the distributed computing model to the general public by making it ''easier to access reports, customer information and e-mail using existing Internet accounts,'' he said.

Cometa Networks' 802.11 network access is set to begin rolling out during 2003 in top 50 U.S. urban markets. Reportedly, the company is currently in talks with customers and additional partners.

''Cometa Networks plans to achieve critical economies of scale by building on the retail brands and customer reach of service providers,'' said Theodore Schell, Cometa's chairman and general partner of investor Apax Partners. He added that the investors' goal is to ''provide the quality of service, nationwide footprint and seamless integration into corporate networks that will stand the test of demanding enterprises.''

Cometa officials said the new firm will first establish offices in San Francisco and New York.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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