Intel invests in Wi-Fi VOIP and hotel access companies

Intel Corp. announced Wednesday that has continued to pump investments into Wi-Fi, including initial funding for one company that has developed voice over IP (VOIP) for wireless LANs, and a second round of financing for a company that provides broadband wireless access for the hospitality industry.

Intel also said that although it will still meet its target plan for delivering its Banias mobile processor with dual-band wireless LAN capabilities in the first half of 2003, initial models will work only on the 802.11b standard. The 802.11b standard operates in the 2.4-GHz band, while the 802.11a standard operates in the 5-Ghz band.

The Wi-Fi investments from Intel's Communications Fund are part of the company's efforts "to help accelerate the deployment of high-speed wireless networks worldwide," John Hull, director of the fund, said in statement. Intel plans to invest $150 million in Wi-Fi companies through the Communications Fund, including an undisclosed amount in Cometa Networks, the joint venture it recently formed with IBM and AT&T Corp. to back development and deployment of public access WLANs nationwide.

Hull said Intel's initial investment in Telesym Inc., a Bellevue, Wash-based Internet telephony company, will allow people to turn laptops connected to Wi-Fi networks into wireless speaker phones.

Telesym in September introduced Version 1.0 of its SymPhone VOIP software for use on Pocket PCs operating over WLANs, according to Joe Dodson, vice president of marketing and business development at the company. Dodson said Telesym plans to release Internet telephony software today that will run on a laptop computer. The company has developed patent-pending software that provides "near CD quality" for VOIP telephony, he said.

Dodson declined to provide details on the funding that Telesym received from Intel. Dan Francisco, an Intel spokesman, also declined to provide funding details, but he did say that Intel aimed for minority stakes in companies it invests in of "20 percent or less."

Sandra Richards, director of marketing at the company that's receiving a second round of funding from Intel, STSN Inc. in Salt Lake City, also declined to provide details. STSN plans to use the investment to beef up Wi-Fi coverage in public spaces such as lobbies, conference rooms and restaurants, in the more than 400 hotel properties where STSN provides broadband Internet access, Richards said.

STSN provides wired Internet access to guest rooms in the large hotels it serves, she said, adding that STSN would consider using Wi-Fi service for guest rooms in smaller properties, such as Courtyard by Marriott hotels. The bulk of the hotels served by STSN are Marriott-branded properties, Richards said.

Even as Intel pushes ahead with its wireless investments, it has encountered a slight glitch with the dual-band Wi-Fi mini-PCI card slated for introduction with the Banias processor next year.

Shannon Johnson, an Intel spokeswoman, said Intel will offer only 802.11b access while it works "to ensure performance and reliability" on 802.11a access. But Johnson, who didn't provide additional details, added that Intel intends to meet its goal of delivering dual-band Wi-Fi mini-PCI cards by mid-2003.

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