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2012 Leading Lights Finalists: Company of the Year (Private)

Michelle Donegan
Wireless Bits
Michelle Donegan

5:00 AM -- As the Leading Lights Awards ceremony approaches, it's time to review the finalists for Company of the Year (Private).

Admitedly, it wasn't easy to narrow down this shortlist because there were many good candidates. But our finalists of innovative, growing private firms are some of the companies challenging established vendors, and this list highlights some key industry trends, such as software-defined networking (SDN), the need for analytics, service assurance, advanced advertising and mobile payments.

You can see the full list of Leading Lights awards finalists here (free registration required).

The Leading Lights Awards and Light Reading's Hall of Fame winners will be revealed Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Manhattan Penthouse in New York City.

Now, here's why these nine private companies, in no particular order, made the cut.

Square Inc.
The company created by Twitter Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey in 2009, Square Inc. , is one of the sexiest tech startups around, offering a new way for people -- and particularly small businesses -- to buy and sell goods. Its credit card reader fits into the earphone jack of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) or Android smartphones and tablets, making it possible for anyone, anywhere to accept credit card payments. That simplicity is what makes the mobile payment gadget successful, and is what has spurred the company's rapid growth. When Square announced Series D funding in September -- which was reported to be around $200 million -- the company claimed that it had about 400 employees and processed $8 billion in payments on an annualized basis. But a year earlier it had just 150 employees and processed $1 billion in payments on an annualized basis.

And Square is expanding to work with bigger businesses and go into new markets as well. The first and most significant move in this direction is a partnership with Starbucks, through which the coffee retailer will invest $25 million in the company and use Square to process card payments across its 7,000 shops in the U.S. Square has also taken its card reader to Canada, its first market entry outside the U.S.

But here's a question to ponder: Would Square be such a hit today if it was called Squirrel, as originally planned?

The DSL line management specialist founded by Light Reading Hall of Famer John Cioffi in 2003 is on a roll, and shows that there is still room for innovation to improve DSL services and reduce service providers operating costs.

As one measure of how widely ASSIA Inc. 's software is now deployed, service providers use it to manage and optimize about 60 million DSL lines worldwide. The company recently landed its first customer in China -- China Telecom Jiangsu -- for its DSL Expresse product; and it also added new tools for monitoring and diagnosing residential Wi-Fi network performance. The key to ASSIA's DSL management is the company's Dynamic Spectrum Management (DSM) technology.

This is one of the hottest software-defined networking (SDN) startups. ConteXtream 's software, called Grid, creates a fabric that connects any network element to any other. With investments from carrier heavyweights Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), the startup is now looking to apply SDN to wireless networks with the introduction of a new version of its Grid software that enables Evolved Packet Core (EPC) virtualization.

BlackArrow Inc.
As consumers watch less traditional TV and more time-shifted, video-on-demand content on various devices, advertisers need a way to reach them and BlackArrow Inc. 's advanced advertising system does just that. The system enables ads to be managed and delivered to any connected device, whether it's a TV, smartphone, tablet or game console. And the company has attracted some big service providers: Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI) have each recently rolled out the BlackArrow advanced advertising system.

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