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2010 Top Ten: Startups to Watch

Sarah Thomas
12/24/2010
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2010 was a big year for new companies breaking on the scene to shake up the status quo and show consumers they can do more with their wireless service and, sometimes, less with their cable subscription.

For our list of ten startups to watch in 2011, we picked hot companies working in hot markets. They may not have made it big yet, but in many cases, neither has the market they are looking to kick-start. Our main criterion here was potential.

In terms of other, more measurable, requirements to be one of the startups of 2010 to watch, we also looked for companies that have received some decent amount of funding and that were founded within the past four years -- the gating factor for most.

Long Term Evolution

LightSquared



Harbinger Capital Partners LP -backed LightSquared gives new meaning to the term "ambitious" with its plans to offer wholesale capacity on its own hybrid network of satellite and terrestrial LTE spectrum. Next year will be a pivotal one for LTE, so the stealthy startup's progress on bringing wireless broadband connectivity to 92 percent of the US will be worth keeping an eye on. (See Harbinger Hatches LTE Challenger in US, LightSquared Lands $850M for LTE Build , and LightSquared Names LTE Suppliers.)

Small Cells

AirHop
  • San Diego, Calif.
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: Self-organizing network (SON) software for LTE
  • Funding: $1 million


SON capabilities are going to play a role in LTE as a cheap way of filling in coverage holes and mitigating interference, and AirHop Communications Inc. is evangelizing the concept. It's a concept that is resonating with operators, too. Most, including Verizon Wireless , plan to make distributed network concepts part of their deployment plans. (See 4G Startup Revs LTE Automation and Startup Challenges AlcaLu's Single-Vendor LTE .)

Mobile Data

Skyfire
  • Mountain View, Calif.
  • Founded: 2006
  • Primary Product: Full-featured Web browser overlay built on the Webkit core of Safari and native Android browsers
  • Funding: $22.8 million


Skyfire Inc. can already claim that it brought Flash to the iPhone and eventually, the iPad. But, its main appeal is that it gives wireless operators a way to reduce data strain on their networks. Videos viewed on Skyfire save 75 percent of bandwidth compared to Flash. Next year will be big for the company as it seeks to sell carriers on its browser alternative. (See Skyfire Sets Sights on iPad, Carriers.)

Mobile Gaming

Zynga
  • San Francisco
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: Social game network
  • Funding: $26.8 million


Zynga Inc. doesn't have a huge presence on mobile -- yet. The Farmville and Mafia Wars-maker is looking to make a big mobile push in 2011, starting with its acquisition of mobile game developer NewToy and its first game designed for the mobile Web, Mafia Wars Atlantic City. It already has 10 million downloads on mobile, but its online user base is 215 million, so there's room to grow. (See Deal Watch: Motorola Heads for 4Home.)

Mobile Video

Thwapr
  • New York, NY
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: Mobile-to-mobile content sharing
  • Funding: $4 million


Thwapr Inc. 's cloud-based mobile video sharing platform lets consumers share content like videos and pictures between nearly any phone on any network via SMS or email. Video sharing has interesting use cases that tie in mCommerce and geolocation, but interoperability is the limiting factor that Thwapr aims to solve. It also helps that the startup's CTO Eric Hoffert invented QuickTime in his Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) days.

Mobile Web

Taptu
  • Cambridge, UK
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: Mobile search engine optimized for touchscreen devices
  • Funding: About $14.6 million


Touchscreens have become table stakes for mobile phone design, and Taptu helps content owners think in a touch-Web frame of mind, not just mobile Web. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is already exploring browser apps with Taptu. Next year should see more carriers following its lead, making Taptu an attractive partner or potential acquisition target. (See Sprint Tackles Browser-Based Apps.)

Smart Grid

EnergyHub
  • Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: Home energy management hardware and software
  • Funding: $7 million


EnergyHub Inc. lets consumers track and control the energy use of everything in their homes. Having this much presence in all corners of the home is a goal of broadband providers as well. EnergyHub already works with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) PowerMeter, and our guess is that telcos will be curious about the whole-home tech next year as well.

Cable

BNI Video
  • Boxborough, Mass.
  • Founded: 2009
  • Primary Product: Video back-office, or control plane, software to manage cable's use of traditional video-on-demand (VoD) platforms and content delivery networks (CDNs)
  • Funding: $16 million


BNI Video is backed by cable giants interested in seeing TV Everywhere take off, and it's poised to cause trouble for VOD back-office incumbents such as SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) and Tandberg Television . We're already hearing that they've replaced those two in some cable systems. (See Cable Guys Buck Up for BNI Video .)

Over-the-Top

Clearleap
  • Duluth, Ga.
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: IP-based content management and delivery platform bridging Internet content with non-IP digital set-tops
  • Funding: $17.3 million


Over-the-top video has been the single biggest threat to cable and IPTV providers this year, and Clearleap offers a way to compete even if their set-top boxes aren't up to speed. The young company has already won a ton of deals, including with telcos, cable providers, and the content owners themselves. Plus, it has a budding consumer electronics-focused strategy in the works. (See Clearleap Aims to Make Web Video a Commodity, Clearleap Jumps on First Win, Clearleap, Roku Shop Web Video Combo to Cable, and Clearleap Reels In a Big Fish .)

Video Software

Jinni
  • Tel Aviv
  • Founded: 2007
  • Primary Product: A mood-based search and recommendation engine for premium video content
  • Funding: $5.1 million


GoogleTV was Jinni Media Ltd. 's first big customer, but it's also got a deal with Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG) under its belt and is eyeing the cable market next. The set-top-box market is a hard one to crack, but the more choices service providers add to their channel lineups, the more a service like Jinni's make sense. (See Jinni Locks In Its A Round .)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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