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Fastmobile Pushes With $12M

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LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
5/16/2005
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Software vendor fastmobile Inc. has scored a $12 million series B cash injection, as the company gears up for battle with rival startups and incumbent players in the push-to-talk (PTT) space (see Fastmobile Secures $12M).

Founded in 2003, the Illinois-based company has attracted investment from new partners Doll Capital Management (DCM) and Walden International, as well as existing investors BlueStar Ventures and Leo Capital Holdings LLC. Total investment to date is $21 million (see FastMobile Raises $4M).

Fastmobile is best known for its fastchat “instant voice messaging” service, similar in concept to the digital walkie-talkie-like PTT service pioneered in the U.S. by Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL). It’s not quite the same, however, as it allows users to send pre-recorded messages back and forth to each other, rather than offering a real-time connection.

“We believe that our ‘store and forward’ approach is a much better route,” comments fastmobile’s sales and marketing director, John O’Boyle. “You can store a message and send it forward. We also have a history of the call that we store on the server and handset. That is innovative and unique to us. It’s not as fast as instantaneous PMR [Public Mobile Radio], but the research we have is that, apart from emergency services, it doesn’t make much difference as long as you can get reactions in around 1.5 seconds.”

The vendor has won carrier deals with Dialog GSM in Sri Lanka, Hutchison Essar in India, Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (Milan: TIM), and German mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Victorvox (see Fastmobile Pushes in India).

Fastmobile is competing against rival startups such as Kodiak Networks and Sonim Technologies Inc., as well as the likes of Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) in the nascent PTT space. Despite such support, carriers outside the U.S. have been slow to deploy services, and long-term commercial success remains uncertain (see PTT: The New SMS?).

“There’s three factors involved here,” notes O’Boyle. “Firstly, we still don’t have sufficient numbers of handsets in the market to make it a reality. PTT requires a community, and you need to have enough people. The second point is that standards have not yet been approved. I don’t think interoperability with the POC standard is far away, and that will obviously help… Thirdly, this is something that’s new. We have to build through the niches…

"At a personal guess, it will be about another 18 months to 2 years before PTT matures.”

With a headcount of 33, the startup will be using its extra cash to ramp up sales and technical staff, as well as expand its product portfolio.

“This freezes us from the need to be immediately profitable,” adds O’Boyle. “We can now take a longer-term view. Traditionally we have been PTT-led. Push-to-talk is still important to us, but PTT on its own isn’t enough. We need to look at new services such as mobile instant messaging and email in terms of our fastchat service.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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