Aperto Names Pratt CEO

WiMax vendor Aperto Networks Inc. is announcing today that it has named telecom veteran Michael Pratt as its new CEO, replacing Reza Ahy, who will continue as founder and chairman of the board.

Pratt brings 20 years of experience as a telecommunications exec; he was most recently the president of ADC's Active Infrastructure division.

"What's exciting to me about this market is that I believe in the promise of broadband wireless networks driven by WiMax standards," Pratt says. "We're at the beginning of the next wave of this new expansive access technology. It's always exciting to be at this stage of something that's going to take off and be as consequential as WiMax will be."

Aperto was founded in 1999. Pratt's appointment culminates a period of bringing on a seasoned management team, says Aperto vice president of marketing Manish Gupta. (See WiMax Gear Approved for Market.)

"Over the next 12 months, it's really about putting our heads down and getting these deployments going," says Gupta. "The hype phase is behind us, and we are now in the reality phase."

Privately held Aperto claims 200 active customers today, and Gupta points to about two dozen new and pending contracts that will bring "tens of millions of dollars" in revenue to the company in the next 18 to 24 months.

That said, WiMax vendors in general face some interesting challenges in the near term. The spread of high-speed WiFi mesh networks has accelerated rapidly over the last year, stealing some of the market buzz that WiMax has enjoyed, while cellular carriers are rolling out 3G voice and data networks that rival WiMax for speed and range of coverage. The technology also faces issues of spectrum availability, particularly in the U.S. (See Mesh Fit for a MAN's Job?)

The advent of mesh networks across many cities in the U.S. and Europe, counters Pratt, is a welcome development for Aperto. Many of the newer mesh networks are using WiMax as a backhaul system, he notes.

"I'm quite encouraged by the buzz around these mesh networks," he says. "The faster people appreciate the promise of broadband wireless, the more they'll recognize WiMax as an appropriate infastructure solution to meet those needs."

There's also the matter of cost: Many observers see the real potential for WiMax in North America and Europe as a network for highly mobile applications, including links to trains and other forms of high-speed transportation. But the cost of providing full mobile WiMax coverage is far higher than the fixed variety -- which is likely to be deployed mostly in the developing world, where other forms of high-speed connectivity are scarce.

Craig McCaw-owned WiMax provider Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), for instance, has spent huge sums to erect a network that serves a relatively small number of subscribers. Last year, ClearWire lost $140 million on $33.4 million in revenue. The company filed for an IPO last week and hopes to raise $400 million on the stock market.

Aperto, Pratt states, will be profitable in 2007.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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