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Opera Singing for Its Supper

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
2/26/2004

The mobile industry is in the early stages of a mild IPO fever.

The latest victim is Norway's Opera Software ASA, which develops browser software for phones, as well as the traditional desktop variants.

Opera plans an IPO this March on the Oslo stock exchange. Yesterday, the firm's board of directors said they plan to issue between 12.5 million and 16.1 million new shares related to the offering. Existing shareholders will sell 11,844,900 shares in the transaction. The share price range is 8 to 10 Norwegian crowns ($1.13 to $1.41). The sale could raise up to $22 million.

Opera has been fighting the desktop browser wars against such rivals as Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) for nearly ten years. Its main competition in the mobile market comes from Openwave Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: OPWV).

The firm's decision to float shows how the market for IPOs – particularly those related to the wireless industry – is gradually starting to open up again.

Wireless LAN chip designer Atheros Communications Inc.'s (Nasdaq: ATHR) recent $800 million IPO showed that – while the market is still much more cautious than it was – going public can still give the right company a nice wedge of the folding stuff to play with (see Atheros IPO Raises All Boats).

Wireless LAN in general is probably the hottest IPO market in mobile right now. Before Atheros, WLAN remote access company iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS) and SOHO kit maker Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) both had successful market debuts (see Netgear Gets $98M From IPO and IPass May Start IPO Trend).

WiFi switch startups Airespace Inc. and Aruba Wireless Networks are both hoping to ride this wave to IPO success sometime in 2005 (see Switch Startups Mull IPOs).

But wireless LAN isn't the only hot sector in the mobile market: Despite all the reports about the demise of Bluetooth short-range wireless technology, U.K. chip designer Cambridge Silicon Radio plc (CSR) – which specializes in single-chip products using the much-maligned standard – recently announced that it is planning a public offering, although it offered no details on timing or share prices (see CSR Preps for IPO).

Taken together, the CSR and Opera floatations will likely function as a useful barometer of the European market for mobile-related IPOs.

But remember: In Opera's case, it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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