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Mobile

Littlefeet Kicks Into China

Mini GSM base-station manufacturer Littlefeet Inc. claims to have secured a commercial contract win in the lucrative Chinese market -- with the region’s largest carrier China Mobile Communications Corp. a likely suspect.

“We have just put through an international tender for a major Chinese organization,” says John W. Combs, chairman and CEO. “It’s not just a big carrier but is also for the government. We won the entire order.”

In light of its state-owned backing and a nationwide GSM subscriber base, China Mobile appears the strongest candidate. Rival China Unicom Ltd., meanwhile, has shifted its development focus to CDMA, launching a national CDMA network in January 2002.

Combs is naturally eager to wax lyrical on the significance of the deal. “Generally, the government likes to encourage Chinese companies to go to onshore companies as opposed to going completely offshore. That really points to the differentiation we have with the product today.”

The Poway, Calif., vendor has developed a mini GSM base-station system designed to cut the costs of installation, double the coverage of an existing base station, and improve the average signal level received by a handset (see Littlefeet's First Steps).

In June the startup boasted of the successful completion of eight GSM system field trials in Asia, Europe, and North America, all testing its SPICE (Small Profile Intelligent Coverage Element) product (see LittleFeet Caps Field Trials).

Combs now lays claim to six trials in Europe, two in Africa, and six in Asia, with “a number of smaller GSM carriers in the Americas.” In addition, Combs stresses that some of the European and Asian trials include commercial deployments. “We have over 300 units that are working and serving customers today, all of which were paid for. We have gone beyond the trial phase and are moving up… The breaks seem to be going our way right now.”

Looking ahead, he says the startup is in the process of adding another name to its list of VC friends Bay Partners, ComVentures, and Sevin Rosen Funds, and is hopeful that a further cash injection will be announced by the end of the year. The company has raised a total of $62 million, with a $25 million round last year (see Funding: Startup Roundup).

The CEO also expects to announce details shortly of a partnership with a traditional infrastructure player, in a bid to speed up deployment of its kit in major operators’ networks. “Yes, we are looking,” he admits. “Now that we are in a situation where we have commercial sales volumes and need to be able to ramp up production, we need a partner who has expertise in cost production and manufacturing activity. We have a shortlist… and are confident we will complete this in the near future. We have a partner identified that I am very enthusiastic about.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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