Vivato's Demise Leaves Wi-Fi Operators Scrambling

With the collapse of Wi-Fi infrastructure provider Vivato, the operators of scores of Wi-Fi wide area installations are scrambling to insure their networks remain up and running.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

January 26, 2006

2 Min Read

With the collapse of Wi-Fi infrastructure provider Vivato, the operators of scores of Wi-Fi wide area installations are scrambling to ensure their networks remain up and running.

One source, who asked to remain anonymous, said Thursday that negotiations were underway with Vivato for a company to take over the manufacturing of Vivato's equipment.

"The equipment we bought from Vivato is still up and running," said Frank Sicilia, president SkyeNet, which operates a Vivato-equipped wide area Wi-Fi network in North Carolina's Outer Banks. "Vivato had an excellent product. Now we're continuing to build out with our own gear."

Financed with tens of millions of dollars of venture capital, Vivato quickly jumped to the vanguard of Wi-Fi infrastructure building Wi-Fi sites from Spokane and other Washington state locations to Florida and Kentucky sites. Installations were set up in Mexico, Canada, and Italy, too.

But a week after the firm announced last month that it had enabled a "large ubiquitous Wi-Fi Network at Pennsylvania State University," Vivato announced that it was ceasing operations.

The demise of the firm took place less than a year after it named a new CEO, Donald Stalter, a veteran of the wireless communications industry. Stalter summed up Vivato's approach shortly after he became CEO: "Wireless Internet service providers are creating wireless hot zones with a few Vivato switches, extending Wi-Fi coverage to areas where wireless networks had been difficult or impossible to deploy in the past."

Shortly after Stalter took over Vivato, the firm announced the installation of a 100-block downtown area of Spokane to create what was believed at the time to be the largest municipal Wi-Fi wireless network.

At least one service provider, GeoWireless, plans to continue installing and maintaining Vivato gear. A spokeswoman at GeoWireless said the firm expects to continue supporting Vivato installations in Frankfort, Kentucky, and in Hawaii, and possibly elsewhere. GeoWireless plans to continue to rollout Wi-Fi installations, she added, although she couldn't be sure of the source of the gear.

"This was a company with a product that was excellent, but the business people weren't," said SkyNet's Sicilia. "They wouldn't listen. Their (follow-up) products were too expensive. Now we're engineering our own solution."

SkyeNet's Outer Banks Wireless Access Network (OBXwan) began in the oceanfront community of Duck covering a 15-square-mile area. Sicilia said the operation was profitable within nine months. The network has been expanded and there are plans to cover seven or eight Outer Banks communities by the end of the coming summer.

Sicilia, who has strong opinions on how wide area Wi-Fi networks should be rolled out, said it is important to have a strong business model. "And Wi-Fi won't ever compete with DSL or cable broadband," he said, asking a rhetorical question: "Who's going to pay for this Wi-Fi? You need a solid business model."

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