A New Medium For Their Text Messages

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By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, May 12, 2005

Local executive Neville Street has a firm rule against bringing cell phones to company meetings. He knows how tempting it is to quietly pull out one of the devices and fire off a few friendly text messages while the bosses discuss the business at hand.

During Street's meetings, the business at hand usually involves encouraging people to send more text messages.

Yes, he sees the irony.

Street's company, Mobile 365 Inc. , has emerged as an important player in the rapidly expanding wireless content market. Like many small tech firms, the Chantilly-based business is built around helping much larger companies operate smoothly -- in this case delivering information across wireless phone networks owned by different carriers.

So, for instance, when a college student who is a Verizon Wireless customer sends a text message to the cell phone of a friend who uses Cingular Wireless -- "Happy hour in 20 minutes," perhaps -- Mobile 365 makes sure the information is delivered. The company picks up the message from one network, routes it to the other, tracks the billing information for both carriers and charges a small fee for each transaction. Before Mobile 365, text messaging between carriers had been more limited -- not impossible, but constrained by a patchwork of policies and technologies employed by different carriers.

Mobile 365 isn't the only vehicle for messages that move between the different cell phone services. But it has captured nearly 80 percent of the market.

The small fees -- a fraction of a cent for each message -- add up quickly. Last month the company delivered about 1.5 billion text messages, and for the year ended in March, Mobile 365's revenue totaled $75 million, according to the privately held company's executives.

"The average consumer on the street will never know about us . . . but we enable a lot of cool things," Street says.

Mobile 365 was created last August after Chantilly-based InphoMatch Inc. merged with Mobileway , a French firm that specialized in creating content for mobile devices. InphoMatch was founded in 1999 and raised $26.5 million through four rounds of funding from a group of venture investors that includes Reston-based Draper Atlantic and the Grosvenor Funds of the District.

The firm, with 250 employees in two offices, is now focused not just on delivering text messages, but on helping other companies tap into the wireless medium. Mobile 365 powers a text messaging service for Citibank's customers in Asia, for instance, so that users are notified each time their balance slips below $100.

It also manages text voting for "Pop Idol," the European show that inspired "American Idol." And 20th Century Fox hired the company last year to help it promote the release of "Alien vs. Predator." Consumers could vote on which creature was the fiercest, and download ring tones of the movie's music.

Speculation abounds that an initial public offering is in the works for Mobile 365, but Street will say only that the company will try to tap the capital markets "when the time is right."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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