Shares of Aether Systems Inc. of Owings Mills, Md., tripled in the first day of trading yesterday after analysts identified the company as a hot rookie in the business of linking wireless phones, pagers and hand-held computers to the Internet.
Aether raised the asking price on its initial public offering from $14 to $16 a share Wednesday night, and Thursday morning the Nasdaq Stock Market was hit with a burst of orders that delayed the start of trading by more than two hours.
The stock opened at $50 a share, jumped briefly to $55 and closed at $48.43 3/4. Aether sold 6.9 million shares in the IPO, raising $96 million before expenses.
The three-year-old venture has developed software and a central data hub that make it possible to connect all kinds of wireless devices to the Internet or corporate computer systems over different kinds of networks. It works with "smart" phones such as those recently introduced by Sprint, pagers and hand-held computers such as the Palm made by 3Com Corp., which is an investor in Aether.
"It's one system that operates over all these networks and devices and operating systems," said founder and chief executive David Oros. "Our goal is to take the functionality of the personal computer and move it to the hand-held." While wireless data is expected to become a major growth business, it is still in its infancy. Only a few thousand customers are now served by Aether, which had $787,000 in revenue in the first half of this year while recording a loss of $4.3 million.
Oros, 40, a University of Maryland math and physics graduate, worked on wireless data systems for Westinghouse Electric before becoming an entrepreneur. He owns 7.7 million shares of the company's stock, worth about $375 million after yesterday's big run-up.
"Wireless hand-held devices--that's where the smart money is going," said David Menlow of IPO Financial Network, one of two new issues-research services that gave the Aether offering high marks.
The Discover Brokerage arm of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. offers wireless stock trading over Aether's network and similar systems are being developed for Bear Stearns Cos. and Charles Schwab & Co. Last month Aether acquired Mobeo Inc., which transmits foreign currency, bond and futures prices via the network.
Reuters America, the big financial information provider, uses the system to deliver news to subscribers and owns 10.9 percent of Aether. Aether's other investors are a key reason the IPO was so well received, analysts said. 3Com Corp. owns 10 percent of Aether as well as two-thirds of OpenSky, an affiliate company in which Aether owns the remainder. Telcom-ATI Investors, an Alexandria venture-capital firm headed by Rajendra Singh, owns a 19.8 percent stake and 7.7 percent is held by Pyramid Ventures Inc., a venture capital unit of Germany's DeutscheBank AG--parent of BTAlex.Brown, the company formed by the merger of New York's Bankers Trust Co. with the Baltimore investment firm.