Wi-Fi wholesaler raises cash and polishes brass

1 Sep 2004

The Cloud, a UK-based Wi-Fi wholesalers started-up by a number of Irish businesspeople, has recently bulked up its management team with an infusion of senior executives from the Financial Times, Colt and Orange. The move follows a funding round in which venture capitalists 3i and Accel Partners pumped around €10m into the company.

Established by ex-Ebeon executives, including Norman Crowley, Inspired Broadcast Networks in collaboration with Ericsson and Intel created The Cloud last year. The Cloud is open to any branded service provider to offer Wi-Fi services to their customers under their own brand. BT Openzone became the first service provider on The Cloud and began offering its services last July, making the network the largest of its type in Europe.

Inspired Broadcast Networks began building this network last year, leveraging its national network of broadband connected games terminals and its exclusive partnership with Leisure Link, which manages 90,000 machines in 30,000 locations across the UK. The company has built the largest and most sophisticated Wi-Fi network in Europe, with over 4,300 hotspots currently in operation.

However, under the terms of the venture capital injection of €10m, The Cloud was spun out of Inspired Broadcast Networks in July. It is understood that Inspired will maintain a substantial minority stake in the company and co-CEOs Luke Alvarez and Norman Crowley will retain seats on the board.

In a statement at the time the company said: “Inspired will continue to have a guiding hand in the development of The Cloud through the ever-growing estate of Inspired’s network of digital out of home entertainment terminals that house a number of The Cloud’s hotspots in leisure venues across the UK. Inspired and The Cloud will maintain this relationship to ensure the number of WiFi hotspots in Europe continues to develop apace.”

Since taking on the €10m venture capital investment, The Cloud has begun an expansion process under the stewardship of CEO George Polk that has seen senior brass from top bluechip firms Oracle, the FT and Colt join in senior operating positions.

The new additions to the board include ex-Colt chief financial officer Gerard Small, former Orange chief information officer Peter Elliot and yesterday the company revealed that former FT UK and EMEA managing director Zach Leonard has joined The Cloud as chief network officer.

Leonard, who launched FT YourMoney and FT MarketWatch as well as making FT.com a paid-for service, has a history of developing new products but will also help the company achieve operational discipline and profitability.

Last year, TheCloud signed a partnership deal with BT OpenZone to deploy and manage 1,200 public hotspots. This was followed by the establishment of an international exchange, part-financed by IBM, that brings together the world’s leading public Wi-Fi providers to enable web surfers to access the internet across a huge global network of hotspots at airports, cafes and hotels.

Entitled RoamPoint, the service aims to link together the numerous wireless work footprints to be found in hotels, airports, railway stations and cafes into one platform so that users can access an extensive array of hotspots.

By John Kennedy