Startup: SIMtone Pushes 'Mass Market' Thin-Client Vision

Can telecom carriers offer low-cost computing on a broad scale?

Cloud computing has more buzz than a swarm of killer bees these days, as vendors scramble to position themselves for a world where computing applications and resources are used in much the same way as the Internet is today for on-demand search, media access and data retrieval. Jockeying for position in the midst of this nascent market is SIMtone Corp., a Durham, N.C.-based start-up, with a somewhat unique vision of how end users might avail themselves of PC resources: through their local telecom carriers.

SIMtone offers a line of products that would allow carriers to sell their subscribers PC services on a monthly basis using thin clients, some based on mobile access. And while mobile thin clients aren't new, they become a much more technologically feasible option once faster GSM-based wireless access, called High Speed Packet Access (HSPA), becomes more widely deployed in telecom networks.

Current Trials
According to SIMtone's CEO Mario Dal Canto, the company currently has trials going with three major European carriers and a U.S. carrier involving its Universal Storage Platform (USP) and Virtual Service Platform (VSP) software -- launched in December 2007 -- that network operators can use to provision, manage and deliver cloud computing services. Desktop as a Service (DaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Web apps can all be provided over a wireless or wired broadband connection, while the SIMtone products orchestrate and manage server sessions. Currently the solution supports both VMware Inc. and Microsoft virtualization configurations.

New Possibilities
Some of the carriers the company is working with (mostly outside the United States) have been leasing PCs for the equivalent of about $150 a month. But many of these efforts have been money losers because of high maintenance costs. Dal Canto notes that these same carriers have become intrigued with cloud-based approaches and the possibility of replacing an unsuccessful business model with another that offers them the added benefit of zero endpoint cost.

"What we're talking about is the opportunity to make BlackBerry-like, rich services available on a device that's disposable and … is so inexpensive that a service provider can simply make it part of its subscription services," says Lorenzo Mejia, senior executive VP of Carrier Business.

About the Author

Tom Valovic is a freelance technology writer.