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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February, 2005, 22:10 GMT
Mobile start-ups attract investment
By Joia Shillingford
BBC News business reporter, Cannes

Making a call outside the 3GSM World Conference, in Cannes
The 3GSM World Conference is showcasing new technologies

"Investment in mobile companies is booming," according to Rod Perry, head of 3i, the venture capital firm.

"There have been a lot of successful exits (where venture capitalists sell their stakes or float them) in the last 12 months and the investments have been much bigger."

"The market has been boosted by large US mobile software companies like Qualcomm and Openwave buying start ups in which venture capitalists have invested," Mr Perry said on Thursday night.

"There's a lot of excitement," he added. "That's why we're at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes and took a yacht there to show our companies."

Global ecosystem

Speaking at the keynote session at 3GSM, a mobile trade fair, earlier in the day, he said: "3i has had five successful recent exits: one a quarter for the past five quarters."

He said: "At 3GSM last year, we introduced Magic4, one of the wireless companies we'd invested in, to Openwave, and it bought it. We also made one of our largest investments in Ubinetics in the last 12 months.

"The current investment climate is similar to the early 90s but the difference is that the industry has formed a global ecosystem."

Stelios Haji-Ioannou plans to launch a mobiles service
Stelios Haji-Ioannou has turned his attention to the mobile market

Established entrepreneurs are also entering the mobile business for the first time.

Also at the keynote session, Stelios Haji-Ioannou talked about his plans to start a mobile business, easyMobile, in the UK next month.

He is aiming to win 10% of the UK market for mobile, or about 5m subscribers.

His target is based on the fact that a Danish mobile service with a similar business model - providing low tariffs but no handsets - has around 10% of the Danish mobile market.

'Market opportunities'

Mr Haji-Ioannou, who is easyJet's largest shareholder, also said he was looking at mobile investments in India. "We are looking at opportunities in the market," he said.

But there are a number of obstacles, he pointed out.

"Our brand is not well known there, and many people do not have internet access or credit cards."

This would make it difficult for them to sign up for the service online as is the plan in the UK.

"The UK is the best place to start," he said "because we already have a lot of customers used to buying services from us online."

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