So why are we holding our MobileBeat conference tomorrow?

Focused on investors and entrepreneurs (developers), we’re asking the big question: Is now the time to go mobile? And if the answer is yes, what do you have to keep in mind?

As part of the answer, we should take a look at which companies have succeeded so far. What are the biggest hits, from an investor’s perspective?

The answer: Over the past decade, most money has been made on investments in companies building the back-end infrastructure of the wireless networks, but even here the returns have been mixed. An almost negligible sum, meanwhile, has been made from investing in mobile applications that run on phones. With the rise of the mobile browser (think 3G iPhone), however, and better networks to allow quick browsing, people are likely to surf the mobile web more. Open platforms are helping people find a way around the stagnant operators, too. That’s what suggests the types of success we see in the future might change.

To be sure, the iPhone 3G has raised the hype decibels — and it’s just not certain how investors will fare by investing in applications. We’ve got a venture capitalist panel starting at 11am where we’ll chew through these questions, how things like GPS are changing the game, and how apps (if they can become platforms) may become huge hits. We’ve got leading investors, such as Rick Segal from the Blackberry Partners Fund, Richard Wong, from Accel, Shawn Carolan, of Menlo Ventures — and even Rupert Young, of AT&T, who says the company has made few investments so far, but that’s about to change.

So, beyond the iPhone 3G hype, where has the cold hard cash been made?

First, we looked at the top 10 IPOs from 2000-2008 (source: VentureOne). The reality: Only 10 companies went public. Industry watchers will also note that Vonage Telecommunications, one of the companies on the list, had a disastrous enough IPO that shareholders revolted with a class action lawsuit.

Notably, half of the 10 did their IPOs in early 2000 during the Internet boom. After a nearly four-year nuclear winter, Atheros Communications got through the gates and raised $126MM in 2004 with its IPO. Only four of the 10 had billion dollar values at time of going public.

There are few household names on this list, unless of course you’re a fan of the cheesy MetroPCS and Vonage commercials.

A more diverse and interesting picture emerges once we focus on the top acquisitions in the 2000-2008 period (source: VentureOne). While no wireless communications equipment company had IPOs, almost half the acquisition dollars were spent on such equipment manufacturers. Navini Networks, a wireless broadband manufacturer is one example; it was sold to Cisco Systems for $330 million dollars in December 2007.

The most eye-opening trend is the emergence of Nokia as the biggest investor over the last 18 months. The phone giant has bought Trolltech, Navteq and Enpocket. Missing from the list (I don’t know why), are Nokia’s recent acquisition of Plazes, a location technology company, operating system platform, Symbian, this year, and Germany’s Gate5, in 2006.

We’ve pasted the entire list of acquisitions below (provided by Thomson and the National Venture Capital Association). Note how only one company reached an acquisition price of $500 million: Danger, bought by Microsoft in April. Danger is an example of the “device-platform” trend we referred to earlier this week. Apple and RIM have shown how much value there is in such platforms, if you manage your partnerships correctly.

In fact, RIM, which has grown organically over the years, is probably the biggest success of a mobile company around. It is valued at $64 billion. It fell outside of the data table below, because it was never acquired. Another device-platform company, Good Technology, was sold to Motorola, however that company was a classic case of not appreciating the importance of carrier relationships (investors tell us they could never get management to take the issue seriously). It abandoned its device, and focused on messaging, retrospectively perhaps a mistake. See the chart below for breakdown of investments in the mobile industry, according to segment.

A few other large acquisitions aren’t included in the list below (not sure why, perhaps because NVCA didn’t consider them venture deals) but are worth mentioning: Qualcomm bought Flarion in 2005 for a little more than $800 million. Flarion is considered a 4G technology (OFDM). Investors included Cisco, T-Mobile, Bessemer, SunBridge partners, Nassau Capital, Pequot Capital and NVP and SK Telecom. It had raised at least $45 million. Qualcomm also acquired Snaptrack, a San Jose, Calif. wireless positioning (GPS) technology in 2000 for $1 billion. It had patents, which were attractive to Qualcomm’s patent strategy. By the way, this was at the very height of the bubble. Snaptrack was run by Steve Poizner and backed by TI Ventures, owned by Texas Instruments and H&Q.

Also missing is Vodafone’s acquisition of mobile social network Zyb. Except for Symbian, these were relatively small acquisitions, however.

Here are a few of the other big exits worth mentioning:

  • M-cube, a messaging company, acquired for $300 million by Verisign
  • Jamster, an SMS company, acquired for $390 million by Verisign
  • Third Screen Media acquired by AOL
  • ScreenTonic acquired by Microsoft
  • Mobile365, messaging company, acquired by Sybase for $425 million
  • WilderThan, a music ringtone company, acquired by Real Networks for $350 million
  • Qpass bought by Amdocs for $275M

Finally, what kinds of companies within the mobile space are venture capitalists investing in? Here is a chart on wireless related financing trends provided to us by Rutberg and Co.

In the graph above, “carrier application” refers to companies that are based around selling their service “on deck” — that is, directly available on the carriers’ devices. JumpTap (mobile search and advertising) and Loopt (mobile social networking) are examples of on deck carrier applications. Companies bucketed under “carrier” are usually mobile network operators (MVNOs) such as kid-focused carrier Kajeet. “Consumer applications” are offered direct to wireless consumers without carrier intervention. MeetMoi, a mobile dating service we referred to as “Twitter for sex” and Qik, which recently launched a public beta are examples of the same.

Few of these companies have real revenue. Companies selling ringtones and wallpaper, such as Playphone, Thumbplay and ad network companies such as Admob are examples.

Look at the carrier and carrier application bars above: Capital influx into these companies has dropped precipitously between 2006 and 2008. Some of these developments have played out prominently in the news as MVNOs like Helio have run into serious headwinds while others such as ESPN Mobile have been forced to exit the business altogether. By the same token, VC money is increasingly pouring into direct consumer applications. While this isn’t necessarily a sign of a weakening of the carrier choke-hold, it certainly tells us that VCs are increasingly funding pure consumer wireless plays that completely bypass carriers.

All in all, the data tells us that while most of the previous exits have been hardware companies and services providers, VCs are betting the future on applications that serve the consumer directly. Will we ever see the mobile version of Google or Amazon, products that enjoy widespread usage and strong mindshare? Come to MobileBeat and find out for yourself.

VC-Backed Acquisitions in Mobile from 1970-2008. (Source:NVCA and Thomson.)

Effective Date Target Name Acquiror Name Deal Value (USD Mil) Percent Acquired Form Financing Received (USD Mil)
04/15/2008 Danger, Inc. (AKA: Danger Research, Inc.) Microsoft Corp 500.00 100.00 AA 143.84
06/04/2002 Celiant Corporation (FKA: FS Corporation) Andrew Corp. 470.10 100.00 AA 50.00
03/24/2005 Airespace, Inc. (FKA: Black Storm Networks) Cisco Systems, Inc. 450.00 100.00 AA 57.50
11/08/2006 Mobile 365, Inc. (FKA: InphoMatch, Inc.) Sybase, Inc. 425.00 100.00 AA 23.60
05/05/1994 Transit Communications Corp. Dial Page, Inc. (FKA: Dial Page Holdings, L.P.) 383.20 100.00 M 3.95
04/29/1994 PowerFone Holdings, Inc. Nextel Communications, Inc. (FKA: Fleet Call, Inc.) 372.00 100.00 M 40.50
04/22/2008 PlantCML EADS North America 350.00 100.00 AA
07/17/2007 MCT Corporation TeliaSonera AB 300.00 100.00 M 7.92
05/31/2006 Qpass, Inc. (FKA: Prosenium Corporation) Amdocs, Ltd. 275.00 100.00 M 101.60
07/22/1993 Dispatch Communications, Inc. Fleet Call 270.80 100.00 AA 63.06
07/01/1998 Atlantic Cellular Company, L.P. Rural Cellular Corp 256.00 100.00 AA 117.10
05/01/2006 m-Qube, Inc. (FKA: Proteus Mobile, Inc.) VeriSign, Inc. 250.00 100.00 AA 42.40
12/16/2004 Spatial Wireless, Inc. (AKA: Spatial Communications) Alcatel, Inc. 250.00 100.00 M 57.88
03/30/2001 Southwest PCS Alamosa Holdings, Inc. (FKA: Alamosa PCS Holdings, Inc.) 212.60 100.00 M 20.00
01/13/2000 UniSite, Inc. American Tower Corporation (AKA: American Tower Systems) 198.10 100.00 AA 44.09
05/06/2003 Winphoria Networks, Inc. (FKA: Convexant, Inc.) Motorola, Inc. 180.00 100.00 AA 53.00
12/03/2007 LGC Wireless, Inc. ADC Telecommunications Inc 169.00 100.00 AA 77.50
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04/29/2006 SyChip, Inc. Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. 135.10 100.00 M 55.00
03/31/2000 WAVTrace, Inc. (FKA:American Wireless Corporation) Harris Corporation 134.00 80.00 AA 72.72
04/12/2004 Vytek Corporation (FKA: Vytek Wireless, Inc.) California Amplifier, Inc. 123.00 100.00 M 43.85
05/14/2007 IPWireless, Inc. NextWave Wireless Inc 100.00 100.00 AA 170.89
07/13/2001 Avogadro, Inc. Openwave Systems Inc 99.00 100.00 AA 7.50
10/05/2006 Highland Cellular, LLC (DBA: Cellular One, Inc.) American Cellular Corp 95.00 100.00 AA 8.00
02/26/2007 Cushcraft Corporation Laird Group PLC 89.80 100.00 AA 2.18
07/05/2000 National Telemanagement Corporation Illuminet Holdings, Inc. 87.80 100.00 AA
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09/15/2005 Commnet Wireless, LLC Atlantic Tele-Network Inc 59.00 95.00 AA 3.30
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11/30/2006 inCode Wireless (FKA: inCode Telecom Group, Inc.) VeriSign, Inc. 52.00 AA 18.85
06/09/2004 GoBeam, Inc. (FKA: Infraswitch, Inc.) Covad Communications Company 48.00 100.00 AA 43.93
05/28/2008 M:Metrics, Inc. Comscore Inc 44.30 100.00 AA 17.00
06/01/2007 IXI Mobile, Inc. Israel Technology Acquisition 41.70 100.00 M 85.29
07/29/1997 BizTel Communications Teleport Communications Group 41.50 50.10 M
01/19/2001 XYPoint (F.K.A. Sentinel Communications) TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. 28.90 100.00 M 36.03
12/28/1999 WaveSpan Corporation Proxim, Inc. 22.00 100.00 M 18.63
11/15/2003 Paradigm Wireless Systems, Inc. REMEC, Inc. 21.00 100.00 M 6.70
01/24/2005 Figure 8 Wireless, Inc. Chipcon Group ASA 20.00 100.00 M 4.10
09/24/2001 Webraska Mobile Technologies SA 20.00 100.00 M 21.60
06/08/2001 Wireless, Inc. InterWAVE Communications, Inc. 17.40 100.00 M 33.11
10/14/2002 Envoy Networks, Inc. Texas Instruments, Inc. 15.00 100.00 AA 7.00
02/21/2007 GO Networks, Inc. NextWave Wireless Inc 13.30 100.00 M 22.56
07/30/2003 Tantivy Communications, Inc. (FKA: H.Q. Wireless, Inc.) InterDigital Commun Corp 10.00 100.00 AA 71.77
03/01/2002 Altawave, Inc. Lightbridge, Inc.(FKA:Credit Technologies, Inc.) 10.00 100.00 AA 5.30
12/03/2001 GadgetSpace InPhonic, Inc. 10.00 100.00 AA 6.28
04/04/2007 SmartLink Radio Networks, Inc. CalAmp Corporate (FKA: California Amplifiers, Inc.) 8.10 100.00 AA 27.00
02/09/2007 Ecutel Systems, Inc. Smith Micro Software Inc 8.00 100.00 AA 16.00
09/03/2002 ViaFone, Inc. Extended Systems, Inc. 7.80 100.00 M 34.25
03/31/1997 PCS One D&E Communications 7.30 100.00 M 22.00
12/21/2001 Pacific Wireless Technologies, Inc. Nextel Communications, Inc. (FKA: Fleet Call, Inc.) 4.60 100.00 AA
09/12/2002 Xemod, Inc. Sirenza Microdevices, Inc. (FKA:Stanford Microdevice, Inc.) 4.50 100.00 AA 18.59
11/24/2000 MessageClick (FKA: .comfax ) Verso Technologies Inc 4.00 100.00 AA 17.06
09/30/2002 GBase Communications InterWAVE Communications, Inc. 3.10 100.00 AA
07/04/2003 HiddenMind Technology, Inc. Infowave Software, Inc. 2.90 100.00 M 41.70
05/07/2002 Unimobile, Inc. (FKA: Gray Cell, Inc.) Electronics for Imaging, Inc 2.50 100.00 AA 16.70
05/10/2001, Inc. (FKA: PocketScience, Inc.) PocketMail Pty Ltd. 2.50 100.00 AA 22.63
01/08/2002 Fujant Technologies, Inc. Celiant Corporation (FKA: FS Corporation) 1.50 100.00 AA 23.82
03/24/2006 Ensemble Communications, Inc. Wi-LAN Inc 1.00 100.00 AA 148.48
03/07/2007 Aster Wireless, Inc. Arkados Group Inc 0.30 100.00 AA 0.35
06/10/2008 MusicGremlin, Inc. SanDisk Corp 100.00 AA 5.50
06/04/2008 SnapVine, Inc. Inc 100.00 AA 20.00
05/23/2008 Asurion Corporation New Customer Service Cos Inc 100.00 M 1,153.53
05/19/2008 Kizoom, Ltd. Cityspace Ltd 100.00 AA 2.15
12/24/2007 Open Interface North America, Inc. QUALCOMM Inc 100.00 AA 9.64
10/08/2007 Cognio, Inc. (FKA: Aryya Communications, Inc.) Cisco Systems Inc 100.00 AA 30.59
09/17/2007 FitSense Technology, Inc Fitlinxx Inc 100.00 AA
07/19/2007 Southeast Towers, LLC Diamond Communications 100.00 AA 20.00
03/20/2007 InnerWireless, Inc. (FKA: E-tron Technologies, Inc.) PanGo Networks Inc 100.00 M 86.62
11/06/2006 Mobilitec, Inc. Lucent Technologies, Inc. 100.00 AA 28.68
10/03/2006 SoloMio Corporation Openwave Systems, Inc. ( 100.00 M 26.50
09/05/2006 Millennial Net, Inc. PHC Holding GmbH 100.00 AA 21.20
08/28/2006 Xpedion Design Systems, Inc. Agilent Technologies Inc 100.00 AA 30.00
05/02/2006 Broadbeam Corporation (FKA: Nettech Systems, Inc.) MobileAware Ltd 100.00 AA 40.85
04/20/2006 Oplayo Oy (FKA: AVS Technologies) Investor Group 100.00 AA 12.95
04/18/2006 Net4Call Oracle Corp 100.00 AA 0.31
03/10/2006 Ascendent Telecommunications, Inc. (FKA: Travelers Telecom) Research In Motion Limited 100.00 AA 19.89
02/15/2006 TCP Communications, Inc. Global Tower Partners 100.00 AA 18.10
12/31/2005 TeleCorp WCS, Inc. Undisclosed Corporate Investor 100.00 AA 0.09
08/08/2005 Wildseed Inc. (FKA: GITWiT, Inc.) America Online Inc 100.00 AA
08/03/2005 M7 Networks, Inc. Motricity, Inc. (FKA: PowerByHand, Inc.) 100.00 AA 28.25
08/01/2005 AirZip, Inc. Willow Technologies Ltd 100.00 AA 10.00
07/27/2005 Integral Access, Inc. Telco Systems Inc 100.00 AA 108.61
07/11/2005 JP Mobile, Inc. (FKA: JP Systems, Inc.) Good Technology Inc 100.00 AA 52.50
06/22/2005 Northcoast PCS Revol 100.00 AA 39.00
04/20/2005 Chasma Interactive Publishing Kayak Interactive Corporation (FKA: JamSession Corp.) 100.00 AA
03/29/2005 Expand Beyond Corporation (FKA: PocketDBA Systems) Semotus Solutions Inc 100.00 AA 14.86
03/14/2005 ProQuent Systems (FKA: Avian Communications) Bytemobile, Inc. 100.00 M 53.70
01/06/2005 JTECH Communications, Inc. Micros Systems Inc 100.00 AA 12.00
12/20/2004 MeshNetworks Motorola, Inc. 100.00 AA 51.20
08/10/2004 MobileWay, Inc. InphoMatch, Inc. 100.00 M 103.00
03/19/2004 Signal One, LLC AAT Communications Corporation 100.00 AA 0.50
01/30/2004 WaterCove Networks, Inc. Alcatel, Inc. 100.00 AA 70.00
11/17/2003 XtremeSpectrum, Inc. Motorola Inc 100.00 AA 38.60
10/31/2003 Mobilian, Inc. Intel Corporation 100.00 AA 51.41
10/22/2003 Adjungo Networks (FKA:Commagine, Inc.) Flash Networks, Inc. 100.00 AA 4.00
06/04/2003 ViAir, Inc. Visto Corporation (FKA: RoamPage) 100.00 M 22.60
05/16/2003 Avesair, Inc InPhonic, Inc. 100.00 AA 17.20
03/31/2003 Enuvis, Inc. SiRF Technology Incorporated. 100.00 AA 14.76
03/10/2003 iConverse, Inc. InfoClarus, Inc. 100.00 M 27.53
02/11/2003 Ubiquio MobilePlanet, Inc. 100.00 AA
01/31/2003 Systemonic AG Koninklijke Philips Electronics 100.00 AA 39.80
12/23/2002 AGEA Corporation, Inc. Avalon Digital Marketing Systems, Inc. 100.00 AA 12.85
11/01/2002 Gabriel Electronics, Inc. TriPoint Global Communications 100.00 AA 5.41
08/08/2002 United Messaging, Inc. Agilera, Inc. 100.00 AA 106.50
07/15/2002 Harmonix Corporation TeraBeam Corporation 100.00 AA 3.50
06/30/2002 Blue Wireless, Inc. @Road (AKA: Vectorlink, Inc.) 100.00 AA 6.10
01/15/2002 Indicast Corporation Oracle Systems Corporation 100.00 AA 0.50
12/31/2001 GiantBear, Inc. InfoSpace, Inc. (FKA:, Inc.) 100.00 AA 25.00
11/13/2001 Mspect, Inc. Telephia, Inc. 100.00 AA 9.00
10/04/2001 Brightpod, Inc. GadgetSpace 100.00 AA 5.00
09/25/2001 Broadband Gateways (FKA: Global Converging Technologies) Uniden Corp of America 100.00 AA 24.79
08/01/2001 eVoice, Inc. (FKA:, Inc.) AOL Time Warner Inc 100.00 AA 67.40
07/24/2001 Yopa Xdrive Technologies 100.00 AA 5.30
07/17/2001 Mforma Corp 100.00 AA 10.40
06/21/2001 Sinia Corporation FusionOne, Inc. 100.00 AA 3.00
06/06/2001 MiraWave, Inc. Mobilygen Corp 100.00 AA 5.00
06/05/2001 Selfswitch SA SetNet Corp 100.00 AA 1.15
05/15/2001 CI Wireless, Inc. EMS Technologies, Inc. 100.00 AA 1.50
05/07/2001 Zeus Communication Systems, Inc. (AKA: Zeus Wireless, Inc.) Young Designs, Inc. 100.00 M 18.54
04/19/2001 Capslock Reach-U Solutions (FKA: Mgine, Inc.) 100.00 AA 6.03
02/16/2001 STPCS Joint Investment LLC VoiceStream Wireless Corporation 100.00 AA 10.62
06/29/2000 Wynd Communications Corporation GoAmerica, Inc. 100.00 AA 10.49
04/05/2000 Endgate Technology Corporation TRW Miliwave 100.00 AA 273.88
12/01/1999 Tegic Communications, Inc. (AKA:T9 Text Input) America Online Inc 100.00 AA 15.00
06/30/1999 E.L. Acquisition, Inc. MCI WorldCom 100.00 AA 5.00
09/25/1998 Metapath Corporation Metapath Software Int’l (FKA: Mobile Systems Int’l Holdings) 100.00 M 37.35
06/01/1990 CYCOMM Corporation Sonatel Telecommunications 65.00 AM 8.58
08/08/1989 Communications Properties Associates Communications Properties/Florida Ltd. 100.00 M 25.00

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