Battle lines drawn in U.S. prepaid mobile wireless market


While the United States has generally lagged Europe in adopting prepaid mobile wireless strategies, a Dallas-based technology shop called Quamtel is seeking to quietly redefine the retail market with new “no contract” prepaid USB modems and tablets.

Formerly known as Atomic Guppy, the company resurfaced in 2009 as Quamtel under the leadership of a new team currently responsible for steering the data transmission specialist into hot new mobile markets and custom development for niche verticals in sectors such as the health industry.

They will be using the upcoming CTIA Wireless show in Orlando to officially launch new products including DataJack, a prepaid, no contract USB modem that offers speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps and file downloads of up to 5GB. The modem costs $99.99 with a monthly fee of $49.99.

At first glance, it may seem odd why Quamtel would bother releasing a USB dongle if one considers Gartner’s prediction that By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. This implies DataJack has a limited shelf life.

However, argues Stuart Ehrlich, CEO, the technology is simply a means to an end, highlighting Quamtel’s underlying pedigree in data transmission technologies and ability to provide data in different formats across various devices.

“Niche retail products like DataJack open up doors into other niche markets. An example of this is prepaid tablets. Hopefully we will be the first to come out with a no-contract, prepaid service for the tablet by April of this year,” said Ehrlich.

The 7-inch tablets will retail at $200 with 10-inch tablets expected to be priced just below the $250 mark.

“And unlike a Virgin or a Best Buy we don’t need 10 or 20 million customers or products to move the dial. Five-hundred thousand, 1 million or 1.5 million is a huge deal to us.”

The rock-star appeal of these niche products is attracting attention from the health care sector where legacy applications are being painfully repurposed towards the upcoming Smartphone revolution.

“DataJack and pre-paid tables lead to other applications and opportunities. For instance a glucose meter company may approach us to incorporate data transmission into their devices to automatically update a website in real-time. This marketplace offers us annual returns of $15 million, maybe more.”

The magic sauce driving the above is the same technology housed in DataJack modems and the soon-to-be-released prepaid tablets.

An intriguing dark horse in the Quamtel constellation of subsidiaries is a division called Syncpointe, which monitors, controls and analyzes every single thing that happens over a cell phone.

You are probably wondering if this technology may be targeted towards location-based advertising or other GPS revenue models. The answer is yes. Quamtel is already thinking of ways to monetize this, especially in the area of text messaging.

“Do you think there may be 20 million parents in this country, who if they had an app to monitor everything that’s taking place on a cell phone — texting, cyber bullying, all that stuff you read about — do you think they would be interested? That’s where Syncpointe comes in.”

“If Syncpointe is downloaded onto your phone Quamtel would know exactly when a SMS message came to you, the time you opened it and whether you forwarded it onto any of your friends, including the timestamp. ”

The nuclear reactor for the Quamtel suite of services is their flagship WQN division, which pioneered calling cards on the Internet and established itself as contender in prepaid mobile technologies.

Ehrlich confirmed Quamtel ultimately intends to combine the voice features of WQN with their latest USB wireless product, DataJack which would further allow them to differentiate themselves from the myriad of competitors on the 3G landscape.

Fortunately, Both Virgin Mobile and Clearwire Inc., have in recent weeks fallen off the radar as heavyweight threats to the Quamtel suite of retail products.

In early February, Clearwire abandoned its retail strategy to focus on becoming a wholesaler, much to the delight of majority shareholder SprintNextel, third biggest wireless carrier in the United States.

Later that month, Virgin Mobile began throttling user data transfer rates and elevated monthly fees after the unexpected growth of its BroadBand2Go brand last year.

Both these developments have put Quamtel in a prime position to market their products in 2011.

However, traditional terrestrial carriers are not the only threat to Quamtel extending market share in the prepaid wireless market.

It also has to consider Internet computing delivered by satellite services such as Wildblue, which offer similar speeds and pricing along with greater coverage, especially in rural areas.

To counter these threats, Ehrlich confirmed that Quamtel is in advanced discussions with an unknown satellite provider to integrate their data transmission protocols.

“I am under an NDA, but we are in talks with a company seeking to become another satellite carrier. We will integrate some of the data portions of the transmission; they will be focusing more on voice. Syncpointe may be one of the technologies they use to interact with their customer base.”

Ehrlich believes that Quamtel will post a 8-fold increase in revenue by the second quarter of 2012, partly fueled by the launch of DataJack and prepaid tablets.

This interview was conducted, produced and delivered by Jason Stevens, a tech blogger operating out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Jason is a regular contributor to the following sites: | | You can also follow Jason on Twitter at _Jason_stevens_

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