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Japan’s largest mobile carrier invests in Linux supplier

Dec 22, 2004 — by Henry Kingman — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Japan's largest mobile phone carrier, NTT DoCoMo, has taken a $3 million equity stake in embedded Linux tools and support company MontaVista. The carrier offers smartphones based on MontaVista Linux to its customers. A privately held company, MontaVista has raised more than $75 million since forming in 1999.

NTT DoCoMo announced in December of 2003 that it would adopt Linux for future 3G mobile phones, and its partners NEC and Panasonic chose MontaVista Linux to power a jointly developed Linux smartphone design meant for use with NTT DoCoMo's 3G “FOMA” (freedom of mobile-multimedia access) network.

The first phone based on the NEC/Panasonic design, NEC's N900iL, became available to business subscribers last month. The device is a dual-network 3G/VoIP handset that works as a 3G mobile phone, VoIP (voice-over-IP) terminal, or both simultaneously. For more on Linux smartphones, see our Quick Reference Guide.

NTT DoCoMo says it hopes its investment will enable it to “efficiently improve and develop” its Linux products. The company has also looked at using Linux on the infrasture side of its FOMA network.

The $3 million investment in MontaVista by NTT DoCoMo brings total investments in the privately held company to more than $75 million. MontaVista's last round of financing, in April, raised $7 million, and brought in new investors that included Siemens Venture Capital, Samsung Ventures America, Infineon Ventures, and China Development Industrial Bank. Previous investors in the company have included IBM Microelectronics, Intel Capital, Panasonic (Matsushita), Sony, Toshiba America, Ericsson, and Yamaha Corporation, as well as venture capital firms Alloy Ventures, RRE Ventures, US Venture Partners, and WR Hambrecht.

MontaVista was founded in 1999 by its current CEO, James Ready, an embedded pioneer whose previous company, Ready Systems, created VRTX, the first commercially viable RTOS (real-time operating system). The company had 182 employees as of November, up from 165 in May.

Ready stated, “This investment shows that NTT DoCoMo recognizes the future growth opportunity for Linux in the handset market. The announcement made today proves that MontaVista is allowing service providers to define and change the competitive landscape for the mobile/wireless market. Together with our strategic partners, MontaVista continues to secure its position as a thought leader in the handset market.”

MontaVista has made mention on several lists of fast-growing privately held companies, including KPMG's AO100 in June, and the Silicon Valley and San Jose Business Journal's fastest-growing Silicon Valley companies. In September, the company denied rumors it would be acquired by Sun Microsystems.

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