Brian Kinahan sounds like a lot of other new residents of Chapel Hill. He works in a high tech industry, fell in love with the area, and moved here in the summer of 1993. But Brian Kinahan's story is a little different.
Kinahan started his own firm, named ReadyCom, which makes a two-way voice pager. Not only did he start the company in the Town of Chapel Hill, but as his staff has grown, he's committed to keeping them in town.
ReadyCom's offices are in The Center behind Applebees on Franklin Street. Currently, there are seventeen employees, but it will probably grow to 35-40 employees by the end of the year. And it won't stop there.
"We'll never get to 5 or 10 thousand. We'll get to 150 people plus or minus," said Kinahan.
Kinahan's first office was in a sowing room in his house on Adam's Way in Southbridge. As the company grew they moved into offices in the Courtyard by the Pyewacket Restaurant. When they had to move again, Kinahan could have moved the business out of town.
"Office space in Chapel Hill is at a premium, but I didn't want to commute to the park and work in a standard office building. We took extra space downstairs [at The Center], and we have another 6 or 9 months by doubling up. We can expand further in the office buildings going up next to us."
The main reason for ReadyCom's growth is a new product that they've developed called ReadyTalk. It's a unique two-way voice messaging system. In essence, it puts a fully functional voice mailbox right in your pocket. It gives you the flexibility to forward messages, reply to them instantly, or wait to respond later. The ReadyTalk handset is about the same size as a standard pager, but it does a great deal more.
ReadyCom has only 120 of these voice pagers in service, and only 1,000 in existence. But over the next ten years, they expect their share of the voice messaging market to grow to 3-5 million units.
"Until this year it was all about making the phones ring," said Malcolm White of ReadyCom. "Now it does!"
ReadyCom is currently testing the market for ReadyTalk. In a recent 30-day trail, they recruited 43 participants from the Raleigh area. ReadyTalk now has 46 paying customers.
"We are very excited by the results of the trial," said Kinahan. "We proved the value of ReadyTalk to the end user and confirmed our theories about the role of messaging in the wireless communications landscape. ReadyTalk's two-way capability is ideal for work groups, social groups and families."
The next step is to manufacture and introduce ReadyTalk on a large scale. Two products are in development. One will provide the two-way paging with limited telephone use for dialing 911. The other will be incorporated into a fully operational cellular phone. In the meantime, market trials will continue in a few test markets including The Triangle.
This places ReadyCom on the cutting edge of an enormous new industry called Personal Communications Systems, or PCS.
Telephones are getting confusing. Most people deal with voice-mail, paging, cellular phones, answering machines, or some combination of these at both work and home. The PCS industry sees things finally getting simpler. Imagine having a single device that would serve as phone, pager, and voice mailbox. Imagine giving out a single phone number for all you're telephone needs, including your fax.
Industry giants are investing enormous resources into PCS products. BellSouth spent $82 million just to license a piece of the broadcast spectrum that will be used for most PCS devices.
"Since we bought the licenses, we've been building our system," said Karen Bennett, General Manager of BellSouth PCS, a division of BellSouth. Currently, they are running trials in a four different sights including one at UNC-CH.
"We've taken the cordless phone, the pager, and the cellular phone and turned it into one unit," said Bennett. It will go on sale to the general public this summer.
PageNet, the largest provider of wireless messaging services in the world, is expected to introduce a one-way voice pager called VoiceNow in conjunction with Motorola at the end of 1996 or early 1997.
"What we do is unique," insists Kinahan.
Since ReadyTalk uses the cellular network, you can roam. That is, you can be paged anywhere that you can receive a cellular call. While other companies will eventually be able to provide the same sort of service on PCS frequencies, it will take a while to build the system.
Additionally, the owner of a ReadyTalk pager can listen to a message immediately, or wait until later. Then they can respond directly into the pager without having to go find a phone.
ReadyCom has acquired a patent, which ensures that no one else can provide the storage and playback of a message in a handset that employs "frequency reuse."
"What makes cellular phones possible is that you take each frequency and break it down into pieces," explained Kinahan. "And several people can be using several pieces of the frequency at the same time. That's called frequency reuse."
Citizen Band radios are an example of a system that doesn't employ frequency reuse. When one person is talking on channel 18, nobody else in the area can use channel 18. But cellular phones use their part of the spectrum differently. They break it down so that more people can use their cellular phones at once. PCS is like cellular, but it uses different frequencies.
ReadyCom's patent covers voice storage in any handset that operates on any frequency reuse system. This is a very broad and powerful patent.
"It's the only way a scrappy company like ours can play with the elephants and not get stomped on. And still it's tough."