Paul Allen, AT&T-Mo, Clearwire: Seattle’s Weekly Rewind

12/16/11Follow @curtwoodward

Billionaires in space! This week started out with a big announcement from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who is bankrolling a new company that aims to make private spaceflight more routine by launching rockets from the belly of an airplane—the biggest one ever built.

Allen said it’ll probably cost him 10 times the nearly $30 million he spent on a previous space project, the SpaceShipOne craft. He’s enlisted some big names for the company—known as Stratolaunch—including aerospace guru Burt Rutan and PayPal founder Elon Musk, who happens to own a rocket company. A former NASA administrator, Mike Griffin, is a Stratolaunch board member.

Also at the announcement (just to watch) was Allen pal and former Microsoft software chief Charles Simonyi, the only private citizen to fly to space twice (he paid his own way with the Russians). Simonyi said he thought Allen’s project was audacious and doable, and said he’d return to the great beyond a third time aboard a Stratolaunch craft—provided his wife approves, and the price is right.

Also making headlines this week around the Seattle area:

AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, and the U.S. Justice Department postponed the antitrust lawsuit over AT&T’s desire to buy Bellevue, WA-based T-Mobile USA. This followed AT&T and Deutsche Telekom (the parent company of T-Mobile) pulling their merger application from the FCC, and signals the possibility of a different deal in an effort to please regulators.

Clearwire netted about $715 million in a stock sale, money that was sorely needed for the Bellevue-based wireless supplier to upgrade its fourth-generation network to the faster long-term evolution, or LTE, technology that is becoming the industry standard. Majority shareholder Sprint (NYSE: S) ponied up about a little less than half the money.

—I took a look behind the scenes of Zillow‘s new app for the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s bargain-priced tablet. Zillow (NASDAQ: Z) made a big deal out of being the only real estate app with maps on the Kindle Fire, and for good reason: There’s a bit of a workaround involved because the Fire doesn’t have GPS hardware or Google’s map service. A beneficiary of the Amazon/Google friction was Microsoft’s Bing, which supplies the Web-based maps.

—Speaking of Microsoft, I checked in with some of the key players behind a new accelerator program taking shape in South Lake Union. Redmond is teaming up with TechStars, the early stage entrepreneurial boot-camp, to help developers and startups build new uses and companies centered on the Kinect motion- and sound-sensing device.

—I also visited the growing Seattle office of Nebula, a startup that aims to make it much simpler for businesses to build their own cloud computing infrastructure. Nebula plans to do this with a device they’re starting to call a “cloud controller”, which is a combination of a networking switch and the OpenStack cloud-computing software platform. CEO Chris Kemp, a co-founder of OpenStack, says Seattle’s been the young company’s “secret weapon” because he can take Silicon Valley venture money and get great engineers—at less than the bubbly Valley prices, of course.

Amazon Web Services added a computing region in Brazil, which promises to greatly increase performance for companies using the AWS suite of cloud-computing services in South America. One company that was particularly pumped by the move is Seattle’s Livemocha, an online language-learning provider that has a quarter of its more than 11 million users in Brazil. CEO Michael Schutzler says the change is like instantly upgrading from Internet speeds circa 1990.

Cloud-services startup Xeround raised another $9 million, but another part of the news was a little more interesting: the formerly Bellevue-based startup now is located in Mountain View, CA. It’s related to some big changes at Xeround in the past couple of years, which saw the company ditch a previous focus on wireless carrier customers and go after public-cloud database services instead. The startup is backed by Seattle-area investors, including Ignition Partners and Trilogy Partnership.

Digital-deals startup Pirq, led by CEO and former “Apprentice” contestant James Sun, raised a new round of $1.9 million from Rally Capital, the Kirkland-based VC firm of former Nextel CEO Dennis Weibling. Sun says Pirq plans to use the money to hire developers and sales staff, and is looking to expand beyond the Seattle market soon. Pirq’s doesn’t operate on a Groupon-like collective buying model. Instead, its app and software allows merchants to offer coupons tied to their slowest periods.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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