Wi-Fi windfall awaits India Ashwin Tombat

By Ashwin Tombat | 01 Apr 2005


Pilot, inventor, entrepreneur, musician… The number of hats Abbas Sadriwalla wears is matched only by what he can pull out of them. domain-b profiles the wireless wizard, who wants to change the way Indians communicate

Abbas SadriwallaIf Abbas Sadriwalla has his way, India will be in for a Wi-Fi revolution soon. Sadriwalla is chairman and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based Wireless Logix Group of seven companies, which offer a full bouquet of Wi-Fi technologies and solutions. And he has initiated a big push into the South Asian region, which he believes is now ready for rapid Wi-Fi adoption. The Wireless Logix Group, which posted revenues of $20 million (Rs90 crore) in 2004 and is ranked as a leader in the North American Wi-Fi technology space, expects to increase its India revenues to $5 million (Rs22.5 crore) over the next 12 months.

The group made its first foray into India in early 2004, and has since established a beachhead in the shipping industry with a proof-of-concept installation of a low cost wireless asset management solution in the Mumbai port. Discussions are currently underway with several Indian companies with a view to forging partnerships. "We are seeking to buy into local companies and also forge reseller relations with qualified vendors here," says Sadriwalla, adding, "I am continuing discussions with several Indian companies and hope to announce the acquisition of an India-based software and systems integration company shortly. This acquisition will provide the basis for a rapid roll out of the group's products and services in the sub-continent."

Sadriwalla thinks these are very exciting times for India, and wants to be a part of the excitement. "We have several innovative and robust technologies which are appropriate for the Indian market, and we are committed to investing in the opportunity here, both for our own long term growth and also for the social and economic impact we can have on India," he adds.

The Logix portfolio of video-conferencing technology, VoIP solutions, work flow management solutions, and a wide range of asset management solutions, all of which work off wireless platforms, could potentially change the way education and health care are delivered, the way people communicate, the way assets of all kinds are tracked and managed, and the way work is managed in the country, helping urban India to leapfrog to higher levels of development.

The Wireless Logix Group comprises V-Link Solutions (WiFi managed services), Kiosk Logix (kiosk solutions), V-Link Hospitality Technologies (workflow applications), DataScan Technologies (enterprise wireless infrastructure, VoIP and asset management solutions), Yodel Enterprises (campus and city-wide WiFi networks), Wave3 Software (videoconferencing solutions) and Database Systems Group (custom software solutions). It offers wireless infrastructure using Wi-Fi, Mesh and Wi-Max architecture, wireless and wired asset management solutions using bar code and RFID technologies, closed circuit VoIP solutions, videoconferencing solutions, kiosk solutions, managed services for ISPs, workflow applications for hospitality and health care, and custom software development services. No other single entity has a comparable offering. Logix is currently ranked amongst the five largest W-Fi companies in North America. Its customer list includes several Fortune 500 companies.

Sadriwalla was named 'businessman of the year' in 2004 by the apex level National Republican Congressional Committee, in an investure presided over by US President George Bush. Sadriwalla has also been awarded The Colonel James Tod International Award by the Maharana Mewar Foundation in Udaipur, which is named after Colonel Tod, the distinguished author of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, based on oral and bardic accounts of Mewar's history, and political agent to the western Rajput states and resident at the court of Maharana Bhim Singhji in Udaipur.

This international award was instituted to honour foreign nationals who, like Tod, have contributed through works of permanent value, an understanding of the spirit and values of Mewar. Sadriwalla follows a long line of very distinguished awardees, including V S Naipaul, Sir Richard Attenborough, distinguished surgeon Dr R S Ranawat and MM Kaye, author of The Far Pavilions.

Fifty-seven-year-old Abbas Sadriwalla is himself of Mewari origin; Abbas' father comes from the village of Badi Sadri in the Mewar region of Rajasthan (hence the name Sadriwalla), from where he migrated to Mumbai as a penniless young lad. After working for several years with a rubber products company, he set up his own rubber firm which eventually grew into Rubber Industries India Pvt Ltd, one of the largest rubber products manufacturers in India till the 1970s.

His father's rags-to-riches story had a profound impact on the young Mumbai-born Abbas, who had to take charge of the family business at the age of 18 after his father died prematurely in 1966. But Abbas had different ideas for his future. He wanted to become a pilot, and opted to move to the US in 1973 to pursue his dream, leaving the family fortune to his three siblings.

Abbas started life in the US from scratch, working in a string of shop floor jobs while financing his own pilot training. "I arrived," he remembers, "with very little money in my pocket." In 1976, he qualified as a commercial pilot and trained further to become a pilot instructor. Between 1978 and 1984, he taught flying in South Florida. Always a technology buff, Abbas spotted an opportunity to supply special purpose computers to the aviation industry in 1990 and successfully launched a company called ADS (Application Designed Systems)Associates. After speciality computers became less relevant in a rapidly changing technology marketplace, he diversified into the pager business and built a highly profitable company called Pageco International to manufacture pager crystals. As pagers were displaced by cell phones, Abbas moved into Wi-Fi technology. The rest, as the old cliché goes, is history.

He has another, not quite so public, passion: to develop new chemical formulations. Abbas has been involved in the development of a unique metal alloy that looks like gold and has many of its desirable properties, but at a dramatically lower price. 'Gemgold' has been granted a US patent and he is in the process of commercialising the invention. Another product from his back yard laboratory is Liquiguard SF and Liquitite SF — presently being patented — both cutting-edge resin-based waterproof coatings for electronics, fine art, sculptures, leather articles, dry flower preservation and a wide range of other objects.

In 2001, before Wi-Fi technology had found commercial acceptability, Abbas bought into a cybercafé business and later into a software development company called Moonrise (now renamed Kiosk Logix). Two years later, V Link Solutions launched its web enabled Wi-Fi manager called PASSYM, which is even today one of a small handful of Wi-Fi network managers available in the marketplace. V Link became of one the fastest growing Wi-Fi services companies in the US.

Recognising that merely building Wi-Fi infrastructure could not be the basis for a sustainable business, Abbas diversified early on into applications that worked off Wi-Fi networks. He partnered with a Canadian company called Palm Hospitality Technologies, which had a unique application for housekeeping operations in hotels, SiteLogix. Today, it is the engine which drives V Link Hospitality Technologies Inc, the group's Wi-Fi applications arm. What is the secret of his success? "I learnt my basic business methods and instincts from his father," says Abbas. "But he died when I was still under 21. After that," he smiles, "it was the school of hard knocks and a huge appetite for knowledge of every kind and from every source that has provided the guidance and impetus for growth."

Backed by a number of private investors, Abbas recently acquired Datascan Technologies Ltd, an established player in enterprise WLAN solutions. Wave3Technologies, a videoconferencing technology company, is a part of this effort. The Logix group is uniquely positioned within the Wi-Fi space in that it offers both applications and infrastructure; none of its competitors has a comparable offering. The group projects a sharp income jump to $50 million in 2005.

Abbas' vision is to become a dominant force in wireless technologies on a global scale, and to one day be able to use wireless technologies to bring world class education to unschooled children in India and other developing countries. He is also negotiating the acquisition of several small firms with specialised technology for the freight, transportation and logistics business, which he expects to become another key area of the group's operations in the future, with transcontinental scope.

Surprisingly, out of all the awards he has been bestowed over the years, the one he treasures the most is one for being 'outstanding dad', given by the South Florida Philharmonic Society. Why? "Well, I am a doting father," he says, "possibly I take after my own father, who was also deeply involved with his children. That's why being named 'dad of the year' is so close to my heart." Abbas is married to Deborah Covas —"I met her at a Florida social event," he remembers — and they have two sons. He is a music aficionado, a keen tennis player and a notable social presence in several charitable and social organisations in South Florida, USA.

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