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Canadian Wi-Fi management provider bought by AT&T

A Canadian maker of a Wi-Fi turnkey network management solution for hotels is being bought by AT&T.

Superclick Networks Inc. of Montreal said Monday that it has agreed to be purchased by America's biggest phone company for $15 million if the Montreal company's shareholders agree. The sides hope the deal with be approved in the fourth quarter.

For co-founder Sandro Natale, the deal means the firm has come quite a long way since the day 10 years ago he and a partner thought of delivering high speed Internet to Montreal hotels.

"We never really thought that this was going to be something big," he said in a telephone interview. "It started up with a small office on St. Laurent (Street). We had some makeshift desks on a bunch of boxes. Our board room was held together by milk crates."

Funding came from the partners and an angel investor.

At the time, he admits, the product was very immature. But the fact that it was a small company meant the software could be honed "on the fly" after meeting with customers.

The owners of a hotel group he dealt with then had the system installed in an Ottawa hotel, followed by installations in Toronto and Las Vegas and it went on from there.

Customers include the Fairmont, Marriott and Four Seasons hotel chain.

In total it supplies Internet access management systems to 550 hotels around the world covering about 125,000 rooms.

The Superclick Internet Management System (SIMS) is a Linux-based turnkey gateway solution that runs on 1U or 2U servers for wireless and wired networks.

Backed by a staff of 70, 50 of which are in Montreal, SIMS is an on-premise combination network management solution that provides real-time reporting, monitoring, analytics and management of an IT network environment, as well as individual customer billing.

The company partners with access point makers such as Ruckus Wireless, Motorola Solutions, Meru Networks and IP-PBX system makers such as Ottawa's Mitel Networks. Superclick also hosts a support service hotel customers can call for help.

There's also a cloud-based service aimed at big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and shopping malls that offer Wi-Fi access to customers.

Customer buy the solution either direct from Superclick or from IBM Corp.

In addition to AT&T, competitors include GuestTech and iBahn.

The deal took almost a year to jell. It was around November, 2010 when AT&T first made an offer for the company, which was rejected as too low by Superclick's mergers and acquisitions committee. There was some "back and forth" talks, Natale said, which accelerated when other companies became interested.

"We immediately pinged AT&T and said, 'Hey, before we look at this other company, do you guys want to have a last shot at the well?' They took the offer and came back with an offer fair enough and with a premium for the board to decide that this is warranted for the shareholders to vote on."

AT&T, which provides managed Wi-Fi solutions to businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, wouldn't provide an official for an interview. But through a public relations company the acquisition "gives us an opportunity to expand our services and platforms to deliver premium services in the high end hospitality sector both domestically and internationally."

It wouldn't say what the plans are for Superclick employees once the deal closes.

"We will do our darndest to make sure everyone is well taken care off," Natale said.

Natale has been offered a six-month contract to help integrate his company with AT&T. He said there's also the possibility he'll be hired in an expanded role.

Like some small entrepreneurs, Natale has been planning for this moment. To celebrate, he said, "I opened up a 40-year-old bottle of port that I've been waiting to open for a very long time."


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