Based: Louisville, CO

Founded: 1991

Why it’s Fierce: This small Colorado company was launched from an idea sketched on a paper napkin by company founder Jimmy Ray in a barbecue restaurant in Denison, Texas, back in 1991. AirCell’s purpose was to offer affordable (and reliable) wireless technology that could be used not just for voice communications but also for in-flight weather, aircraft tracking and monitoring. Since then, AirCell has slowly emerged as a leader in air-to-ground communications for private planes. The firm holds more than 30 patents and it has sold more than 5,000 of its satellite communications-based Internet systems.

Thanks to a recent spectrum win, AirCell is set to become an even bigger player in this space. Last year AirCell paid $31.7 million for 3 MHz of spectrum in the 800 MHz band. The firm is in the process of building out 100 cell sites to cover the U.S. It will use EV-DO Rev. A technology for the air-to-ground connection and WiFi on the planes.

The firm also sports an impressive management team. AirCell’s Chairman is Ron LeMay, the former president and COO of Sprint.

What to look for: AirCell plans to start offering broadband Internet access later this year or in early 2008. Once its service is commercially available, we expect the firm to ink deals with domestic airlines and also partner with WiFi providers such as Boingo and T-Mobile USA.