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Artimi Targets Single-Chip UWB

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LR Mobile News Analysis
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7/12/2004
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Artimi Ltd., is the latest startup to skim the mountains of cash VCs are throwing at -- err… carefully allocating to -- ultrawideband chip developers.

The UK firm says it has raised $14 million in Series-A funding and claims it will be the first vendor to offer single-chip ultrawideband (UWB) silicon.

The chip, scheduled for production in the first quarter of 2005, will deliver 500-Mbit/s bandwidth on a point-to-point link, says CTO Mark Moore, and will offer greater range than the half-dozen other UWB chipsets set to launch early next year. “It’s designed for high-performance interconnects up to 30 meters.”

A major part of Artimi’s pitch is to guarantee 100-Mbit/s throughput (as opposed to raw channel bandwidth) over a mesh network. “We have our own simple, low-level, mesh software designed for a home environment that won’t require external memory” says Moore.

Integrating mesh software into the chip makes sense because it will reduce cost and power requirements -- the most appealing features of single-chip systems -- and will enable electronic gadgets with Artimi chips to form simple, ad hoc mesh networks. Moore says Artimi will also support external mesh standards so it can work with other vendors' products. (See UWB: From the Lab to Your Pad for more on mesh-networked entertainment systems.)

As for which side of the ongoing UWB standards debate Artimi sits on, Moore claims to be “standards agnostic... Our first series of products will be impulse based, because we think it delivers better price performance today. In the back half of 2005 we’ll [also] have MBOA-based samples.”

Broadly speaking, members of the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) favour OFDM-based radios, whereas members of the UWB Forum favor impulse-based radios. Uniquely, Artimi is active in both groups. “It might seem a lot of extra work, but every thing in front of and behind the radio is pretty similar,” explains Moore. “The UWB radio portion of the design is actually quite small.”

Artimi was founded in 2002 by Moore and COO David Baker, who both left Globespan Virata Inc. (now Conexant Systems Inc.) to set up the venture. Until now it has subsisted on founders' capital and a small amount of angel funding (see UWB Attracts VC Cash). Investors in the $14 million Series-A were Index Ventures, Accel Partners, Amadeus Capital Partners Ltd., and Oak Investment Partners.

Venture capital has been pouring into UWB chip startups over the past 24 months as investors seek to tap what promises to be the most exciting wireless market since 802.11 wireless LAN. Other recent funding deals are shown in the table below:

Three more UWB startups to watch that haven’t yet gone public about their plans or revealed/secured investors include: Blue7 Communications Inc., TZero Technologies, and WiQuest Communications Inc.

Clearly the large number of wannabes in this market could be cause for concern, and, of course, chip heavyweights, such as Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Freescale Semiconductor Inc., Philips Semiconductors (NYSE: PHG), and STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), are also looking for a slice of the coming UWB action.

For now at least, UWB looks like the “best funded for least results” sector in wireless.

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

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