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Lumera Antenna Gets Smart

Lumera targets 'Wi-Fi' 802.11b and 'Wi-Max' 802.16 wireless Internet access applications with family of 'smart' antennas

September 3, 2003

5 Min Read

BOTHELL, Wash. -- Microvision, Inc. (Nasdaq:MVIS) and Lumera Corporation, its majority owned subsidiary, announced today that it has demonstrated two technologies that it believes may form the basis for a family of unique "smart" antennas that can address a broad range of wireless network applications including both "Wi-Fi" 802.11b and "Wi-Max" 802.16 wireless Internet access.

The company says that it has demonstrated an innovative antenna design using proprietary patch array technology to form single beam or multi-beam disbursement patterns. According to Lumera, the compact antenna -- measuring about 3 inches on a side and 1/4" in height -- is very versatile and can support low power applications such as Wi-Fi, as well as applications that require up to 10 watts.

The company says that it has also demonstrated major advances in the design of proprietary polymer-based radio frequency (RF) phase shifters that can result in dramatically reduced cost and power consumption for smart antennas -- potentially key enablers for the most cost sensitive wireless Internet applications.

According to Tom Mino, Lumera's CEO, the company plans to couple the two developments in order to develop low-cost smart antenna products that can address emerging requirements in a variety of large and growing markets for wireless communication systems.

"Wireless network bandwidth can be highly sensitive to antenna placement or positioning," offered Mino. "A network with its antenna(s) improperly positioned may have difficulty carrying high-resolution video and digital audio reliably, whereas the same network with just a minor change in the antenna position could carry such media rich streams flawlessly. Smart antennas improve signal quality and range and can improve bandwidth availability and network coverage by electronically steering and/or shaping the antenna pattern to more precisely aim it where it is needed."

The technique can be applied in all manner of RF communication ranging from satellite communication to GPS to cellular telephone networks and Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) such as Wi-Fi.

Wireless Ethernet or "Wi-Fi' has taken hold as a standard for wireless broadband access to the Internet. When a computer equipped with a Wi-Fi card comes within range -- usually 100 feet or so -- of a Wi-Fi access point it can access the Internet with the same kind of broadband performance as a hard-wired broadband network or up to 11 megabits per second. Wi-Max is a next generation wireless standard that promises to increase available bandwidth up to 70mbps and to extend broadcast range up to several kilometers to enable wireless Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).

The market for Wi-Fi equipment has experienced strong growth during the last two years as companies and individuals have installed wireless infrastructure in homes, office buildings, retail locations and public places in order to enable low-cost (and in some cases free) wireless broadband access to the Internet.

According to a recent issue of Business Week, "Wi-Fi spending on hardware and subscriptions is expected to reach $3.4 billion this year and is growing at a 30% clip. Network buildouts over the next two years will chip in $8.2 billion more."

Research analysts at the Gartner group say that by 2006, there are expected to be 89,000 public Wi-Fi network access points and more than 99 million Wi-Fi users worldwide.

Consumer electronics makers and cable operators have been eyeing the rise of Wi-Fi as well with plans emerging for Wi-Fi enabled televisions, monitors and game consoles as well as handheld devices that could all be connected with a single high-speed Internet connection. Analysts at Allied Business Intelligence expect that by the end of 2008 there will be over 80 million wireless enabled video and host devices.

Wi-Fi has appeared in three major markets: residential, enterprise and public "hot-spot" networks that are owned and operated by third parties. Lumera says that smart antennae are likely to be increasingly important in all three of these segments, because they can potentially increase network reliability -- critical for high-bandwidth audio and video content -- and because they can allow for either automated or remotely-controlled optimization of network performance. Such characteristics are key to making sure that networks are user-friendly and to controlling the cost of operating and maintaining such networks.

In February of this year Lumera first demonstrated an RF phase shifter based on its proprietary electro-optic polymer technology. This device allows the RF beam of an antenna to be steered and/or shaped in order to more precisely aim it. The low voltage required to drive Lumera's proprietary polymer components enables the design of phase shifters that feature fully integrated electronics and allow for the elimination of expensive and bulky power supplies.

The company says that its phase shifters have consistently demonstrated very high quality beam steering with extremely linear response. However, the company's latest designs exhibit dramatic improvement in angle, shifting through as much as 120 degrees -- as compared to the 45 degrees previously attained -- using only 20 volts of power.

The newest Lumera designs also make innovative use of readily available printed circuit board technology, enabling the antenna to be produced at a dramatically reduced cost. As a consequence the company says that it can now focus on more cost sensitive high volume markets that are experiencing impressive growth.

"This is a very promising product direction for Lumera," said Mino. "With our most recent development, we now believe we have the ability to design and build antenna systems that can deliver high performance beam steering and shaping at costs that can be compelling in virtually every segment of the wireless market. Our particular focus is to enable a level of network functionality previously not affordable for many of the highest growth applications including the most cost-sensitive high volume markets like residential Wi-Fi. We are actively working with prospective customers and partners to fully define our product strategy, and we expect as a next step to demonstrate fully functional smart antennas for one or more of these applications later this year or very early in 2004."

Lumera Corp.

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