Startup with MIT origins draws $17 million and an impressive executive team to pack more data into the last mile

March 30, 2001

3 Min Read
Chinook Blows Into Town

Chinook Communications, named for the warm wind that blows periodically over the Rocky Mountains, is preparing to detail its technology, its new executive team, and a first funding round of $17 million.

The company is working on last-mile broadband access technology that would allow carriers to pack more bandwidth into existing networks, although its product marketing strategy has not yet been fully developed.

Chinook's executive team will include: President and CEO Andrew Audet, a cable and data exec from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT); CFO Elliot Honan, formerly CFO of Into Networks; engineering boss Michael Grady, formerly of Argon Networks and Bay Networks; and Marketing VP David Scott Brown, formerly of Peach Networks (now part of Microsoft Corp. [Nasdaq: MSFT] ).

OneLiberty Ventures, Walden VC, BancBoston Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, and YankeeTek Ventures are Chinook's backers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Brian Chen, Gregory W. Wornell, and Richard Barron founded the company with help from Into Networks founder Ric Fulop and Narad Networks Inc. director Rouzbeh Yassini.

The basis of Chinook's technology is a trick called digital watermarking, which uses a set of digital signal processing algorithms to embed one signal within another to form a third signal. The signals can be embedded, for instance, at service provider points of presence (POPs) or cable head ends, then decoded at a subscriber site using a cable modem, set-top box, or some other access device.

By inserting up to 6 Mbit/s of "new" bandwidth in each channel without mucking up the other signals, Chinook hopes to appeal to service providers by allowing them to stuff more data down pipes at the bottleneck of bottlenecks, the last mile. But depending on how its packaged, digital watermarking can yield several different ways to help service providers make more money through their existing cable, broadcast, and satellite networks.

For example, such applications include peppering media broadcasts with targeted advertising and offering video on demand and interactive programming guides. The technology could also be used to "mark" commercials so that firms can monitor TV or radio broadcasts to make sure certain ads play a certain number of times.

Chinook hasn't figured out whether its going to sell components or finished systems yet, but it has begun developing the integrated circuits and other pieces necessary to take its intellectual property to market, according to Brown. The company will most likely be a fabless integrated circuit maker, says Brown, but it's leaving all its options open.

While there are several different types of competing data transmission techniques, including the way Wink Communications (Nasdaq: WINK) embeds content into broadcast signals, Chinook's approach appears to stand out because of the sheer amount of extra bandwidth it is promising service providers. The technology ultimately could provide two things service providers need: an additional revenue source that also gives them an excuse to slow spending on network upgrades and a way for them to keep better tabs on the quality of the digital services they're providing.

Brown says Chinook will have product announcements in three to six months and will be in trials with its technology by the end of this year. For more concrete details, though, we'll have to wait to see which way Chinook's marketing wind blows.

-- Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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