Optical/IP Networks

Airvana: The Quiet Startup

Infrastructure startup Airvana Inc. has seen remarkable success in the third-generation CDMA market, forging ahead with major infrastructure partners and revenue-generating carrier deals.

Yet the name may leave many wondering: "Air-who?"

And that's the way the startup claims to like it, preferring – at least for now – to work under the radar with some of the biggest names in the cellular equipment business.

Founded in March 2000 by executives from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), the company has quietly notched up a bevy of contract awards through its OEM partnerships with LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) and Nortel.

Airvana supplies all-IP radio access networks using CDMA 2000 1x EV-DO technology and claims that taking an all-IP approach has two major benefits. With a pure-IP backhaul network, a customer can take advantage of a traditional ATM setup, reducing the cost of implementing the network. Also, because Airvana's technology does not touch the voice network, the company envisages its use in conjunction with an existing network, even one with a different air interface (see Trying to Do the DO).

According to Sanjeev Verma, co-founder and VP of marketing, Airvana has been involved in EV-DO deployment wins at Brazils' Vesper, Korea's KT Freetel Co., and Ecuador's Telecsa (see Ericsson Wins in Ecuador).

The startup is also playing a role in Nortel's wins at Verizon Wireless, Israeli carrier Pelephone Communications Ltd., PT Wireless Indonesia (WIN), and the troubled Eurotel Praha spol. s.r.o. CDMA 450 project (see Verizon Repeats on 3G, Nortel Wins in Nigeria, Israel, Airvana WINs in Indonesia, and Clash Checks Czech EV-DO).

Despite such success, Verma stresses that the company is in no hurry to go public or add to its list of vendor partnerships. "We can't comment on any planned IPO at this point, other than to say we will carefully examine it going forward," he tells Unstrung.

Verma adds that Airvana is "open to the possibility" of future OEM deals with incumbent equipment vendors, but "nothing is definite" at present.

Airvana's marketing man is more forthcoming on the startup's recent financial performance. Verma claims the company has been generating revenue "for the last nine consecutive quarters, with no quarter under a couple of million revenue."

"This year has seen a substantial increase in revenue. We recorded $20 million in revenue last year and expect to be doing a lot better this year."

In light of this cash bonanza, Verma sees "no requirement" to add to the $81 million previously raised in private funding.

The startup is also preparing to add to its headcount of approximately 150. "A major recruiting effort is underway to keep up with operator interest. We will be recruiting in all areas, but predominantly engineering."

Just don't expect Airvana to make a song and dance about it. "That's the way we operate and want to continue playing it," comments Verma.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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