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Intel Itches for WLAN Switches

Oh, fickle Intel.

Despite its recent investment in wireless LAN switch vendor Vivato Inc. (see Vivato's Silicon Sugar Daddy), Intel Capital says that it may well pump more money into other startups working on wireless switching products in the future.

Sriram Viswanathan, the man who runs the communications fund at Intel's VC arm, says that for the chipmaker to invest in another company working in the same area as Vivato, a startup's technology would have to be "sufficiently different."

That criterion should not be very hard for other startups in this market to meet, given that Vivato is currently unique in offering a single 802.11b (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) box intended to replace multiple access points as well as handle management functions. Most of the other startups in this field work with standard, multiple access point implementations (see Switch Tiff Heats Up and Vivato's Switch Bitch for more).

Viswanathan says Intel was particularly interested in Vivato because the San Francisco-based company has managed to "make the footprint [range] of the access point larger." (see Vivato Plans Ambitious WLAN for more detail).

However, Viswanathan sees no problem investing in multiple wireless startups working on the same type of products. "There's nothing that says that we wouldn't invest in multiple bets in the same market," he explains. "Wireless and broadband are such a big deal for us." Viswanathan says he has three criteria for investing in wireless startups:

  • Does the investment have strategic value for Intel?
  • Could the company succeed without Intel's investment?
  • Is the startup financially viable?
Intel has so far invested in seven startups from its $150 million wireless LAN fund (see Intel's WiFi Wad). The chipmaker typically invests $10 million or less per startup (see How Intel Gets Inside), which means that Viswanathan still has approximately $80 million burning a hole in his back pocket.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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