Littlefeet's First Steps
The Poway, Calif.-based startup, which recently raised $25M in funding (see Funding: Startup Roundup), has developed a GSM basestation system that is roughly the size of a skateboard (though it's just a bit heavier). LittleFeet says the advantages of its diminutive Small Profile Intelligent Coverage Element (SPICE) rack (tee hee) are the low cost of installation, a small RF footprint, and the ability to plug straight into the mains, instead of needing a dedicated power source.
This means the box, which is installed on poles at street-level and broadcasts back to a second SPICE unit colocated with the operator's main basestation, can be used in built-up areas where a standard tower setup might be rejected by residents, says Littlefeet chairman and CEO John Combs. The system can be used variously to fix coverage holes, improve coverage, extend network reach, and beef up in-building reception.
The SPICE product is a cross-band system designed to improve 900MHz coverage by using channels in the 1800MHz band to achieve the wireless link between the local box and the unit located with an operator's main base station. “A dual-band GSM operator utilizing these frequency bands can enhance or extend coverage in an interference-limited 900MHz coverage layer, while using a more abundant but underexploited 1800MHz spectrum for the link," says Gary Hawkins, Littlefeet’s director of product marketing and technology.
Combs says the Littlefeet technology is being tested -- and in some cases, even commercially deployed -- by operators in China, Hungary, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the U.S. The low cost of installation for the SPICE equipment -- typically $10,000 a pop, rather than the quarter of a million dollars it usually costs to install a basestation -- is appealing to operators in so-called 'developing' markets.
Combs is taking a slightly different approach to rival wireless infrastructure rivals like Airvana Inc., which has partnered with Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) in a bid to get its kit into major operators' networks.
Combs says he's not planning on signing a major partnership deal anytime soon. "We need to get more traction in the marketplace…sufficient to warrant their attention," he says. "That is probably a year away."
Not, he's quick to add, that Littlefeet has nothing to offer potential partners. "Right now, one of the problems with the GSM market is that there's no way to say which vendor's offering is best," he says. "What we can bring is some differentiation in the GSM market."
Littlefeet has GSM and GPRS products now. Combs is expecting to have an EDGE product out in the middle of next year. He also says he has a team working on WCDMA/UMTS products.
However, unlike many other startups, he has little interest in developing products for the CDMA market. GSM is still 75 percent of the market, he says. When the WCDMA product is ready, Littlefeet might work out "backwards compatibility for IS-95 [CDMAone]," he says.
— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung