Navini's Mobility Move

Navini Networks Inc. will make its move into the mobile broadband data market early next year with the introduction of its first PC card modem.

The Richardson, Texas-based startup has been developing non-line-of-sight fixed wireless systems that offer cable-like data transfer speeds since its foundation in 2000. However, like rivals such as ArrayComm Inc., Flarion Technologies and IPWireless Inc., it has also been working up a truly mobile system using its technology.

Navini's PCMCIA card is being built by Sanmina-SCI Corp. Navini's president and CEO, Alastair Westgarth, told Unstrung that he expects the card to go into production in the first or second quarter of next year.

"I think you are one of the first people to see this," Westgarth says, holding up a small circuit board with a Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) OMAP processor on-board, a Lattice Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: LSCC) Complex Programmable Logic Device, and a Flash memory card.

That's a lot of memory for a little PC card, but Westgarth explains that having the extra RAM on-board means that the modem's communications software can be held in memory and updated in the field, rather than being hardwired and untouchable.

In comparison, the desktop modem Navini offers now is about the size of a well-stuffed grilled vegetable panini -- fine for home use, but less than ideal for mobile applications.

Navini is also working on improving the "synchronization" between separate cell sites, so that the modem cards can be used in automobiles and other vehicles moving at highway speeds. "We'll be improving the mobility next year," claims Westgarth. The system can currently maintain a connection between sites in vehicles traveling at between 20 and 40 miles per hour.

Westgarth claims the Navini basestation offers data transfer rates ten times better than current 3G cellular systems. Navini says its system uses "smart antennas" and "adaptive beam-forming techniques" to enable non-line-of-sight operation.

For instance, each Navini basestation handles between one and three antennas. Inside each of those antennas are multiple metal rods that send and receive multiple copies of the same signal. How Navini deals with the multiple copies is key, according to Westgarth: "Our secret sauce is our adaptive modulation technique."

Inbound, the separate signals, which are received in 10-millisecond chunks (or "frames," as Navini calls them), are combined into a more powerful whole using these techniques. To do this, the Navini software looks at the different copies of the same signal, throws out the really corrupted versions, and combines the rest, adjusting for phase cancellation and other problems using coordinates contained within each frame. A similar trick is performed on the outbound signals. Westgarth says this can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by up to 20 decibels.

Like ArrayComm and IPWireless, Navini uses "unpaired" spectrum, rather than the "paired" spectrum more commonly used in cellular systems. Systems using time-division duplex (TDD), or unpaired spectrum, are more spectrally efficient than standard frequency-division duplex (FDD), or paired spectrum, systems because they use one channel for both upstream and downstream traffic, rather than two.

Navini's system broadcasts over a 1MHz- to 5MHz-wide channel of TDD spectrum. The system supports a synchronous CDMA (S-CDMA) air interface and runs over Multipoint Microwave Distribution System (MMDS) channels. In the U.S., 200 MHz of spectrum -- between 2.5 GHz and 2.7 GHz -- has been allocated for MMDS use by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The system also runs over the 2.4GHz unlicensed band and the 2.3GHz band. Westgarth also says Navini will be releasing a 3.5GHz system sometime next year.

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) is using the Navini technology running over MMDS frequencies for its "XG" trials in Houston (see Sprint Targets New G Spot). There are live users on this network now, Westgarth says, but the eventual outcome of the tests, which originally started in July 2001, still seems to be up in the air (so to speak). "We don't know what Sprint will do," Westgarth admits, when asked about this.

BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) will also start a technical trial in Florida with Navini's system in January next year. A market trial could start 30 to 60 days after that, Westgarth speculates.

Westgarth says that the company has 14 customers in all, in different trial stages. "Four networks are in early stages of commercial deployment," he says.

Like its rivals, Navini would like to get a toehold in the South Korean wireless broadband market (see Flarion Doubles Down in Korea). "We're trying really hard there, we don't have anything yet," says Westgarth. China, Europe, and India are all target markets as well.

So what about funding? How long can Navini last on the $60 million in equity payouts and $6 million in debt funding it has so far received? Basically, it depends on how "gentle a ramp" Navini's technology has, Westgarth says. If the firm wins a big order (translation: Sprint or BellSouth come through), then they might have to get more funding to actually build all the kit required.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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