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UWB Attracts VC Cash

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
10/29/2003

As the excitement around ultra-wideband (UWB) mounts, at least five startups developing the silicon required to make the technology work have raised -- or are about to raise -- fresh venture capital from investors attracted to the way UWB radio can increase data transfer rates without causing interference to other users in the same bandwidth.

In particular, these investors are eyeing the potentially huge market for integrating UWB chipsets in PCs, consumer electronics, and cell phones, where wireless applications ranging from cable replacement to high-definition video streaming are being touted. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is working to develop a UWB standard that will deliver data transfer rates of 110 Mbit/s or more over a minimum distance of 10 meters. This is much faster than current Bluetooth and 802.11 systems and suitable for multimedia streaming applications.

The biggest funding round to date is the $15.5 million announced yesterday by Wisair Ltd., a 30-person Israeli company working on so-called “multiband OFDM” chipsets. The round included repeat investors Apax Partners and RAD Group, as well as new investors Vertex Venture Capital, Tamar Technology Ventures, and Bynet Data Communications Ltd. Wisair has now raised a total of $20 million.

Amir Freund, vice president of marketing at Wisair, says the money will support development of its two-chip product. “We’re going to have the RF chip by the end of this year and a full solution including the baseband and MAC by mid 2004,” says Freund, “By this time, the RF chip, which is the riskiest part, will already be mature.”

Another recent deal was last week’s announcement by Artimi Ltd., a startup in Cambridge, U.K. The size of the round was not disclosed but is believed to be in excess of $1 million, raised from individual investors (see Artimi Scores More Funding ).

Artimi is developing what it calls “a single chip mesh networking device” using an “all CMOS design”, which commercial director Richard Dellabarca says will sample in the first quarter of next year, with production silicon anticipated at the end of the third quarter 2004.

In addition to these two deals, more funding announcements are expected soon from Alereon Inc. (see UWB Startup Alereon Uncloaks), Staccato Communications Inc., and XtremeSpectrum Inc.

XtremeSpectrum is the only UWB silicon vendor so far to have working silicon in the market; it also has consumer electronics customers, two facts that vice president of marketing, Chris Fisher, says should help the Virginia-based company close a round of approximately $20 million to $25 million before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Staccato, a high-speed CMOS chip designer from San Diego, expects to close a round worth $7 million or $8 million in the first quarter of 2004 to top up the funds it secured back in April this year (see Staccato Raises $7.5M). The firm’s vice president of marketing, Mark Bowles, says, although they don’t need the money right now, it’s a case of “raise money when you can.”

Currently, the major stumbling block for all of these startups is the deadlock between two rival factions over the technology that should be used as the basis of the IEEE UWB spec (the designated task group working on this is called 802.15.3a). As Unstrung reported yesterday, an influx of new voters may help to break this deadlock at next month's task group meeting (see Nokia Gets Ultrawide).

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

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