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Wavion’s WiFi Wonder

Wi-Fi may be a strange term, but wireless Internet is already a familiar friend. In hundreds of local cafes and restaurants, hotels and public places, there are “hot spots” where one can log onto the Internet from a laptop or hand-held computer via Wi-Fi.

Soon Israel will have its first wireless city: Ariel has received a permit from the Communications Ministry to participate in an advanced technology trial called Wireless Mesh. WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), designed for longer range access, is also taking its first steps in Israel. Last August Bezeq announced the first trial of this new technology in Bedouin communities in the Negev.

At first glance, the future looks promising, but it is still too early for rejoicing. There are more than a few obstacles still facing wireless surfing beyond our homes. WiMax is a long way from being ready for mass public use, and although WiFi is suitable for urban areas, each transmitter covers only a few dozen or a few hundred meters at best. This means that many antennas (base stations) are required to cover a certain area, making it quite expensive. These, however, are not the only problems. Even in built-up areas, WiFi networks suffer from “dead spots” – zones in which data transfer is hampered by physical barriers, such as underground parking lots. A typical city is full of physical obstacles that hamper transmission between a wide network of antennas without any interference. Problems concerning uniform coverage and the capacity for data transfer make maintenance expensive, requiring a higher density of antennas in certain areas. Low transfer rates also hamper certain applications, such as the downloading of files via the WiFi network.

Many companies worldwide are tackling these challenges, and in different ways. One such company is Israeli startup Wavion, which is developing a technology to improve the reception provided by wireless networks. Wavion was mentioned about a week ago by the highly respected blog, SiliconBeat, in connection with Google. It turns out that one of Google’s plans is to undertake a joint effort toward wireless networking in San Francisco. SiloconBeat mentioned Wavion as a company that Google would do well to check out, thanks to the unique technology that it has developed.

Necessary boost
Wavion was founded in 2000 by Dr. Mati Wax and Ruby Twig. The company is currently being managed by Ran Eisenberg, a former pilot who has also worked for OptiBase and Elbit. Wax completed his doctoral studies at Stanford University and returned to Israel to work for Rafael, Israel’s Armament Development Authority, where he set up a group for developing military applications, communication and electronic warfare. He had one failed startup attempt before founding Wavion with Twig, one of his group members at Rafael. Current investors in Wavion include Elron Electronics Industries, Star Ventures, BRM Capital and Sequoia Capital, which have poured a total of $22 million into the company.

Shortly after Wavion was founded, the telecom industry weathered a huge crisis, and Wavion was preoccupied with survival. For two years, the company operated as a subcontractor for the military industries. A round of fundraising in 2005 netted $12.5 million and gave the company the boost it needed to develop its technology. Wavion’s product is an antenna based on two chips called application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs, which quadruple the data-transmission rate in the same frequency ranges and at the same band width. This new technology is supposed to solve the previously mentioned shortcomings of the wireless network.

Several companies have developed various technologies for WiFi antennas, which improve their reception and transmission capabilities, but only Wavion has managed to quadruple transmission on the existing band width. Last November, the company conducted a trial in an American city, pitting Wavion’s antennas against the competitors’ WiFi antennas by driving past them and testing the range and quality of reception. Wavion’s antennas outperformed the competition.

This summer Wavion hopes to start selling its antennas to organizations building WiFi networks in cities throughout the world, including via OEM (other equipment manufacturer) sales. Wax is not troubled by the looming competition from WiMax.

“WiMax has a lot of arrogance backed by pure hype,” he says. “It wants to compete with cellular services on the one hand, and WiFi on the other. It will take time until that technology is ripe. The standard was only just approved.”

As for the debate over the levels of radiation emitted by the WiFi antennas, Wax says they are much lower than those emitted by cellular antennas. There is one thing, however, that bothers him: He is afraid of disappointing people.”