Three Startups That Want to Deliver a Fat Mobile Pipe

PortaBella BBNA141 with cards

Mushroom's PortaBella device

Good things come in threes, and any triptych of services is the basis for a journalist to declare a trend, so when I met three different companies last week that offered a way to bundle a variety of mobile broadband connections into one fat pipe, I was compelled to pull together an article about them. The idea is not new — Mushroom Networks has been bundling wired broadband services into a fatter pipe for over a year, as has Sharedband, but providing fatter and more resilient mobile broadband by bundling together service from WiMAX, Wi-Fi and 3G providers could gain in prominence as more folks take their computers on the go. However, so far, these services are for corporations or those with fat wallets.

Mushroom Networks: Today 5-year-old Mushroom is announcing a portable, PortaBella product which is basically a box that weighs a little more than 1 pound and has USB slots for four wireless modems on one side and an Ethernet port on the other. A user plugs in as many 3G data cards as she can and then connects her laptop with an Ethernet cord. The payoff for such a clunky setup is an aggregated bundle of bandwidth. Wi-Fi and WiMAX bundling will come later. Mushroom CEO Cahit Akin says there’s little drop in bandwidth from the four connections, and the device can be tweaked to provide optimized bandwidth for special services such as uploading video. It costs $45 a month to lease the device, plus the cost of all those data subscriptions.

Brand Communications: This 9-year-old company delivers a  server and a software client a user downloads that will detect and aggregate any kind of wired or wireless network in range, be it cellular, Wi-Fi or WiMAX. The aggregation is limited by the number of USB ports in your computer and the number of radios available for detecting a signal. During President Obama’s inauguration, the Secret Service used this platform to add redundancy to their existing wireless broadband options, so if one cell network became overloaded, another was already bundled in.

Sharedband: Like Mushroom, 6-year-old Sharedband loves hardware. It loads its software onto a Linux-based router that aggregates mobile and wired broadband signals. Right now it requires a lot of boxes to aggregate mobile signals, but the company plans to release its software on a 3G router that will enable folks to bond wireless signals using one box.  Theoretically, the software allows bonding of any type of signal, limited only by the type of ports and options provided on the router the firmware is placed on. A standard router that can bond up to 12 Mbps is $75, and a kit to build a router that can bond up to 100 Mbps is $175.

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