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Three Startups That Want to Deliver a Fat Mobile Pipe

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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.

13 Responses to “Three Startups That Want to Deliver a Fat Mobile Pipe”

  1. A business associate just noted that Waav’s Airbox supports “bonding” the connection from multiple 3G cards together for a fat pipe. Not sure I like “bonding” better than bandwidth aggregation, but it is a twitter world, after all.

    John [at] WowzaMedia

  2. Our company, Lucky You Films,, uses Mushroom Networks equipment. Their PortaBella box allowed our group to setup on-the-fly bandwidth for location shoots. In our first project, The Last Passport movie we live-webcast the entire film production process, something that was much easier to pull off with the PortaBella. Speaking to support, and to Cahit Akin and his crew.. like most folks in media would probably do, we pounded their phones odd-hours and off days to get things right, and for tweaks and they didn’t blink. Great product, great service.

  3. if free(but slow) muni broadband ever gets popular I could see a certain niche market for a device(or software) that allows a single computer to make a bunch of connection to the closest tower and therefore have much higher speeds than intended. in fact i can see this alomost becoming the norm on places such as university’s. of course even if there is no official free wifi such a setup would work for people who connect to open routers whereever they are(lots of people do this as there only internet access). a software only solution that uses the wifi radio built into laptops/netbooks is really the ideal solution.

    • Jesse Kopelman

      Whether your idea would work or not depends a lot on how the network is implemented. If there is only a single base-station radio, connecting to it via multiple client radios is not necessarily going to be any faster than connecting to it with a single client radio. For your idea to work you need a situation where the client radios are artificially speed constrained or the network is designed with multiple radios serving any given location and the ability to assign users based on loading and not just signal strength. In the first of those cases I’d think the network operator would be really upset by lots of people doing what you propose and take steps to eliminate the problem by any means necessary. The example you give of just randomly connecting to open hotspots is only going to work if your connection management software is smart enough to make and break connections based on available bandwidth and not just signal strength and even then would only work in an environment with many available open hotspots serving a given location.