Vubiq, a startup based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., is offering a chip that has the potential to change the economics for companies trying to ship huge amounts of data over relatively short distances — notably cell providers trying to build backhaul for their wireless networks or companies trying to provide point-to-point bandwidth between buildings on a campus. Six-year-old Vubiq earlier this month announced a radio that vendors can attach to their own antennas to deliver wireless signals for roughly a mile in the relatively uncluttered 60 GHz spectrum band. With it, companies that want to use 60 GHz for long-range wireless could see their chip costs slashed as much as 90 percent.
Vubiq’s waveguide radio modules (the radio sans antenna) is one of several chips tuned to take advantage of the 60 GHz spectrum for delivering high-speed data wirelessly. Unlike other unlicensed bands, such as those used by Wi-Fi radios, baby monitors and cordless phones, 60 GHz is pretty empty because to date, it’s been expensive to make chips that can tune into that frequency. That’s starting to change as companies build their 60 GHz radios using silicon.
The most publicized efforts are coming from the WiGigAlliance and startups like SiBeam that want to use the spectrum to wirelessly transmit HD video and other data around the home. These companies hope to find ways to make short-range radios that can use that spectrum to deliver point-to-point signals within a room. However, those chips are still a few years away, as right now the companies working through the alliance focus on making sure 60 GHz radios will be compatible with Wi-Fi, says Mike Hurlston, director of Broadcom’s WLAN efforts.
While Vubiq makes a chip with an antenna for the consumer device world as well, CEO Adam Button believes there’s a large opportunity in the long-range wireless market, which is why his company built the new chip that customers can buy and outfit with their own antenna. This allows them to customize the chips to deliver long-range wireless signals in the 60 GHz band. Most industrial 60 GHz chips are made from exotic materials that require an expensive manufacturing process. Because it makes its chips using silicon, Vubiq can take advantage of cheaper manufacturing costs and deliver processors that are 10 percent of the cost of those offered by other long-range 60 GHz companies. Button declined to give exact pricing.
Button says this means customers can use Vubiq’s chips to provide wireless backhaul in the millimeter wave in addition to the microwave bands — an imperative as wireless companies move to higher bandwidth technologies, such as Long Term Evolution. Using wireless may be cheaper than laying fiber to the cell towers in most cases. It also may represent hope for the troubled companies that provide point-to-point wireless signals to corporate campuses. Companies like Terabeam or BridgeWave are likely customers of the Vubiq waveguides, judging by an interview with BridgeWave CEO Amir Makleff in Forbes, when Makleff bemoaned the high cost of non-silicon waveguides. As the world goes mobile, businesses like Vubiq that can help a company take advantage of cheap, unlicensed spectrum with lower-cost chips could change the economics of providing wireless broadband. And that means more mobile broadband for everyone.
This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.