The Bet on Movandi to Change mmWave 5G Networks

By Sriram Viswanathan, Founding managing partner

Almost 17 years ago to the date, Intel launched Centrino, its latest mobile processor of that time. It was a seminal moment in the evolution from tethered to wireless connectivity that we in the industry referred to as BC and AC periods — “Before Centrino” and “After Centrino.” Centrino ushered in 10Mbps wireless LAN connectivity for laptops by integrating 802.11b WiFi. For the first time, people experienced untethered access to data, and the wireless revolution gained speed.

Perhaps even more important than the form factor and battery life of the devices we were creating at Intel was the ensuing and insatiable addiction to wireless bandwidth and mobility that drove a cycle of innovation in devices and wireless capacity increases, and changed us all at work, home and play. However, the inability to have a persistent connection and a seamless handoff while being truly mobile became an urgent issue to be solved. The voracious appetite of video-on-the-go, combined with the inherent constraints in existing networks became the catalysts for consumers to crave more from their cellular networks. We had been given a tiny taste of what was possible in WiFi, and we wanted more. Much, much more!

The journey to today was far from simple. Most of us remember when the concept of doing a Zoom call from the back of an Uber or streaming a baseball game to your family across the world from a packed stadium was simply unthinkable (perhaps in these Covid-19 times that last part is still unthinkable!). But that journey holds many parallels with the journey from 4G to 5G. Increasing our data capabilities across the world is critical. According to Verizon, by 2020, 20 billion devices are expected to connect to the internet, and by 2025 that is expected to grow to over 50 billion devices. All of them will rely on and stress the existing network bandwidth to communicate. It’s not just smartphones, either. Self-driving cars; AR/VR applications; IoT systems; and remote healthcare providers using telemedicine for the post-COVID era will all vie for the same bandwidth pie.

WRVI’s latest investment, Movandi, was made through this lens. As 5G is in the mid-stages of coming to market, companies are racing to create the technology to make it possible. Movandi is far ahead of the pack, in this regard.

When Lip Bu Tan (a Co Founder of WRVI Capital along with Michael MarksNic Brathwaite and myself) — with his uncanny ability to smell billion-dollar business opportunities and identify top-tier talent — decided to provide seed funding to Maryam and Reza Rofougaran, the true pioneers in this field, it was a clear indication that we were looking at the formation of another great American company. The two founders hold more than 1,000 patents, and are technologists and entrepreneurs in their hearts and souls. After building and successfully exiting their prior company Innovent to Broadcom, they were responsible for building and growing Broadcom’s wireless business to revenues of over $3B.

This was essentially the motivation for WRVI Capital to bet on Movandi — a company with unparalleled talent, a huge business potential, and targeting an industry at a cusp of a transition. Perhaps more importantly, it is a company that has the promise to take the crown of 5G leadership from the Chinese, the Finns and the Swedes.

To truly understand the power of Movandi’s technology, it helps to look back at the evolution of our current wireless technologies.

When Intel drove the pioneering work in WiFi, it did so through adoption of Smart Antenna technologies such as MiMo, Beam Forming, etc., which in turn drove WiFi to great success through multiple revisions to the original and modest 802.11b standard. Intel, already a leader in WiFi, began to search for a mobile internet technology, or as they called it, “WiFi-on-steroids.” In 2003, Intel acquired Iospan Wireless’s IP, a wireless technology company founded by Dr. Arogyaswami Paulraj (currently Venture Partner of WRVI Capital and Emeritus Professor, Stanford University). Iospan had pioneered a new physical layer technology called MIMO-OFDM to build a cellular-like broadband wireless system for fixed/nomadic applications.

Iospan’s technology became the foundation for Intel’s foray into fully mobile internet access that they called WiMAX. WiMAX was standardized by the IEEE 802.16 committee and strongly promoted by Intel as a 4G mobile internet solution with 50 Mbps-plus data rates and seamless mobility. Intel also worked with many national administrations to allocate wide bandwidth spectrum in 2.3 and 2.5 GHz, above the frequency bands used in cellular. It also invested in a new crop of data-only mobile service providers to create a growing ecosystem for mobile data networks. At this point, the existing mobile voice networks were still transitioning from 2G to 3G technology with the standard developed by the 3GPP consortium. The initial success of WIMAX convinced the 3GPP community that mobile internet was a huge market and that MIMO-OFDM was the right technology. This led, in 2008, to the 3GPP’s 4G LTE standard essentially adopting WiMAX’s technology. The 3GPP LTE, in addition, provided many compatibility features to the existing 2G and 3G networks. The incumbent mobile voice operators clearly found LTE significantly better aligned with their spectrum and infrastructure investments and tilted sharply away from WiMAX.

Meanwhile 4G LTE ushered in the true mobile broadband era that we live in, allowing us to enjoy literally hundreds of services from conference calls to Instagram and cab hailing. LTE has now reached 4.5 Billion people worldwide and is likely to be in service for another decade.

5G is the next generation of mobile communications technology standardized by 3GPP. 5G’s services go well beyond those of 4G which primarily supported connectivity to personal devices. 5G will connect a myriad of new devices including machines, sensors, actuators, self-driving cars, robots and drones, to support a much larger range of applications.

5G also broke new ground in spectrum bands. Current wireless networks operate below 2.6 GHz and have, on the average across countries, a total of about 400 MHz of available spectrum. The increasing demand for high speed and massive device connectivity will clearly need much more spectrum. The 5G spectrum includes the low band and mid band spectrum of the 1G through 4G frequencies as well as the new high-band spectrum, also known as millimetric wavelength (mmWave). The additional spectrum added totals over 4 GHz, multiplying spectrum availability for mobile services by 10x.

As my colleague Dr. Paulraj pointed out recently, it has been many decades since an American company led in wireless technology. Movandi has constructed an incredible moat around their business with IP assets, a world class team and operator relationships, and is well placed to seize global leadership away from the Chinese, the Finns and the Swedes, becoming the defining company in the 5G era.

Customers old enough to remember the early days of WiFi should hold on to their seats now as they watch the rise of 5G. If 2003 brought the ‘old’ AC (After-Centrino) world, we may be entering a ‘new’ AC (After-Covid) world where innovative companies like Movandi lead the way!