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Vanu Targets Spectrum Bidders with "Software Radio"

Vanu, Inc., a venture capital-backed, Cambridge, Mass.-based firm that counts former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt as one of its board members, is targeting potential bidders for the FCC’s upcoming auction of 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum with its “software radio” technology. The new system could provide an easy solution to the gaps in wireless coverage that many consumers find within their homes

Vanu's software radio takes the signal processing functions of a wireless base station and converts them into flexible software applications running on an open hardware platform. The company is teaming with chip maker BitWave Semiconductor to demonstrate prototype “femtocells” that would operate on the 700 MHz spectrum, which is being reclaimed from broadcasters as part of the U.S. transition to digital television. A femtocell is a low-power wireless access point that could be installed in an individual home or apartment to improve wireless coverage, and that could connect to a mobile operator’s network using cable or DSL broadband connections.

Vanu’s pitch is that its software radio technology could allow the same piece of base station hardware to support communication with femtocells using different wireless standards, and thus do business with different wireless operators. The Vanu/BitWave prototype can handle both CDMA and GSM operation, for example, and support for future 3G and 4G applications is planned.

With that type of flexibility, such software-radio-based femtocells could help bridge those gaps in coverage, says Vanu founder and CEO Vanu Bose, son of Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose.

The Vanu/BitWave approach has attracted the interest of prospective 700 MHz bidders like Frontline Wireless, of which Hundt is a principal. But femtocells' ability to connect to existing cable broadband pipes might also make them attractive to cable operators, which have long been seeking a way to integrate mobile telephony into their service offerings but recently halted the rollout of their Pivot joint-venture with Sprint due to operational challenges.

“There have been rumors around cable companies bidding on 700 MHz spectrum. Of course, they already own AWS [Advanced Wireless Services] spectrum,” says Bose. “If they get in, our technology is really a great fit for cable to join the wireless business.”

Vanu has already successfully tested its software-driven, IP-based system using cable modems as a backhaul to a wireless network, says Bose, who thinks that cable operators could potentially lease femtocell devices to individual subscribers, much as they do with set-tops and modems today.

“You could take a small femtocell platform, and plug it right into the cable network connection,” he says. “It could even be built right into the cable box.”