Wireless: Startup Envisions Doubling Use of Radio Spectrum

Kumu Networks hopes to provide a solution to the increase of smartphone users and data demands on wireless networks. Kumu claims that its technology can double the capacity of cellular and Wi-Fi communications by challenging the idea that mobile devices cannot transmit and receive data on one frequency at the same time. The Stanford University startup first emerged in 2011 when the team wrote a paper claiming two-way traffic could be carried simultaneously through a specific chunk of radio spectrum.

“Kumu, which has prototypes of its inventions, plans to prove its merit in field trials within six months with undisclosed partners. Next year, it hopes to sell boxes that could be used by carriers to ease some kinds of network congestion problems,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

“At this point, many people say we have exhausted our tools to improve spectrum efficiency,” says Sachin Katti, Kumu’s chief executive and co-founder. “Operators, when they look at this, see that there is one big tool left.”

However, Katti admits that the company has several doubters, including Joe Madden, a market researcher at Mobile Experts. Madden believes that Kumu’s technology will probably not become a successor to today’s fastest networks.

The 20-person startup is backed by 10 million dollars in investments from firms such as Khosla Ventures and New Enterprise Associates.

Kumu initially set out to solve the problem of “self-interference,” an obstruction to two-way communication over the same radio channel.

“A typical radio has the equivalent of an ear to hear remote signals and a mouth to send out signals of its own,” explains WSJ. “But the signals it sends are much stronger than those coming from remote locations, drowning out any incoming messages reaching its electronic ears. It is like a person who is shouting trying to listen to another speak, says Joel Brand, Kumu’s vice president of product management.”

“To avoid the problem, radios often take turns in transmission, a requirement symbolized by the tradition of radio operators saying ‘over’ as they converse back and forth. An extension of this concept is used for applications like Wi-Fi networks. Another technique is to set different frequency bands for sending and transmitting. Most cellular networks use this concept, including the latest fourth-generation variety known by the acronym LTE.”