Ignition Design Labs launches Kickstarter for turbocharged Wi-Fi router Portal

Anyone who's been to a wireless (or other) trade show can attest to the fact that Wi-Fi often is maxed out in crowded areas at convention centers, leaving attendees in the lurch. But when it comes to congestion in consumers' homes – which also are susceptible to crowded conditions -- Ignition Design Labs, the company behind a new router called Portal, aims to change that predicament.

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The Portal's back view. (Image source: 
Ignition Design Labs)

The company launched on Kickstarter this week and is offering its Portal router for $149, with deliveries expected by late summer.

While it is a startup company, Ignition Design Labs CEO and co-founder Terry Ngo, who previously worked at Qualcomm Atheros, told FierceWirelessTech that the team is about 34 engineers strong, with veterans from the likes of Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Broadcom and Cisco, some of whom have been working together for eight or more years.

In fact, the company says it has created the biggest advancement in Wi-Fi in years. Imagine, Ngo says, a 6-lane highway where, for the last 16 years, you've only been driving on one lane. Not only does Portal allow users to use those additional lanes, but they can do so while safely changing lanes.

"We're not eavesdropping on anything you're doing," he said, but the system can tell if you're doing a lot more video versus email or something else and change parameters to accommodate and intelligently keep the user in the fast lane.

While there are expensive routers for the enterprise, the Ignition engineers wanted to figure out how to make Wi-Fi work better and make it affordable for themselves and their friends and family. What they came up with is a new class of radar detection technology that is more capable and costs less so that it could be added to an affordable consumer router.

Dynamic frequency selection (DFS) is the name for a swath of unused radio spectrum in the 5 GHz band, but it is generally not used because it requires complex radar detection technology to coexist with safety and mission-critical radar services that also use the spectrum.

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Image source: Ignition Design Labs 

As Ignition explains it, the typical Wi-Fi home router will perform a "one time" scan for a good channel, then parks on it and stays there until the router is reset, which could be weeks or months.

Unless it's a $1,000 router for an enterprise, "there isn't a router anywhere that actually says, 'I have radar detection,'" Ngo said. Ignition took that type of technology and made it smaller and connected it to the cloud.

Ngo explains that Portal is a Wi-Fi router at the center of the home, but it's very different. "It's a smart, agile router," he said. "More importantly, it actually has access to three times more spectrum than any conventional router today."

"We wanted not just your expensive Ciscos to use the fast lanes," he said. "We wanted everybody to use the fast lane. The faster we get everybody off one lane to start using all six lanes, the better the experience is going to be for everybody." In addition, they created a way to coordinate the traffic so that they could do lane changes, which is where the agility part comes in.

​The company also points out that any Apple device, as far back as iPhone 5 in 2012, and Android, as far back as Galaxy S2 in 2011, can use the DFS spectrum any time they access a DFS-capable router.

Ignition Design Labs launched a very early version of its product back at the CES show in January where it won two best in show awards and other accolades. The company is headquartered is in San Jose, California, with a design center in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Asia's version of Silicon Valley and home to many of the manufacturers and factories that make the majority of the world's wireless devices and equipment.

There also are implications for wireless operators. "We believe that 5 GHz spectrum management will be a fundamental requirement to avoid LTE offload and Wi-Fi from killing the user experience," according to David Sorensen, who is in charge of marketing at Ignition Designs.

The industry goal is to have Wi-Fi and LTE offload peacefully co-exist in the 5 GHz unlicensed band. Presently how this gets done, or even if this is possible with LTE-U and LTE-LAA, is being debated. "Our technology can detect interference from neighboring Wi-Fi, radar, and LTE," Sorenson told FierceWirelessTech. "So we have the ability to access spectrum that LTE cannot and move Wi-Fi out of the way of LTE."

LTE-U and LTE-LAA are not allowed to operate in the portions of the 5 GHz band that require DFS, he said. "We expect to see carrier grade Wi-Fi move rapidly into the DFS portions of 5 GHz to avoid LTE offload as it becomes mainstream. We plan to aggressively support this and make the technology available for both carriers and consumers," he said.

For more: 
- see this Kickstarter link

Related articles:
Qualcomm gets green light to test LTE-U with T-Mobile
Wi-Fi Alliance says goal is to deliver LTE-U/Wi-Fi coexistence test plan by summer
Eero sets out to redefine home Wi-Fi networking

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