Startup MagnaCom demos WAM technology, explores 5G standards work

LAS VEGAS--Wireless startup MagnaCom (a 2014 Fierce 15 winner) has been demonstrating its technology to improve spectral efficiency and network performance here, and CEO Yossi Cohen said the company is making process in convincing wireless industry players that its wave modulation, or WAM, technique actually works. The goal now is to convince silicon vendors and other wireless players to try out the technology for themselves, with the long-term aim of having carriers pressure their vendor partners to adopt it.

WAM is a patented non-linear and multi-dimensional technology that seeks to improve on the network performance of quadrature amplitude modulation, or QAM, which has served as the basis of network architecture for decades. MagnaCom has claimed that it allows for more data to be transmitted over the same amount of spectrum. The result is are networks that are more resilient, and can transmit data at higher speeds, using lower power and less spectrum than before. MagnaCom says WAM delivers 40 to 50 percent more spectral efficiency than QAM and uses up to 50 percent less power.

The digital technology is backward-compatible with existing radio systems and does not require that carriers change their radios. Instead, WAM is essentially a new layer in the communication scheme and sits inside the "black box" of how a baseband modem is coded, which today is based on QAM.

As the power of wireless radio signals increases, the signal reaches a saturation point and starts to become more distorted as it becomes non-linear, just as a radio amplifier does when one turns up the volume too much. WAM is designed to succeed where QAM falls down as signals become more non-linear.

MagnaCom demoed the technology for this reporter here at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, transmitting a standard bitmap picture over a purpose-built 802.11 Wi-Fi network using a modulation of 1,024 QAM. The WAM system produced an 8.4 dB gain over the legacy QAM system while transmitting at just 2 dB of power, compared to 10 dB for the QAM system. The end result was that the WAM system transmitted a much clearer picture with far fewer errors despite the difference in transmission power.  

"Our biggest challenge since we started the company has been to convince people that this is real," Cohen told FierceWirelessTech. "QAM has not been challenged for over 40 years. The analogy that one of our partners  has used is, we're proving the car will move faster if we make the wheels triangular."

Over the past year MagnaCom has spent a significant amount of effort developing its patent portfolio. It has filed over 100 mobile patent applications and has been issued 38, Cohen said, along with 1,000 invention claims.

Cohen also hired veteran wireless engineer Erez Ben-Tovim to be the company's Industry Standards Manager. Before coming to MagnaCom, Ben-Tovim had been working on standards issues for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Cohen said the company has decided to focus initially on efforts to define the standards for "5G" networks and has joined two of the most active groups in that effort, the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance and the International Wireless Industry Consortium.

Ben-Tovim presented WAM at an IWPC workshop in April 2014 on 5G and will do so at another IWPC workshop at the end of January on evolving mobile backhaul. Additionally, he presented WAM to carriers attending a NGMN workshop in September designed to aid the operators working on a "5G operators requirements" paper. At that workshop, Cohen said, WAM was one of three ideas chosen for further discussion out of 80 presented. 

Cohen said the company has delivered hardware, specifically for testing, for multiple Tier 1 wireless backhaul vendors, which he declined to name. The company's goal was to start with a proof of concept for wireless backhaul and then move to OFDM applications, such as cellular or Wi-Fi.

"To go deploy a new technology in wireless backhaul, which is the key artery of the wireless world, people want to do a lot of testing," he said. However, Cohen said the firm decided not to wait for those tests to conclude and went ahead and pursued the OFDM strategy in parallel. However, Cohen acknowledged it will be another two to three years before 5G standards are defined.   

In the meantime, Wi-Fi presents a large opportunity, Cohen said, especially for vendors who provide both phone silicon and routers. "That could be an earlier implementation," he said. "It would give huge advantage to the company that utilizes us."

Cohen declined to say which companies he is talking with, but silicon providers from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) to Intel, MediaTek and Broadcom seem like solid candidates. Cohen said the Wi-Fi market is a "a multibillion-dollar opportunity" for MagnaCom. "Before we can get successful deployments in cellular, we have to get success in Wi-Fi," he said.

Yet wireless carriers should be interested as well, Cohen said, noting that carriers spend billions of dollars on spectrum, "so how enticing do you think it would be for global carriers to get 40 to 50 percent more out of their spectral capability?"

"I think it's a huge motivation, because we're not talking about a situation where they have an infinite amount of spectrum. It's a limited resource," he said. "Once they are convinced technically that the technology can let them leverage 40 to 50 percent more out of their investment, I am hoping there will be pressure from the carriers to adopt this technology."  

At this point, Cohen said MagnaCom has had "very limited" discussions with carriers in the U.S. and Europe and that the generally the feedback has been "a high level of interest mixed with high level of skepticism."

"I think they need to take our technology into their lab, integrate it into their own system and confirm the benefit of our technology," he said. Cohen said eventually the WAM technology could be licensed to semiconductor vendors or network infrastructure providers.  "There's nothing that precludes us from engaging with one or the other," he said.

For more:
- see this release

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