Fierce 15 2016: Blue Danube Systems increasing capacity to meet data consumption

Image: Flickr user michael davis-burchat
Fierce15 2016

Editor's note: Welcome to the 2016 Fierce 15, an annual list that recognizes 15 of the most interesting startups in the wireless industry. We'll publish one profile a day for 15 days; Blue Danube Systems is the ninth company to be recognized this year.

Company: Blue Danube Systems
Where it's based: Santa Clara, California
When it was founded: 2013
Website: http://bluedanube.com/

Why it's Fierce: Blue Danube’s proprietary technology combines hardware and software to help carriers maximize spectral efficiency and enable an increase in capacity of as much as tenfold.

The 3-year-old startup plans to perform two live network trials to showcase the 3D beamforming technology at the heart of its business. But the core concept behind the technology emerged as two key Blue Danube executives were working on a very different project.

“The founder and I were working on a project in semiconductors that had to do with VSLI (very-large-scale integration) clocking,” which is the process of creating an integrated circuit by combining thousands of transistors into a single chip, said CEO Mark Pinto. “You want these things to all be synchronous, because if they’re not synchronous you’re really losing the speed of computation.”

The duo applied the same concepts to wireless antenna systems. Their beamforming technology – “It’s really beam-shaping,” Pinto says – uses phased array antennas that shift the phase of signals to steer beams in desired directions, enabling networks to be customized to address interference problems, traffic patterns and other variables.

“It turns out that (microprocessor) problem is very analogous to phased array communication,” Pinto said. “And that’s where we’re all headed in one form or another.”

Synchronizing transmitters is a complex challenge, of course, and Pinto often compares it to dozens of people throwing pebbles into a pond. If the pebbles aren’t thrown at precisely the right time and place, they create a random assortment of small waves colliding into each other. But if they’re thrown in synch, they can make a big splash.

Blue Danube’s technology works with LTE networks as well as 5G technologies, so it isn’t waiting for standards for next-generation networks to be adopted before coming to market. The company, which is still in its pre-revenue stage, claims 40 full-time employees and has raised nearly $24 million from investors including AT&T, Northgate Capital and Sequoia Capital.

The company plans to partner with major network vendors to bring its wares to market. “We are going into live networks as we speak,” Pinto said. “We’ve been on outdoor towers since last April, and we are as of this month doing our first live trials.”

What’s next: Blue Danube currently has “more than 10 operator engagements worldwide,” with multiple trial agreements or requests. It’s working with multiple telecom vendors on customer trials and go-to-market plans, and is scheduled to perform two live network trials by the end of the year. And Blue Danube is also working with partners to develop solutions for C-RAN, self-optimized networks (SON) and 5G and millimeter wave spectrum.

Read more: FierceWireless's Fierce 15 2016