NTag is currently in search of about $7 million in
series A funding to help it further develop and market its
nametag device. One venture capitalist commented that
the technology sounds intriguing but adds that he's not
sure the market is big enough to warrant VC money.
NTag cofounder George Eberstadt begs to dif fer. Along
with conference attendees, he points out, NTag could
potentially be used by singles who want to skip the small
talk and connect directly with likeminded par tners. He
was recently quoted as saying that the market is "way
bigger than we need it to be to justify the business."
It may be wishful thinking but a new market report
from Insight Research predicts the global telecommuni-
cations industr y will return to historic growth numbers
this year. According to the study, telecom-ser vices rev-
enue will rise at an annual rate of 8 percent from 2004 to
2009. That matches the growth enjoyed by the telecom
sector just prior to the technology bubble. The repor t
estimates ser vices revenue will go from $1.2 billion in
2004 to $1.8 billion in 2009, thanks to rapidly growing
innovations like VOIP, wi-fi and streaming media. "The
malaise of the past few years is finally beginning to dissi-
pate," says Insight Research's Robert Rosenberg. "Asia-
Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean are forecast to enjoy
the fastest overall broadband growth."
Los Gatos, California
egular radios use a single chip to pick up a signal on
a specific band 800 MHz GSM, for example. But
today's devices often require a number of chips,
including GSM, CDMA, Bluetooth, wi-fi and so on. As
a result, the industr y has been looking for a way to pro-
duce a reprogrammable multimode radio. The missing
piece has been a single chip that can reprogram itself to
access all bands. This would not only be more cost effec-
tive but would also use less power.
RFco is a fabless semiconductor company that says it's
come up with new radio-frequency architecture that uses
less silicon, fewer integrated circuits and transistors, and
enables a chip that's not only reprogrammable but also
less costly than current technologies.
"In the microprocessor business, the guy with the
smallest die always wins," says Rich Forte, chairman and
CEO of RFco and former vice president of the communi-
cations and components group at Advanced Micro Devices.
Practically speaking, a phone based on RFco's chipset
could use three GSM bands, as well as CDMA and
TDMA. It could also switch on the fly between data stan-
dards such as wi-fi, wi-max and Bluetooth. This would
enable the phone to use the cellular network while on the
road, then switch to wi-fi in the home or office.
The RFco technology is based on the research efforts of
Stanford professors Bruce Lusignan and Bruce Wooley.
Forte and RFco CTO Jim Kubinec came across the tech-
nology in 1996 and acquired it for AMD's communications
division. When the division was later sold, the intellectual
property reverted back to Stanford. In 1999, Kubinec got
the rights back, formed a startup and recruited Forte.
Other companies pursuing a reprogrammable multi-
mode RF chip include Texas Instr uments and star tups
like Sequoia Communications, Ashvattha Semiconductor
and SiRiFIC. But these companies are working on some
version of either direct conversion (invented by Marconi)
or superheterodyne (invented in 1920), while RFco offi-
cials say their company's new, as yet unnamed architec-
ture features a smaller die size, requires less power and is
more flexible than traditional technologies.
In fact, RFco claims its technology is the first major
change in radio architecture since superheterodyne, the cur-
rent RF technology that's used in everything from car stereos
to cell phone chips. "Others may have replaced the vacuum
tubes with transistors but it's basically the same architec-
ture," says Ralph Cognac, RFco director of marketing.
"We've gone back to scratch and created a new RF design."
RFco has several patents pending so officials refuse to
give a detailed description of the technology. They will
say that they're targeting the cellular communications
market and boast that cellular hardware providers who are
currently forced to use multiple-hardware radios to cover
the different bands and standards will be able to do it all
with RFco's one chip. Forte says the RFco chip will cost
$2-$5, far less than the $10-$16 expense of chips today.
The task for RFco now is to team with a multimode
baseband company like Infineon, Philips, Qualcomm,
QuickSilver, PicoChip or Sandbridge to develop products
based on its new technology. RFco expects to make its
technology available to cell phone manufacturers in the
first quarter 2005.
RFco raised $16.5 million in a first round of financing
from Allegis Capital, Advanced Technology Ventures,
Mobius Venture Capital and Technology Assoc.
Greg Galanos of Mobius Venture Capital concedes
that RFco is a risky investment but says that, if all goes
well, its technology has the potential to be ver y disr up-
tive. He says RF chip startups are receiving a lot of atten-
tion from VCs these days but that RFco is dramatically
different from anything else he's seen.
IC RATING (scale 110)
RFco claims its technology is the
first major change in radio
architecture since superheterodyne.