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Verizon, Deutsche Telekom Back Kumu Networks' Bid to Make Better Use of Spectrum

Kumu Networks promises a breakthrough by allowing cell towers to send and receive data at the same time over the same piece of the wireless airwaves.

iStockphoto / HelleM

Wireless networking startup Kumu Networks has raised $25 million from backers, including Verizon and Deutsche Telekom, which are interested in technology that could allow them to make better use of the airwaves, or spectrum, they already own.

Traditionally, a particular portion of a carrier’s airwaves can be used to either send or receive data, but Kumu’s “full duplex” approach lets carriers both send and receive data at the same time.

While a bit nerdy and in the technology weeds, approaches like this are important as the wireless airwaves grow increasingly crowded and the cost for additional spectrum stretches into the billions of dollars.

Verizon Ventures director Vijay Doradla says Kumu’s approach is not without its challenges, but that if it proves successful it could help wireless operators around the globe.

“We are all running out of good spectrum very soon,” Doradia said. “We decided it was time to invest and help the company commercialize its product.”

Other new investors include Cisco and Swisscom, with existing backers NEA, Third Point Ventures and Khosla also taking part in the latest funding.

Kumu, which was spun out three years ago from work done at Stanford University, hopes to have its first commercial products available by the end of the year. Initially, it is offering an option that lets small cells use the same airwaves to simultaneously communicate with devices and send data back to the main network.

Kumu will need to work with existing equipment providers to make its technology work, but it doesn’t require a change to the big cell towers or individual consumers’ devices. The technology is being tested by Deutsche Telekom, Korea’s SK Telecom and Telefonica, among others.

“We really solved a fundamental limitation of the wireless radio,” said CEO Dave Cutrer. “What the company has navigated for the last three years is how to bring that to the market.”

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