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Interview: Neul's James Collier and Luke D'Arcy

Aug. 12, 2011
Interview by Nancy Friedrich
NF: Your company was created to take advantage of the television white-space bands that were made available by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), correct? Please explain what this additional spectrum means to wireless providers and services. Neul: It's the first time that really high-quality (e.g., sub-1-GHz) spectrum has been made available free of charge. This means that wireless providers can set up wide-area networks without spending billions to license spectrum.

NF: Obviously, the availability of this additional spectrum was received with a lot of excitement. Does the true potential live up to the hype?
Neul: Yes, there is about 150 MHz of spectrum available in the white spaces between TV channels. By comparison, a typical third-generation (3G) network has to make do with only about 30 MHz of spectrum.

NF: What problems must be overcome for applications to succeed in this space?
Neul: There is a lot of interference in white spacenotably from TV transmitters, which are very powerful. Radios need to be designed to cope with interference in an elegant way. It's also very important to avoid interference with existing licensed users, such as TV broadcasters and wireless microphones. This has serious implications as far as radio design is concerned.

NF: Which application areas stand to benefit the most from this additional spectrum? I know that machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is one of your target applications. Is that your largest focus?
Neul: Our feeling is that M2M applications are currently being held back because existing wide-area networks are designed for people, not machines. In particular, the cost and power consumption of 2G/3G technologies are both much too high for many M2M applications. M2M needs its own dedicated network to thrive and reach the full potential of 50 billion connections worldwide. The need to spend billions on spectrum has prevented this from happening up until now. White-space radio makes the necessary spectrum available for free.

NF: What unconventional or unusual applications could be served by this white-space bandwidth?
Neul: It will also be used to provide broadband to remote rural communities.

NF: You call your technology "disruptive." What existing technologies or solutions does it replace and may it possibly eliminate? Neul: It's disruptive in the sense that it enables a new world of possible applications in the M2M area, which are commercially or technically impossible with existing wide-area networks. As such, it will replace 2G/3G in some M2M applications. We are not aiming to replace 2G/3G technology for mobile phones, where it does a great job.

NF: Neul has an interesting story, having been formed by ex-Cambridge Silicon Radio executives. Please tell us how the company was started.
Neul: We were founded last October. As you say, we are mainly ex-CSR people. (James Collier was an original founder of CSR.)

NF: How big is Neul now? And are you privately or publicly funded?
Neul: We are currently 16 people and growing fast. We just raised our first round of VC funding.

NF: As a company riding a new technology wave, your workplace must be pretty dynamic. What is the management or office style?
Neul: We have a typical startup culture. Relaxed, but highly motivated and keen to do amazing things.

NF: What else sets your company apart in terms of how you do things?
Neul: We are solely focused on white-space radio. Although we are small, we probably have more people working on white space than any other company.

NF: Tell us a bit about the Special Interest Group you are establishing for silicon design and how it will work with outside semiconductor foundries.
Neul: The aim is to establish a fully open, zero-royalty standard for M2M communications over white-space radio. We believe that this is the only way to fully enable M2M communications, which has the potential to be the next wave of explosive growth for the wireless industry.

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