Rayspan Raises $12.5 Million from Sequoia, Khosla Ventures

San Diego-based Rayspan said today that it has collected $12.5 million in Series B funding to finance its work on advanced materials that could be used to make smaller, more sensitive, and more versatile antennas for mobile devices. Existing investor Sequoia Capital of Menlo Park, CA, provided part of the money, with the rest coming from new investor Khosla Ventures, also of Menlo Park.

The wireless world is fraught with different, often competing standards for delivering data to mobile devices across small or large distances, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 2G and 3G cellular, and GPS. Coming down the road just behind those are newer technologies like WiMax, Long Term Evolution (LTE), and ultrawideband. It takes a fancy antenna, or several of them, to make a mobile device like a cell phone work on several of these standards at once. And WiMax and LTE work best using an altogether new type of antenna called multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO).

The problem with MIMO antennas to date has been that to work efficiently, they need to be of a certain size—about half of the wavelength of the radio frequency they’re designed to detect. If you make them small enough to fit inside a mobile device, they lose sensitivity.

Rayspan, founded in 2006, is taking advantage of progress in a field called metamaterials to make much smaller MIMO antennas that still have high performance.

Metamaterials are composite materials that are structured on a macroscopic level to have unusual optical or electromagnetic properties. Maha Achour, Rayspan’s co-founder and chief technology officer, has applied for patents on a range of radio-related applications for metamaterials, including MIMO antennas (also called “air interfaces”) with individual elements that are as small as one-tenth to one-fifteenth of a wavelength. Such elements can be printed directly on a circuit board and spaced very closely together, potentially giving small mobile devices full MIMO performance.

Rayspan hopes to license the intellectual property behind its metamaterial antennas to wireless device manufacturers making cellular, Wi-Fi, WiMax, and multiband equipment. Pierre Lamond, a general partner at Khosla ventures, said in today’s announcement that the firm believes Rayspan will become “an industry-leading air interface provider in the huge wireless markets they target.”

Achour is a San Diego wireless industry veteran with a doctorate in physics from MIT. She has worked at
San Diego Research Center, UlmTech, Optical Access, LightPointe, and Tiernan Communication. Her co-founder Franz Birkner, Rayspan’s CEO and president, is managing director of Express Ventures and is a veteran of Dot Wireless (acquired by Texas Instruments), Cognet Microsystems (acquired by Intel), and ComStream (acquired by Spar Aerospace).

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “Rayspan Raises $12.5 Million from Sequoia, Khosla Ventures”

  1. Rory Moore says:

    A significant funding, especially this year. Proves there is Sand Hill Road money available for San Diego ventures anytime – if they are special. Another example of experienced entrepreneurs and a successful tech transfer / license agreement from university (UCLA). Possibly the largest round for an IT deal this year. Congrats to Xconomy for running this so fast.

    Rory Moore
    CEO, CommNexus