Quantenna raises $15M to make Wi-Fi faster and more reliable

Giant chip makers like Broadcom, Atheros and Marvell dominate the market for Wi-Fi chips — the chips that allow us to wirelessly connect to the internet at almost every cafe. So it would seem that Wi-Fi startups are doomed from the start.

But Quantenna Communications begs to differ. Today, the Fremont, Calif.-based startup is announcing that it raised $15 million in a fourth round of financing for its Wi-Fi wireless radio chip sets. These chips use signal-improvement techniques to create much more robust Wi-Fi networks.

The round comes from existing investors Grazia Equity, Sequoia Capital, Sigma Partners, Southern Cross Venture Partners, Swisscom, and Venrock Associates. The company will use the new money to get its chips into mass production and move from one manufacturing process (90-nanometer) to a more efficient 65-nanometer process.

With its chips, Quantenna says it can transfer data at a speed of 145 megabits per second across 60 feet and through one wall, compared to 95 megabits a second with the lesser technology currently on the market. It can also transfer data at 83 megabits a second through six walls over a distance of 170 feet, compared to 49 megabits a second typical of rival solutions. These speeds — which were recorded during actual performance, not theoretical as is often advertised — are good enough to transfer high-definition media from one place in the home to another, such as from a Blu-ray player to a flat-panel TV set in another room, said David French, chief executive of Quantenna.

I first came across French when he was CEO of chip maker Cirrus Logic. He joined the company in 2009 as CEO and has teamed up with Behrooz Rezvani, founder and chairman of Quantenna. Rezvani previously founded Ikanos Communications, another broadband chip maker.

Quantenna is creating 802.11n-compatible chip sets with Multiple Input Multiple Output 4×4 technology. That technology uses lots of mathematical calculations to figure out how to remove noise from a wireless channel and improve its broadband delivery speed. Quantenna also uses dynamic digital beam-forming, wireless channel monitoring and other things that basically mean it cleans up wireless signals.

Previously, Wi-Fi chip sets were too feeble to transfer high-definition video. That’s why companies like Amimon and SiBEAM have come up with alternative technologies for wireless video transfer. But Wi-Fi is a dominant standard, French says, and if it can be used to solve the video transfer problem, companies will latch onto it rather than embrace a new kind of standard. Wi-Fi is also likely to be cheaper than other solutions, French said. The company was founded in 2006 and has 60 employees. French said the company’s goal is to generate several million dollars in revenue this year while it ships its first chips by the end of the year.

Of course, the competition is tough. In Wi-Fi, there is Broadcom, Qualcomm, Marvell and Atheros. And when it comes to the newer technologies, rivals like Amimon and SiBEAM will also take on Quantenna. So far, the company has raised almost $60 million. That’s pretty typical for an ambitious chip startup these days due to high design measures and testing costs.