Green RF amp company wins $18m funding

A Cambridge company that has developed a more efficient way of powering the RF amplifiers used in basestations, broadcasting and handsets has picked up a further $18m in funding, bringing the total invested in it so far to almost $40m. 

Nujira says the extra money will fund development of a product for the handset market, and production for the basestation and broadcast markets.

The funding round was led by the New Energy Solutions Fund of BankInvest Group, a new investor, with further investments from existing backers Amadeus Capital Partners, 3i, Cambridge Capital and Cambridge Angels.

According to Tim Haynes, founder and CEO, his company is already talking to most of the basestation makers about Nujira's technology, which adjusts the voltage and current delivered to the power amplifier to match instantaneous demand, increasing conversion efficiency.

“The technique has been around for 71 years, but has proven to be quite hard to build. This is the first product that can supply the voltage and current needed,” said Haynes. “The smarts are in the way the thing built architecturally.”

Nujira is currently offering a module for use in basestations, and is developing a set of ASICs to help reduce the component count.

Haynes also hopes to develop a product that can address the market for advanced 3G handsets working to the emerging LTE specification.

“By 2011 or 2012 lots of handsets will be using HSDPA. This technology will be used in anything multiband and multimode,” he added. “The ecosystem will adopt this technology and Nujira is in the right place at the right time.”

But Peter Kenningon, technical chair of the Open Base Station Architecture Initiative, said the envelope tracking technique employed by Nujira to match the power delivered to the amplifier with the demands upon it “offered pretty small benefits for 3G signals”.

He says that a technique called Doherty, developed for the broadcasting industry in the 1930s, is already widely used in basestation transceivers to improve their efficiency.

“Doherty is a reconfiguration of the power amplifier architecture which doesn’t add any components,” he said. “Envelope tracking competing with Doherty is a tough one. As we move to LTE and higher peak to average ratios [in the output signals], there may be some benefit.”

Kennington also warns against start-ups becoming too excited about developing relationships with large OEMs, who may just be using them to track the development of a technology without having to invest any of their research and development budget in the sector.

But Haynes says his is in a strong position, with a number of patents protecting its work, and a lot of know-how protecting the implementation of the technique. He’s also pleased to have secured the funding he did when he did.

“The funding environment has not been easy over the past six months,” he said. “For early-stage and seed-stage companies with very little experience in the management team it’s a difficult environment. But there is lots of appetite for green or environmentally friendly stories.”

Haynes believes the latest funding round will take the company to a breakeven position in the second quarter of 2010.

The company is just opening an office in Bath to be near the nexus of wireless expertise that has sprung up around companies such as Picochip and Icera.

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