Television Hardware

Well-Funded Start-up Invents 60-GHz 'Connector'

05 December 2014

Keyssa Inc. (Campbell, Calif.), a well-backed and well-connected start-up company, has developed an interconnect technology that it calls "Kiss Connectivity" and that uses 60-GHz wireless transceiver modules in close proximity to transmit data at up to 6-Gbits per second.

Gary McCormack, who serves the company as CTO, co-founded the company as Waveconnex Inc. in 2009. The fact that Tony Fadell, former Apple iPod and iPhone designer and CEO of thermostat company Nest, is Keyssa's chairman, illustrates how well connected the company is. That is complemented by the $47million raised from strategic investors that include Intel Capital, Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center, Nantworks, Dolby Family Ventures and Alsop Louie Partners.

But Keyssa is not using the money to develop another 60-GHz Wi-Gig solution. Instead it is differentiating itself by making a point-to-point wireless connection that operates at 60-GHz, has proprietary aspects while also supporting established standards.

And Keyssa prefers to compare its technology to the mechanical connector because – like the connector – it operates across short distances in a point-to-point manner, but unlike the connector it requires no physical connection. It also takes up less space on the PCB – the module is described as being the size of a coffee bean – and takes up no space on the surface of equipment. And it doesn’t require metal contacts that are prone to wear and tear.

These arguments could help Kiss Connectivity win over customers by allowing equipment with fewer – or no – physical connectors and novel product form factors. And one can see how that would tap into the minimalist Apple mindset.

Keyssa is coy on its web pages about the carrier frequency that is used for data transmission, except to say it is an extremely high frequency (EHF) and that it supports a variety of protocols over a short distance through plastics and air.

The company has also gone to some efforts to make sure Kiss supports standard protocols – including USB 3.0, DisplayPort, SATA and PCIe – and requires no programming overhead or software drivers. The company also claims that power consumption is "orders of magnitude lower" than other wireless solutions and by being point-to-point the connection is secure, unlike Wi-Fi and Wi-Gig which are essentially broadcast protocols and therefore more easily hacked.

It's not just a chip

Mariel van Tatenhove, vice president of marketing at Keyssa, said Kiss does work in the 60-GHz part of the electromagnetic spectrum but when asked whether the company's transceiver is silicon or compound semiconductor said: "It's not just a chip. It's a mix of technologies RF, electromagnetics, materials; a complete solution." That solution includes the antenna, which is contained within the Kiss module, van Tatenhove added.

Unlike 60-GHz transceivers characterized for wireless LAN operation over longer distances and for semi-permanent connection, Keyssa is looking to provide a short-range, short-term connection that would be suitable for transferring data – say an HD movie – from one piece of equipment to another. In that use case the combination of high data rate at low power is likely to be of interest to the makers of mobile and consumer electronic equipment who want their equipment to be able to pass gigabyte files without draining the batteries.

The idea is that Keyssa's RF module will be placed somewhere convenient inside a smartphone, notebook, tablet computer or television and when it is brought into close proximity with another such device it will automatically pair and exchange data. Van Tatenhove said that there is a proprietary protocol that lets two Kiss modules recognize each other, handshake and set up the connection. As to the range: "We are talking millimeters," said van Tatenhove.

Keyssa has been providing samples of its modules, which it calls "connectors", to key customers for a few months to let them build early prototypes of Kiss-enabled equipment. Van Tatenhove said Keyssa will launch Kiss Connectivity products in the first half of 2015.

Virtual manufacturing product company

As to business strategy van Tatenhove said: "We will be a product company. We are already working with tier-one computing and mobile device companies. But we are a virtual manufacturing company. We do the design and we outsource manufacturing to partners in Asia-Pacific who have the supply chain."

Keyssa's CEO is Eric Almgren, who co-founded Silicon Image where he helped establish the HDMI standard. The chairman of the board of directors is Tony Fadell, the CEO of thermostat and smoke alarm company Nest and who previously led the design team behind 18 generations of the Apple iPod and first three generations of the iPhone. Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion in February 2014.

"Connectors are a $50-plus billion industry that – unlike almost every other aspect of mobile and computer hardware design – has remained undisrupted for decades," said Almgren, in a statement. "We reinvented the connector and designed a new category of contactless connectivity that’s elegant, power-efficient, and can meet the exponentially-growing demands of consumers for creating and consuming rich media."

In the same statement Fadell said: "For my last 25 years, I’ve had to struggle with delicate metal connectors that put unsightly holes in otherwise beautiful products. With Keyssa’s Kiss Connectivity, a designer is now freed from the design frustrations of wired connectors and customer frustrations from wireless communications. I expect Kiss Connectivity to spark an immediate wave of industrial design innovation that was previously blocked by today’s connectors."

However much Keyssa describes its technology as a connector, the company is likely to be showing on the radar screens of 60GHz Wi-Fi companies such as Nitero, Peraso and investor Samsung, which has its own 60GHz wireless connectivity technology. And Qualcomm has its own 60GHz WiGig technology by way of the acquisition of Wilocity in February 2014.

Related links and articles:

IHS consumer devices research

News articles:

Samsung Announces 60GHz Wi-Fi

Qualcomm Set to Buy WiGig Chip Maker

Nitero Launches 60GHz Wi-Fi Chip for Mobiles

Indian Startup Tips Wearable Processor Family

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