Fierce 15 2016: Tarana promises gigabit speeds over fixed wireless

Editor's note: Welcome to the 2016 Fierce 15, an annual list that recognizes 15 of the most interesting startups in the wireless industry. We'll publish one profile a day for 15 days; Tarana Wireless is the 13th company to be recognized this year.

Company Name: Tarana Wireless
Where it's based: Santa Clara, California
When it was founded: 2009

Why it's Fierce: Tarana Wireless has already begun making waves as a potential replacement for prohibitively costly last-mile fiber problems. But its real promise – the mysterious large-scale rollout involving as-of-yet unnamed tier-one operators – is yet to come.

Tarana's fixed wireless offering promises to provide a gigabit speed connection that can function without line of site and over long distances. That gives it an advantage over small-cell wireless solutions that operate in high-band spectrum, and makes it better suited, the company argues, to urban use-cases.

“In neighborhoods where you can't see all the houses … you must be able to do non-line of sight. You must.” said Tarana VP of Marketing Steven Glapa in an interview with FierceWireless.

Unlike other recent fixed wireless offerings such as Starry, Tarana does not use mmWave or other high-band spectrum, but rather depends upon sub-6 GHz spectrum. Tarana has been developing smart antennas to more efficiently send spectrum back and forth since it was founded in 2009, giving its technology a five- to seven-year head start over some of its competitors, Glapa noted.

“You must be working in the right spectrum, and you must be very spectrally efficient. The mmWave guys are working in an unfavorable spectrum because the spectral efficiency trick is very hard to do. It's much easier to go up there, and then you can be sloppy. And kind of wave your hands about the line of sight problem. And that's what everyone is doing,” Glapa said.

Indeed, Ericsson's former CTO Jan Uddenfelt, who recently joined Tarana's board, called Tarana's tech “by far the best I've seen for wireless fixed access.”

Tarana is currently offering its solution to enterprises as a way to solve the last-mile fiber issue. Trenching fiber can be hugely expensive – given an average distance of 500 yards, Glapa estimated the price could reach $50,000. Tarana's solution, meanwhile, costs $10,000 to $15,000 to install.

That offering has seen significant interest from customers including Vodafone and CLAdirect.

What's next: Its enterprise offering notwithstanding, Tarana's bigger promise, perhaps, lies in partnership with a tier-one operator to enable large-scale deployments.

The company has been pretty coy about this, teasing its relationship with such carriers while remaining light on details. In September, Tarana’s website was updated to note that it is hiring more sales and engineering employees for “multiple tier 1 customer contracts for large-scale deployments.” It also put up a video touting a trial of the technology in NYC with an unnamed operator.

In essence, however, a large-scale deployment would use the same spectral efficiency trick using smart antennas that Tarana is already using in small-cell backhaul. Rather than spewing out wireless spectrum in a full 120-degree arc, as most broadband signals do now, Tarana's tech seeks to contain spectrum to only a narrow pathway reaching an end user.

“That's a very basic idea, but it's been really hard to implement in practice until now,” Glapa said. He noted that with Tarana's technology, signals can bounce off man-made objects and be put back together again, getting around line-of-sight necessities and other barriers.

Glapa said the aforementioned tier-one operator has been putting the company's tech through the wringer for nearly two years, and that more news would be available next year and in 2018.

Tarana currently has about 80 employees and is located in Santa Clara, California. It is privately owned, and is funded through an investor fund from AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Blum Capital and four other global companies.

Read more: FierceWireless's Fierce 15 2016