Interview with Dr. Behnam Analui, CEO of Abtum
In this interview with Dr. Behnam Analui, CEO Abtum, you’ll hear about Behnam’s background, what Abtum does, and how this technology is based on a breakthrough architectural approach to radio frequency (RF) filter design. I met Behnam because he is part of the San Diego-based EvoNexus pro bono incubator in their Irvine location.
In 2000, Behnam immigrated to the United States from Iran to attend graduate school at Cal Tech, in Los Angeles, where he earned his Masters and PhD in Electrical Engineering. I discussed in a previous article the importance of letting the best and brightest from all over the world into the United States to work, and Behnam is clearly an example of this. Read my series on Immigration! After graduate school, Behnam worked at Luxtera, in Carlsbad, CA. Luxtera is the fiber to the chip company that developed a breakthrough technology in silicon photonics.
Here are some of the key parts from our interview:
In 2009, Behnam left Luxtera to do research at USC on the “hardest problems in electrical engineering” in hopes of discovering an idea worthy of starting a company. At USC, Behnam worked with Dr. Hossein Hashemi, one of his former classmates at Cal Tech, who was then a professor and researcher at USC. Dr. Hashemi is Behnam’s co-founder and the CTO at Abtum. Some of the problems that Behnam and Hossein explored included medical devices for pulmonary applications, wireless tracking of people, electrical timing issues, and the most difficult challenges in RF filter design. In this process, they discovered a new architectural approach to RF filter design that results in a 10X to 30X performance improvement compared to traditional design approaches.
Abtum was formed based on this breakthrough technology. RF filters allow devices to tune to the signals they desire while eliminating “noise” and information in other frequencies. An example of the importance of filters is the radio in your car. If you are tuning your radio to KPBS in San Diego, to listen to the local NPR broadcast, you want to hear that broadcast and nothing else. The RF filter enables this.
Abtum’s novel RF filter architecture is applicable to multiple market opportunities, but Abtum has decided to focus on the RF filter market in portable and mobile devices, including cell phones.
Many frequency bands are used in cellular phones based on different wireless carriers, different generations of cellular technology (e.g., 2G, 3G, 4G), and different frequencies used around the world for cellular transmission. The number of RF filters that are designed into mobile devices is exploding, and becoming a major part of the overall cost of a cell phone. Next generation high-end cell phones could have as many as 50 RF filters. The opportunity will just continue to expand with the advent of “unlocked” phones that can be used on different carriers’ networks.
The market for RF filters into mobile devices is $3 billion to $4 billion. The high-end market alone is over $2 billion, and growing at a rapid rate.
Filter designs have used a conventional textbook approach for over 50 years, and Abtum has developed a technology that breaks the fundamental performance trade-offs and delivers filters with substantially improved performance at lower cost.
The intellectual property for the core technology of the Abtum solution was developed at USC, where the team filed five patents around the technology. Since forming Abtum, the team has filed an additional seven patents, and continues to develop new intellectual property in this “white space” area. Some inventions will be kept as trade secrets, while others will be patented.
Since to core technology was developed at USC, there needed to be a technology transfer from the University in order to form Abtum. Universities are starting to take a more aggressive approach to commercializing key technologies that have been developed in academia. Sometimes the university takes licensing royalties and at other times straight equity in the startup. In some cases they take both. USC has an arm for standard technology transfers, and Abtum was formed based on this approach.
The Abtum technology is complementary to traditional filter design and manufacturing processes. It is an architectural enhancement that dramatically improves filter performance. Ultimately, the technology is applicable to tunable filter designs as well.
While at USC, Abtum developed a hardware proof-of-concept around the technology that provides measured results. This approach provides significant validation of the technology, even though there is still significant work to commercialize the technology. Over the next couple quarters, Abtum plans to develop a minimum viable product (MVP), which is the next significant milestone in the product commercialization. Abtum expects to generate significant revenue by 2018 and be profitable in 2019.
Abtum is a very cool company with a product based on hard science and engineering challenges. The product addresses a large and rapidly growing market, and the technology is hard to duplicate. I’m very excited about the prospects for Abtum and will continue to follow them closely! Tell us what you think!
This is Patrick Henry, CEO of QuestFusion, with the Real Deal…What Matters.
This article originally appeared in The Consulting Masters.