Mushroom Networks Uses “Bonding” Technology to Pump More Data Through Bottlenecks

6/25/10Follow @bvbigelow

What San Diego’s Mushroom Networks does is something akin to IT alchemy. The company’s technology transforms data rates that trickle into its “black box” device from a variety of Internet connections into a broadband gusher on the other side, for the benefit of all the users on a business intranet or local network.

The technology gives the company a “creative way to go to a client and solve their network problems,” says CEO Cahit Akin, a Turkish-born Ph.D. in electrical engineering who co-founded Mushroom Networks in 2004. He says Mushroom’s Internet appliance offers an alternative in cases where a customer “may be outgrowing their DSL, but the next level of broadband service is too expensive for them.”

CEO Cahit Akin

CEO Cahit Akin

Akin says the company’s proprietary technology, called “broadband bonding,” enables a customer to connect all of the Internet sources that might be available—DSL, cable, T1, wireless, satellite, and MPLS—and combine them into a single, virtual broadband pipe. In effect, Mushroom’s appliance is an endpoint router, what Akin calls a “bonding router,” that takes Internet dross and spins it into the equivalent of broadband service gold.

“And we are accomplishing this without requiring carriers to install any equipment,” Akin says. “That is the core innovation.”

The technology was developed by Rene Cruz, a Mushroom Networks co-founder and professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego. Cruz is known for his pioneering research in a field called network calculus, which is used to characterize the flow of data through the Internet and other packet-switching networks. Although Akin also worked at UCSD (in the adaptive systems laboratory at Calit2), he tells me he joined the startup from ITU Ventures, a Los Angeles investment firm that provided Mushroom Networks’ initial funding.

But Akin declined to say how much venture funding Mushroom has raised or identify any other investors. He also wouldn’t disclose the company’s current number of employees, and he insisted on demonstrating Mushroom’s technology for me at Zenzi Communications, Mushroom’s PR agency in Solana Beach, CA, instead of at the company’s San Diego headquarters.

Akin later explained by e-mail that it was not convenient to meet at the company’s headquarters because Mushroom has some “large confidential projects that we are doing for various clients.” Yet he was later willing to disclose that the company recently became profitable, and is generating roughly $10 million a year in revenue. So Mushroom won’t be doing any more venture financing, Akin tells me.

One explanation for his reticence could be that a number of other companies also offer ways to solve Internet bottleneck problems, including Brand Communications of Huntingdon, England; Sharedband of Ipswich, England; FatPipe Networks of Salt Lake City, UT; X Roads Networks of Irvine, CA, and Germany’s Viprinet.

So are the technology differences across this field really that significant?

There are various approaches that are trying to address the same or similar pain points for customers, Akin concedes. Nevertheless, he contends that Mushroom’s bonding technology is unique: “To give you a simple example: a branch office connecting to a headquarters office via a site-to-site VPN (a very common setup) can only enjoy one of their, say, three DSL lines at any given time with a load-balancing device (because the single VPN session cannot be split into smaller pieces). With Mushroom’s Broadband Bonding devices, however, that single VPN session can utilize all 3 DSL lines simultaneously, and therefore gets 3 times the speed and throughput.” In other words, it’s all about meeting customer demand for the extra bandwidth needed to handle increasing data traffic.

Since the introduction of its Truffle network appliance in 2008 (at a price of almost $3,000), Mushroom added a wireless capability to its mix of Porta Bella Handconventional network bonding with its Porcini device, and the PortaBella, a device that bonds as many as four cellular data cards (each for a different wireless carrier) into a single, high-speed mobile Internet connection. (The downside is that the user must pay the monthly user fees charged for each wireless carrier.) It’s an elegant solution for just-about-anywhere mobile Internet service if you’re on the road again with Willie Nelson, as Wired magazine noted in October.

“Our high-end flavor of the Truffle has the capability of addressing a big pain point for enterprise clients with branch offices,” Akin says. “They’ll use whatever service is available at their remote offices to connect to their headquarters. That connectivity is becoming more and more important to them, and their pain point is how to get more bandwidth” without paying the high cost for a satellite or other high-speed broadband connection.

“When the economy took a hit, we weren’t sure how we’d be affected,” Akin tells me. “But the cost-savings angle really played nicely with our customers’ needs.” As corporate customers looked for ways to cut their costs, Akin says, “some of our projects all of a sudden became a priority mandated by the C-level executives.”

In April, the company introduced the Teleporter (and shucked its taxonomic branding concept), a device that uses the same type of bonded cellular connections used in the PortaBella to provide live video streaming. The technology enables a single broadcast journalist to send high-quality digital video over local cellular networks instead of requiring a broadcast crew with more expensive equipment—and brings down costs by “orders of magnitude,” Akin says.

“Teleporter is an ENG [electronic news gathering] video truck shrunk in a tiny equipment [box] that attaches to the end of the camera,” Akin says. “The videographer / journalist can attach the Teleporter unit at the end of their camera and stream live, high-broadcast quality video from anywhere there is cellular coverage.”

Akin says Mushroom Networks’ products have been installed for a variety of customers, including government agencies, educational institutions, airports, hotels, multi-national enterprises, banks, and construction companies. He also sees possible uses for Mushroom’s Teleporter technology in portable video conferencing and even in emergency and disaster response efforts. “We’re getting ready to take the company to the next level,” Akin says. “Primarily for us, it’s going to be about growth and aggressively expanding, and pursuing international markets as well.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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