Start-up of the Week / Speeding Along the Mobile Information Highway

Think of your cellular network as a multi-lane highway with a variety of vehicles. Israeli start-up Vasona keeps the traffic flowing.

More than 100 tech companies will descend on Barcelona tomorrow to participate in the Mobile World Congress, the world’s premier mobile industry show. Israel will be among the five largest delegations there, joining ranks with the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Spain.

The Israeli delegation includes start-ups that focus on telecommunications; specifically ones that help mobile operators cope with the enormous traffic jam of data on the networks created by smartphones and tablets. Most of the apps they develop don’t look all that snazzy, but they deliver in the technology department and address market needs. 

Although Israel has few of these companies compared with other fields, telecommunications does allow for some pretty handsome exits: Consider Intucell, which was sold to Cisco Systems a month ago for $450 million in one of the highest-yield exits for an Israeli start-up in recent history.

Vasona Networks is another Israeli start-up star with a breakthrough network solution. Founded in late 2009 and officially established in early 2010, Vasona was working in stealth mode until now but is beginning to take its first steps in the public eye. It has 30 employees, 20 of whom work in its development center in Israel. That number is expected to increase once its product hits the market.

“We started out when smartphones were first beginning to grow and the tablet hadn’t been invented yet,” says Vasona’s CEO and founder Biren Sood. “But it was obvious that the mobile network was going to see a lot of growth.”

Vasona’s app allows mobile operators to use the information pipeline more efficiently and increase the amount of broadband available to them. The company focuses on the individual smartphone user.

“We understand in real time who’s on the smartphone and what they’re doing – surfing, viewing video clips, sending messages in WhatsApp. We use smart technologies to manage traffic,” Sood says.

To illustrate their solution, Vasona’s founders compare the cellular network to a chaotic highway where all kinds of vehicles – cars, trucks, buses, scooters and ambulances – drive erratically, causing accidents. 

“We can say that video – like the ambulance – needs a certain amount of bandwidth so as not to get stuck, while a message on WhatsApp can reach its destination a bit less rapidly. Our goal is to provide the best experience to all the users,” Sood says.

“We don’t add bytes. We don’t add capacity,” says Nery Strasman, Vasona’s co-founder and chief technology officer. “Instead, we make them smarter. You can prevent an accident if you add new lanes or manage existing lanes more wisely.”

Even though Vasona’s founders come from the world of hardware, they chose to concentrate on a software solution to make integration easier for the companies that use their product.

About two weeks ago, Vasona announced the SmartAIR1000, its first product for mobile operator customers. Although the company is not revealing client names at this stage, it seems to have signed a deal with one of the big ones. Also, one of its investors is Vodaphone Ventures, Vodaphone Group’s own investments department.

“We need to be less expensive than the cost of adding lanes. Companies need to see how much it costs, compared with how much they save. Our product is directed toward the same market as Intucell and Traffix Systems,” says Sood.

Both Intucell and Traffix Systems had Bessemer Venture Partners among their investors – and Bessemer is one of Vasona’s investors as well. So far, Vasona has raised $8.9 million from Bessemer, New Venture Partners (the former investment department of Alcatel-Lucent Ventures) and Vodaphone Ventures.

Vasona Networks's products help mobile operators cope with 'data rush hours' on their networks and prevent pileups. The photograph shows gridlock at a highway intersection in Israel.
Dim Schliefman