Pharrowtech from Leuven wants to usher in a new era of communication with a chip that can send and receive wireless Internet at lightning speeds. The start-up raises 15 million euros to get millions of chips off the production line. ‘In this business it’s ‘go big or go home’.’
Whether it’s working from home, streaming Netflix, turning on the heat remotely, or playing against friends on the other side of the world, we’re all using more and more data. . This creates many opportunities, but also challenges. Because the technologies that the Internet still largely brings into our homes today – the phone line or cable TV – are stretched thin.
To meet growing demand, providers around the world are upgrading their networks to more powerful fiber optic technology. But later, connecting that network to every home and office is time-consuming and expensive. Deutsche Telekom estimates the cost of bridging those last meters between the street network and the home at 2,000 euros per dwelling.
- Pharrowtech is a spin-off of the Imec research institute. There, a prototype of a chip and an antenna that can send and receive high-speed wireless internet in a stable manner was developed.
- That chip will replace the last 10 to 100 meters of cable laid today to connect homes to street networks for Internet access.
- The Leuven start-up raises 15 million euros to produce on a large scale and develop new applications.
- In 2019, Pharrowtech also provided €6 million in seed capital.
Pharrowtech has found a solution for that challenge. Building on research that began in 2005 at Leuven’s renowned Imec research institute, the Leuven-based start-up has developed a system that can replace those last few meters of cable between street and home with a wireless solution. It consists of a combination of a chip and an antenna, with which ultra-fast internet can be directed in a very specific way from an ‘access point’ connected to the street network to a container on the customer’s facade or roof.
Wi-Fi router on the street
Wim Van Thillo, co-founder and CEO of Pharrowtech, compares it to the WiFi router most people have today to enjoy wireless Internet at home. “But while the Wi-Fi we know today transmits at a maximum frequency of 6 gigahertz, we work with a transmission frequency that is ten times higher: at 60 gigahertz. You can send fast and stable internet through that much higher transmission frequency. That is much more efficient and cheaper than what we do today to connect homes and offices. In a densely populated urban environment, it is justifiable to send a technician to each home to pull a cable. But in a less populated area or in an environment where people have less disposable income, that traditional business case becomes very difficult.’
When it launched in 2019, Pharrowtech had already raised €6 million with Leuven’s investment fund imec.xpand, KBC’s tech-oriented Focus Fund, and Britain’s Bloc Ventures. With this money, the product was prepared for the market and launched commercially, explains Van Thillo. Meanwhile, the company has a major landmark client in the US, whose identity must remain secret, and it’s time to hit the gas. That is why Pharrowtech is now raising an additional €15 million in a new round of capital.
The new round is led by Dutch Innovation Industries, a fund specializing in ‘deep tech’ investments. This is a collective name for complex technologies that aim to solve societal challenges. Previous financiers are also investing again.
We are pioneering a completely new technology, which should soon be in millions of applications. That is expensive and risky.
Van Thillo realizes that raising €15m as a three-year venture is not easy in the Flemish start-up landscape. ‘But you can’t compare what we do with what software companies do. In our market it’s ‘go big or go home’. We are pioneering entirely new technology, which will soon have to be in millions of applications. That is expensive and risky. But if we are successful, we will immediately become a global player. Few funds understand and dare to make this type of investment.’
Therefore, the capital round is primarily intended to increase production. Pharrowtech wants millions of chips to roll off the production line in short order. But the money will also be invested in the development of a second type of chip, with which Van Thillo is aiming more at the consumer market.
virtual reality headset
“A very concrete example of where we see our technology ending is in VR headsets. Virtual reality consumes so much data that existing high-end headsets have to work with a cable, because today’s WiFi has very little bandwidth. If you can remove that cable, you create more possibilities with VR. Think of company training in virtual reality, where mobility is an advantage. It’s perfectly conceivable that the next generation of headphones will work together with our chips and antenna.”