Vanu Bose, '87, SM '94, PhD '99

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Vanu Bose, '87, SM '94, PhD '99, Founder, President and CEO, Vanu Inc.
Founder, President and CEO, Vanu, Inc.

Vanu Bose was an MIT child as his father, Amar, was a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department for 45 years, as well as founder of the Bose Corporation in 1964. Every Sunday morning Vanu remembers coming to play badminton with his father and a group of faculty and students – an enduring early vision of what MIT was about. He also has fond memories of the MIT day camp, especially sailing on the Charles River and seeing his father’s new office in the brand new, ultramodern, Building 36.

While at MIT as an undergraduate and then graduate student starting in 1983, Vanu recalls the unique opportunities that he found there to meet and talk to so many famous company founders. “I remember meeting Ken Olsen of DEC, as a grad student when I presented to the EECS Visiting Committee,” he notes. His advisor introduced him to the late Teradyne founder, Alex D’Arbeloff, who shared his experiences with Vanu over coffee. Vanu also met Analog Devices Co-Founder and then CEO Ray Stata and was an EECS graduate student with Stata’s son Raymie, now CEO of Altiscale. “I think it’s a unique part of the MIT experience that there are not only so many great founders around, but that they make themselves accessible,” Vanu says.

Creating wireless coverage where it doesn’t exist

Vanu Bose founded Vanu, Inc in 1998, pioneering the commercialization of software-defined radio and the first company to receive FCC certification of a software-defined radio in 2004. As CEO of Vanu, Inc., Vanu says about the direction of his company: “We’ve had to learn the hard way to shift focus from technology to solving customer problems. Our mission is to create solutions for places that don’t have good wireless coverage today.”

He notes that today’s technology works well and is cost effective – where carriers build the coverage. The equipment, however, doesn’t get built where it is not cost effective – including inside buildings, in rural areas, in developing areas and on ships. So Vanu, Inc. plies a variety of solutions not just for the communication technology, but also in the business models and power usage to make it viable to provide this coverage.

In a Jan. 29, 2015 interview with Ranjani Saigal for the e-magazine Lokvani, Vanu talked about the efforts his company is making to bridge these gaps in wireless coverage in the developing world, in rural areas and world-wide. Vanu noted that the most common issue in the developing world is lack of power. “If you look at it, there are about 3 billion people in the world today that don’t have cellular coverage simply because they don’t have electricity.” Some areas, he reports, run on up to 4,000 gallons of diesel a year — expensive and environmentally unsound.

So Vanu Inc has developed a compact base station requiring only 50 watts (rather than the traditional 2-3 KW). The product, called Compact RAN and weighing only 12 pounds, is sealed and requires no installation. “At $5,000 per unit, it is the cheapest outdoor base station on the market today,” Vanu notes.

Further, for areas in Africa where cell phones are used and need to be charged, this unit— the Compact RAN, in combination with a 20 meter pole specially rigged with solar panels can provide GSM cellular and Wi-Fi hotspot coverage with a cell phone charging station at the base of the pole. “So now, you can charge your cellphone, you can use cellular, and you can access the Internet all from this one little kiosk in the middle of the village,” Vanu says.

In the rural US, Vanu says his company has created a business model and network architecture by launching a wholesale network through a subsidiary company. “We don’t have subscribers; we’re not a carrier. But any carrier can connect to our network and pays us a rate-per-minute and megabyte that’s transferred over our network,” Vanu said.

In fact, worldwide, Vanu hopes to provide complete coverage in roughly five years. As for developing world impact, he notes to Ranjani Saigal for Lokvani, “I strongly believe that a good business model is needed to make a viable impact that sustains over time.” He adds, “Of course it is always nice to see the social impact that comes as a by-product.”

Creating Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Vanu Bose has taken an interest in helping MIT EECS students gain more access to entrepreneurship opportunities both through involvement with EECS faculty, serving on the board of the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program and as a member of the MT Corporation, as well as offering his time as a panelist and moderator for the EECS Department’s workshop on entrepreneurship and innovation, Start6. He notes, “Entrepreneurship is by nature a grass roots effort – often during efforts that others think are crazy. In fact,” he continues, “if you are doing something that everyone thinks is a good idea, then it’s not innovative, it’s obvious.”

Vanu suggests: “MIT has a great grass roots entrepreneurship community. The MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) is a tremendous resource, as are various student groups and clubs. But, I don’t think anyone, at any university, has figured out how to really create a more formal process for fostering entrepreneurship and that is the challenge.”