How Mountain View-Based Startup Veniam Is Putting Wi-fi On Wheels

The secret? A mesh network that turns city vehicles into moving hot spots.

How Mountain View-Based Startup Veniam Is Putting Wi-fi On Wheels
We’re all connected: Veniam launched its first pilot program in Porto, Portugal, but plans to launch soon in American cities.

The reasons to love public Wi-Fi are many: downloads go faster than on cellular networks, it’s cheap to set up, and it’s free to use. Too often, however, it’s also spotty: strong in one place, weak in another. Mobile Internet users frequently wind up hopping from hot spot to hot spot, having to log in to a different network each time they move from the coffee shop to the subway to the office, and so on. Mountain View, California–based startup Veniam thinks it has a solution to that problem. Its system can blanket an entire city in seamless Wi-Fi coverage. Already, a pilot program in Porto, Portugal, is serving 110,000 people a month. In December, the company (whose management includes Zipcar founder Robin Chase) raised $4.9 million to bring the system to the U.S. Here’s how it works.


Piece #1: Broadband Connection

The backbone of the Veniam network is a city’s existing Internet infrastructure. Engineers tap into that infrastructure at points throughout the city, plugging what are essentially supercharged wireless routers into fiber-optic jacks. Because the routers broadcast on a frequency reserved for transportation systems, they have an extra-large range: up to 1,600 feet.

Piece #2: Mobile Hot Spots

Fleets of public vehicles fill in the gaps between stationary routers. Buses, cabs, garbage trucks, and police cars are outfitted with Veniam’s special Net­Rider routers, which receive wireless signal from the access points, creating hot spots on the go.

Piece #3: A Mesh Network

If a vehicle can’t secure a signal from a stationary router, it can piggyback on the connection of another vehicle that’s still within range, creating a mesh network that covers the whole city. Since they’re all on the same network, that means one login, and no hot-spot hopping.

BONUS! Two-Way Data Transfer

NetRider boxes also gather data that a city can use to refine its infrastructure. For example, it might log the locations of potholes or common traffic-congestion points, saving them to Veniam’s cloud service for later analysis.