In the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal, over 600 buses and taxis have been turned into WiFi hotspots, thanks to the technology developed by the Portuguese spin-off company Veniam’Works. The technology allows buses to be connected to a wireless network shared by all vehicles and to Porto Digital’s optical fibre network. Porto has thus become home to the largest vehicular network in the world: around 80 000 bus and taxi passengers use their mobile devices thanks to Veniam’s free WiFi, and across the vehicular network three terabytes of data are transmitted monthly. Veniam’s technology is also being deployed in controlled spaces, such as ports and container terminals, to deliver improved wireless coverage, increased security, two-way communication and data in real-time.
In December, Veniam raised $4.9 million Series A venture capital funding that will “allow us to expand rapidly in the USA with significant momentum”, as João Barros, CEO and founder of Veniam explains. The investors are confident that Veniam’s technology will make it possible for cities to provide the bandwidth necessary for devices to connect to the Internet and to each other.
Veniam’s proprietary technology was developed at the Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT) and the University of Aveiro, under the CMU-Portugal programme, funded by FCT. Veniam is now based in Mountain View, California and has offices in Porto and Aveiro. Until 2016, Veniam secured research grants from the European Commission and FCT.
For João Barros, also former Director of the CMU-Portugal programme, FCT’s role in Veniam’s success is very clear, “Without FCT’s continued investment in ICT, in particular via the CMU-Portugal programme, it would have been very difficult to develop the cutting-edge solution that Veniam has on offer today. FCT funding, as well as EU and other Portuguese funds, allowed us to produce a proof of concept, and develop the first ideas into the final product: a wireless network with over 80 000 users, that carries terabytes of data from the physical world to the internet, and has put Porto on the world map of smart cities.”
Breaking into the market is probably the biggest challenge, “The science and the technology make up only 10% of the final product”, according to João Barros, adding, “When dealing with cutting-edge technologies, such as the ones Veniam creates, a start-up company can only bear the daily pressures and the overcome the obstacles of entering the market with strong, experienced and patient investors.”
The CMU-Portugal programme (in ICT) is one of four partnerships with US universities funded by FCT since 2006. The other three are the UTAustin Portugal Programme (in Emerging Technologies), the MIT Portugal Programme (in Engineering Systems) and the Harvard Medical School-Portugal Programme in Translational Research and Information. FCT funding for these programmes comes to €10 million/year.