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Reza Rofougaran: Wireless Rock Star

Movandi Corp. co-founder Reza Rofougaran says somewhat wistfully that scientists don’t get the same recognition accorded to celebrity singers and actors.

That said, there have been plenty of headlines this year for Rofougaran, a wireless industry pioneer for smartphones, and now one of the driving forces behind a revolution in 5G wireless equipment.

Rofougaran holds an eye-popping 868 patents and is reported to be one of the top 30 patent holders in the world.

Many of those patents pertain to radio frequency design for smartphones and wireless networking, and many were created during a decorated 16-year career at chipmaking giant Broadcom.

His work “literally changed the radio frequency industry,” said Broadcom co-founder and chairman Henry Samueli.

That’s “especially if you look at smartphones. It would not be possible to fit that in the palm of your hand” without Rofougaran’s work to get the necessary RF technology onto a single chip, Samueli said in a late 2019 video for Movandi.

2020’s been a year of honors for Rofougaran, who was awarded an Ellis Island Medal of Honor this year for helping to transform the communications industry.

He added to his long list of accolades late last month when he took home a Business Journal Innovator of the Year Award, whose sixth edition was held virtually on Sept. 24 (see stories, pages 4, 6 and 8).

He said he was humbled by the honor.

“When I look at innovation in Orange County and past winners, it is a who’s who of industry leaders,” Rofougaran said after receiving the award.

2nd Startup

Rofougaran co-founded Movandi four years ago with his equally prominent sister Maryam Rofougaran—she has more than 280 patents—and shares the chief executive title with her.

Movandi is the second startup they’ve been involved in.

The siblings co-founded Innovent Systems in late 1998, and built the world’s first CMOS Bluetooth transceiver, an important milestone in wireless communications.

Innovent was acquired by Broadcom—which already had a minority stake in the firm—in 2000 for what reports said was about $450 million in stock. At the time, Broadcom’s forte was making semiconductor chips for cable modems, set-top boxes and other consumer devices. Cellphones were not yet a specialty for the firm.

Innovent was described at the time as “the Broadcom of wireless,” by that firm’s co-founder, Henry Nicholas. “It only makes sense that the Broadcom of wireless should merge with Broadcom.”

Broadcom now is one of the main suppliers of wireless components to Apple for its phones. The wireless business of Broadcom grew to annual revenue of more than $3 billion during the siblings’ tenure at the firm.

5G Focus

The Rofougarans’ current interest in the wireless world with Movandi is focused on 5G—short for the fifth generation of cellular wireless technology on its way in the U.S. 5G is said to have download speeds 100 times faster than 4G. Carriers including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile began deploying 5G in 2019, and it is available in around 100 U.S. cities today.

The siblings’ task is to help keep the super-fast system’s signal moving across all sorts of terrain filled with various obstacles. The 5G millimeter wave networks can carry a lot of data, but there have been questions about the networks’ suitability over long distances.

Movandi’s products include a variety of integrated circuits, antennas, systems and algorithms designed to be used by operators of wireless networks, as well as chipmakers and device makers.

Movandi’s BeamXR platform, introduced in February 2019, can boost the power of signals used by 5G operators to transmit data, penetrate buildings and avoid interference from the rain while keeping transmission delays low. The platform can also bend the signal around a building, the company says.

That means that fewer base stations and antennas should be needed to send 5G cellphone calls back and forth, while vastly expanding the range and coverage of 5G.

“We are enabling the 5G future with the goal to unleash the potential of 5G technology for billions of users around the world,” Rofougaran said.

Samueli, UCLA

Rofougaran immigrated to the U.S. in 1982 following the Islamic revolution that convulsed the Middle East nation.

He worked on his masters degree and doctorate with Professor Asad Abidi, known for his groundbreaking research in single-chip radios, and with future Broadcom co-founder Samueli at UCLA in the 1980s.

“They’ve known me since I was in my 20s,” he said. “Their research and their guidance have been mentors to me.” They have helped me to achieve these things, be a good engineer and have dedication to innovate for the benefit of people.”

Rofougaran says he stays in touch with Samueli, adding that he recently had a Zoom conversation with him.

Samueli and his wife, Susan, are also recipients of this year’s Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Well Funded

Movandi received a $27 million funding round in May. It was the first big funding deal for an OC company during the pandemic.

Rofougaran says he aims for “an economically viable product that can be used in daily life so that everybody at every level can use it and make their life easy.”

And as for the celebrity singers and actors who overshadow today’s scientists?

“They depend on science for everything they do,” he points out with a laugh.

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Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal

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