Edinburgh spin-out wins major European research funding


occsofantSofant Technologies Ltd, a University of Edinburgh spin-out company, has just secured a multi-million pound European research award to commercialise a revolutionary ‘smart’ antenna for use in mobile devices.

The €1.97 million (£1.54 million) award from the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument programme allows Sofant to develop its smart antenna to meet substantial international demand for smart antenna technology, a rapidly growing market estimated to be worth more than $2.5 billion by 2020.

Sofant’s patented technology was originally developed out of a £1 million space research programme at the University to develop miniaturised satellites – small, light and highly reliable with powerful and flexible communication capabilities.

A powerful combination of three core technologies, comprising RF MEMS, antenna and software, will provide a steerable and focussed antenna (SmartAntennaTM) that can lock onto the best signal available at any given time.

As design features of smart phones become more advanced, increased pressure is placed on battery life with 50 per cent of smart phone charge consumed by the antenna while the screen is off, and a staggering 80 per cent during a call.

Antenna technology has not kept pace with the advances in functionality and performance of smartphones, resulting in dropped calls, lost signals, weak connections, slow internet and battery drain.
The innovative antenna has the potential to vastly extend the reach of Wi-Fi signal, improving connectivity and greatly reducing antenna energy usage, thereby potentially doubling the battery life of mobile devices.

This technology will be equipped for the new 60GHz Wi-Fi (WiGig) and 5G, with plans to commence development of the network in Scotland in 2017 and have the product available to mobile phone manufacturers by 2018.

Ahmed El-Rayis, Sofant Technologies’ COO, said:

“We call this a smart antenna because it has been designed to seek out the strongest signal and focus on it, rather than the current model that constantly radiates energy in all directions. This funding will enable us to take the product to foundry and we’re currently asking for tenders.”
The Horizon 2020 SME Instrument Phase 2 funding targets disruptively innovative businesses that increase competition and stimulate the economy through the creation of jobs and growth.

Dr Bernd Reichert, Head of the SME Instrument Unit in the EU’s Executive Agency for SMEs, said:

“Sofant’s technology is a prime example of disruptive innovation. They have identified a need in the market within a sector willing to pay for an added value product.”

Sofant was spun-out from the University of Edinburgh in 2011, following seven years of research and development by co-founders Professor Tughrul Arslan, Dr Ahmed El-Rayis and Dr Nakul Haridas from the University‘s School of Engineering. Further support from the University has also come in the form of equity finance through Old College Capital (the investment arm of the University), co-investing alongside Kelvin Capital, Lancaster Capital, Scottish Investment Bank and the founding directors.

Grant Wheeler, Head of Company Formation at Edinburgh Research & Innovation, the University’s commercialisation arm, said:

“Sofant’s smart antenna is another great example of how the University of Edinburgh’s research translates into real practical products that we all use and rely on every day. It’s not quite there yet, and it’s taken a lot of hard work by the team, but this latest round of funding into the company gets us closer to a successful outcome for Sofant than ever before. A new and widely used product seeded here at the University of Edinburgh and a rapidly growing company that delivers real economic impact in terms of exports and job creation. That’s what university company formation can deliver.”