About Mark Boslet
Mark Boslet is a long time financial, high-tech and clean-tech journalist. He is the founder of TechPulse 360, which is at the crossroads of business, innovation and technology and looks at insights and companies that are at the source of the industry, including companies and developments in green technology and sustainability.
His worked has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury News, The Industry Standard and newspapers nationwide. His digital news experience includes the Dow Jones Newswires, where he was Silicon Valley bureau chief, Greentech Media and TechPulse 360.
Mark followed the high-tech industry during the Internet heyday and served during the dot-com boom years as a senior writer at Internet start-up, The Industry Standard. Over the years, he has received several awards for his industry coverage. Prior to writing about technology, he served as a business and general news reporter at newspapers including The Times Union of Jacksonville Florida and The Waterbury (CT) Republican-American.
Latest Posts by Mark Boslet
Technology firms such as Broadcom, Cisco Systems, and others are expected to ratify a low-power Ethernet standard that could cut energy use 60 percent or more in basic networking functions.
The ratification of 802.3az is anticipated on Sept. 30 after four years of work, says Wael William Diab, a technical director at Broadcom and vice-chair of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet working group. The standard will allow chip and gear makers to put physical layer, or PHY, circuits into a sleep mode during the microseconds between packet transmissions.
Physical layer connections are the most basic in networking equipment, primarily handling the streaming of raw digital “bits” among devices. Diab said the introduction of a PHY-level idle mode should enable equipment makers to simultaneously turn off other parts of a router, switch or gateway, leading to more power savings.
Broadcom already has pre-standard products in the market.
The challenge to completing the standard was finding an effective way to awaken gear when packet traffic resumes. The energy-saving feature will be incorporated in new, not existing, equipment.
There is no shortage of emerging competition in LED lighting. Capacity is rising, prices are falling and some of the world’s biggest chipmakers appear ready to do battle.
This week LED kahuna Cree promised to spend $135 million expanding production at its North Carolina fab. It earmarked another $392 million for a new facility in the state and is said to be considering facilities in the low-cost labor markets of China and Malaysia.
General Electric is ramping up its own production, as is Samsung, LG Electronics, Philips and Osram. In China, about 55 producers are pumping money (some of its state funds) into their own plants.
Even India wants to get in on the act. De Core Science and Technologies is said to be gearing up for LED production at as many as two locations
Don’t forget Bridgelux, a promising U.S. producer that on Monday showed off a Silicon Valley fab where it has big plans for expansion. The company has the capacity to make 5,000 wafers a month and hopes to expand that five fold. About 180 new workers are expected by next year.
The growth should enable Bridgelux to more than double revenue next year from this year’s $30 million, says CEO Bill Watkins.
The industry’s expansion has an obvious motivation. Some estimates suggest a $19 billion worldwide market for LED lighting by 2014. There is big money to be made.
But with the steady expansion around the world, the danger of over capacity and commoditization rises as well.
The excitement of a massive LED market has attracted growing enthusiasm from venture capitalists. Money has poured into companies across the market spectrum, from software makers to hardware designers, including Luminus Devices, Superbulbs, Terralux, Digital Lumens, Albeo, LEDEngin. Bridgelux itself has raised $113.5 million.
There will be more to come.
Contour Energy Systems joined the ranks of next-generation lithium-ion battery producers Monday by announcing its first product. The company said it will begin shipping a coin-shaped non-rechargeable cell battery for the consumer, industrial and medical markets in the fourth quarter. It claims its carbon-fluorine based battery offers improved energy density, greater efficiency in extreme temperatures and better peak performance because of its high discharge rate.
The Azusa, CA, company that has raised close to $30 million said in an interview it also is conducting “advanced” research to develop a rechargeable battery for broader markets – suggesting efforts to address the large opportunities of electric cars and grid storage.
The race to develop a more capable lithium-ion battery has been accelerating recently, with companies such as Panasonic earmarking substantial resources. The reasons are obvious. Utility-scale grid storage alone could become a $1.1 billion market for lithium batteries by 2018, according to Pike Research. Electric-car battery sales will dwarf that – rising to $8 billion by 2015.
Contour’s present strategy is to target niche applications where margins and profitability are greater, says CEO Joe Fisher. The company claims its products show an eight-fold improvement over current batteries in high-demanding applications.
While the carbon-fluoride technology Contour uses has been around for about 30 years, it has suffered from limited capacity and poor performance at low temperatures. The company offers improvements to these deficiencies that are the result of collaboration between CalTech and the French National Center for Scientific Research. Contour came out of stealth in March and changed its name from CFX Battery.
Its first coin cell will target applications in tire pressure monitoring, defibrillators, unmanned aerial vehicles, military radios, and water and gas meters. Separately, it has a contract with NASA to develop batteries for space flight.
Contour’s $30 million in funding came from the venture firms CMEA Capital and USVP and from Schlumberger. CMEA also is an investor in the battery maker A123 and in CNano Technology, a company developing nano-materials for lithium-ion batteries. Contour says it anticipates raising a C round of funding early next year.
For many entrepreneurs, start-ups are a labor of love.
“Build what you want to see created in the world” is the advice offered by Twitter’s co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey to young entrepreneurs.
“I wanted my family to use it, my friends to use it,” states Dorsey. He admits falling in love with SMS, or short messaging service, technology when it first came to the U.S.
And what about the micro-blogging site today? Twitter has some “interesting” scaling issues with massive spikes in traffic volume. “Engineering for that is very difficult,” he said at the Demo conference in Silicon Valley.
Here are several less-established start-ups at the conference hoping for similar breakthroughs:
*Delphix. The company announced the commercial release of its database virtualization software. The product is designed to save companies money on storage hardware. Big corporations have multiple storage devices holding databases and an opportunity for consolidation. Delphix has several customers, including Staples and TiVo
*Metabeam. Metabeam’s Slideshow sends information about a television show or movie to a touch-screen device, such as an iPad. Ten thousand people are already using the product, which was announced at the show.
*E-Fuel: The company ships an at-home system for making ethanol from biomass, such as yard waste. (But don’t think yardwaste, because you would have to come up with a way for breaking down the plant material and converting it into sugar).
Instead, E-Fuel owners are best off relying on distributors who will sell them distilled plant sugar in liquid form. Put the sugar solution in the fermentation tank and pump ethanol into your car. Cost: $10,000.
There are no simple ways to create a technology-friendly business environment.
Many of the usual suggestions are less than inspiring. Here are several from a year-old book by IT researchers Peter Weill and Jeanne Ross.
*Create IT around a firm’s operating model;
*Revamp IT funding to support that operating model;
*Build a digital platform of business processes.
Pretty dull, right?
Here are several other more practical and creative observations from today’s Demo conference in Silicon Valley:
Clorox, the bleach company, recently began cleaning up its R&D efforts. The aim was to find a better way to monitor emerging technology innovation – particularly those from start-ups often operating below the radar.
*The result of the restructuring was the creation of a new “solution design” position, says Clorox Chief Information Officer Ralph Loura. The job has the task of looking our three to five years into the future and discovering potentially disruptive technologies.
*The company is also looking at cloud-based applications for a segment of its users – in particular Google Apps. The hold up is finding a “bridge” between the external Google environment and Clorox’s SAP environment. So far, no solution. But cloud is clearly the place to experiment.
Genworth Financial Wealth Management has taken a more mundane step. It relaxed its Blackberry-only policy to permit workers to bring smart phones and devices of their own choice to the office.
*The old policy even prevented employees from installing applications on the Blackberry. Now they have greater freedom and security is improved, says Chief Information Officer John Murray. The reason: the company knows what devices are in use and no longer indirectly encourages employees to circumvent the rigid rules.
*The company also says it is looking to build business intelligence into its Web site. The idea is to offer business insight to customers who may not be large enough to deploy their own business-intelligence systems.
What is the future of social networking? Ask LinkedIn, the world’s largest network for professionals, and the answer is communications.
In the past year, the number of “status updates” LinkedIn circulates among its users increased 10 fold, says CEO Jeff Weiner. Up next? The company is exploring the use of instant messaging and video conferencing, Weiner said during an interview at the Demo Fall 2010 conference in Silicon Valley.
The goal is not just enable people to connect but to communicate, he said.
But LinkedIn’s communications-focused vision wasn’t the majority opinion at the entrepreneurial conference. Far more social network start-ups zeroed in on the traditional notion of information sharing. While many of the business plans were not new, they did appear to be well executed – at least at this early stage of their development.
Here is a sampling of the companies at the event:
*Real estate social network site HomingCloud as a dating site for homes, apartments and condos. List a property for sale and the site will match the post with buyers looking for a similar property in the area. Once connected, the buyer can view a video and decide whether to move ahead.
“Who needs a broker?” asks CEO Tina Fine. “Now you don’t.”
*Needly of Santa Monica also wants to bring buyers and sellers together, but to sell merchandise, not real estate. People post items for sale and list items they would like to buy. Then they search the site for a match.
That site doesn’t yet have an automatic matching feature. Maybe that is version 2.0.
*Online shopping site Zappli likes to bill itself as the Facebook for merchandise. Clearly, The San Francisco company has a long way to go. But the service offers several valuable features for shoppers, including advise for buying a gift for a friend. Learn about her preferences and buying habits from the profile she posts on the site before making a purchase. Users also can get advice on products from friends.
The Facebook for merchandise is a big claim. More likely it is a feature Facebook should build into its site, but so far hasn’t.
*What about finding a new restaurant or club? Ishi Systems used the event to launch Picksie, a service that recommends places of interest based on a user’s profile. Add a review and the site learns more about what someone likes and doesn’t like.
*Then there is Copia, a social network for books. Display favorite books for friends to see and share reviews. Then create a book club. The site also has an online bookstore.
Equipment supplier Applied Materials stepped back from its troubled thin-film solar business this summer. Swiss rival Oerlikon Solar continues to push ahead toward lower cost, higher efficiency production.
Oerlikon said Tuesday it introduced a new line of production gear able to break the 70-cent-a-watt barrier for modules with cell conversion efficiencies as high as 11.9 percent. It expects customers to be in production by mid 2012.
The news, released at an industry conference in Spain, could set a new benchmark for amorphous thin-film production and is meant to challenge thin-film leader First Solar. First Solar makes thin-film modules using a cadmium-based technology and as of July produced modules at 76 cents a watt. Its target is to reach 52 cents to 63 cents by 2014. Module conversion efficiency was 11.2 percent in the second quarter.
Oerlikon says its improvements are the result of several technical changes. Its module design uses better reflective materials to bounce more light back into the module. Thinner layers of silicon and better factory throughput lower costs.
Oerlikon customers are producing modules at $1 to $1.25 today.
Applied in July killed its SunFab line of amorphous thin-film solar gear citing falling sales and mounting losses. Competitive pressures on amorphous thin film and thin film in general have risen since last year when the price of crystalline silicon cells fell sharply.
Digital Lumens notched its first publicly announced customer win this week with the claim of an 87 percent reduction in lighting energy consumption.
Maines Paper & Food Service, a New York supplier to the restaurant industry, says it installed a Digital Lumens lighting system at its Conklin headquarters in June. It anticipates saving 1.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
The public proof-point should be a boost for the Boston designer of LED fixtures that rely on wireless networking and management software to more efficiently use energy. Dozens of other customers are in commercial deployment, says CEO Tom Pincince, just not publicly announced.
Maines says it is using 484 Digital Lumens fixtures in a 460,000-square-foot warehouse. The company is taking advantage of New York State rebates and anticipates a payback on the investment of less than a year, said Patrick DeOrdio, vice president of operations.
Maines had been using 400 watt, high-pressure, high-intensity sodium fixtures. It says the energy reductions are coming from a reduced wattage draw per bulb and because fixtures can be automatically turned off when not needed.
Digital Lumens, which has raised more than $11 million of venture funding, is not the only company using networking and management technologies to reduce lighting energy consumption. Others include Redwood Systems and Adura Technologies.
According to some experts, the market has huge potential. Lighting presently accounts for about 17.5 percent of global electricity use and about 20 percent in the United States. Fixtures with LED bulbs should capture 46 percent of the $4.4 billion U.S. market for commercial, industrial and outdoor lighting by 2020, says Pike Research.