I’ve been talking a lot and writing a lot about mesh networking. I think it has the potential to wrest control of the last mile of the wired and wireless internet from the carriers who mostly control it around the world. Peter Kafka noticed yesterday that we had finally put those words to work with a mesh networking investment:

We made this investment, in a neat company called Veniam that comes out of Porto Portugal, some time earlier this year but they finally got around to announcing it yesterday.

My partner Brad talked about it in a short post on yesterday. And our partner in the investment Om Malik talked about it here.

I had breakfast with Om in NYC earlier this year and told him about Veniam. Those breakfasts do pay dividends eventually. This is how Om describes that breakfast and what came of it:

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson introduced me to João after a long, spirited discussion about network neutrality, new models of networks, and policies that will influence the future of the internet. As we walked back to our office (aka my favorite cafe), he said, “You should talk to this guy in Portugal that my partner Brad [Burnham] has been in touch with. He has some interesting ideas.” An email introduction with João followed, and we were soon talking to each other via Skype. He quickly came to San Francisco, and we met for coffee on the weekend and then again the next day. João likes to talk: It is his super power. And here we are.

So enough about all of that. What does Veniam do? They make a “stack” of wireless technology that lets moving objects (think buses, garbage trucks, cars, vans, etc) carry a wifi access point/router and mesh with each other and anyone else who wants to join the network. With enough density, buses driving around your city can provision a wireless mesh that anyone can use on their smartphone when they are out and about. It’s a big vision and will take a lot of work (and luck) to realize, but this or something like it is eventually going to work and we are going to have a better way to access the internet on our phones than we have today.

Here’s a video of Veniam’s technology in action in Porto. I suspect you will want this in your city too. I certainly do.

#entrepreneurship#mobile#NYC#policy#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright

    Guten Morgen

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, i need some coffee. it still feels like 2:30am to me

      1. jason wright

        Coffee European Time

  2. William Mougayar

    This could be a great future with more mesh networks. But I’m interested in better understanding: are their revenues primarily from selling the boxes? And do they have to pay for internet access higher up the chain to some ISP / Telco?

    1. fredwilson

      Revenue models all over the place for them. They can and do sell the devices but I don’t like that one so much.I prefer that they partner with urban fleets, install the devices at their cost, get a small monthly fee for providing free wifi on the buses, and then have the upsell opportunity on the urban mesh

      1. karen_e

        Money quote right here, “partner with urban fleets”. Reminds me of the literary/sci-fi/future take on this topic, by Paul Ford, “I am Uber …”

        1. William Mougayar

          Karen! We haven’t seen you for a while. Good to have you back 😉

    2. Humberto

      right now as i understand it: A big chunk of the costs are subsidized by government funds (prob. European). looking at the page its pretty clear they’re offsetting costs by QREN stuff which pays for R&D inc. sallaries.They’re installing it for free in the local buses, mostly because Porto is a very liberal city within the EU context and transportation is less heavily unionised than in other cities, which would have raised operational / permission stuff. Stuff moves faster in there.finally, its interesting they have team members from the original zipcar team. a top notch team!

  3. mariano62

    Very nice … and sound useful in connection with bitcoin

  4. Martin De Saulles

    Not really clear what the benefits for users are – in cities we normally have good internet connectivity via 3G/4G and/or fixed wifi hotspots. It is in rural areas that connectivity is the issue and can’t see how mesh networks help there as there is not the density of vehicles. Perhaps the main value is in the data the service generates?

    1. jason wright

      “…to wrest control of the last mile of the wired and wireless internet from the carriers who mostly control it…”peer to peer and hierarchy conflict

      1. Martin De Saulles

        thanks, Jason. Makes sense – look forward to seeing how this develops.

    2. sachmo

      Intelligent peer to peer communications that occur autonomously. Think cars that know when they are about to collide, and both slam on brakes. Veniam is only building the network, but once it exists, the sensors will come.

      1. FlavioGomes

        Still doesnt make sense of why the existing network coverage cant do the job? The only benefit i see is the telco’s will be forced to be competitive with pricing. Airwave signals are inherently mobile by their very nature. Sensors (and dont forget actuators) dont require a peer to peer network to provide the realtime action that you allude too.What am i missing?

        1. sachmo

          Machine learning…Imagine a network of drones flying above traffic, reporting in real time to the buses that there’s a major accident on 95, and intelligently re routing them… IN REAL TIME. So at 11:13 when things clear up, the drones reroute the buses back to their normal paths.Could you do this if every single bus on your network was wired to the internet, as well as the drones, yes.But let’s say none of your buses or your drones were wired… which isn’t crazy as the telcos charge money for all that bandwidth… for a one time hardware cost, you could still do this intelligently… you need a mesh that serves as a ‘local’ intra net… a 21st century bbs if you will…I could see a lot of other applications for these ‘intra nets’ in things like construction, where coordinating real time logistics = money.

          1. FlavioGomes

            Agree with your viewpoints on I mentioned above and that could be a significant consideration. But, i’m not sold that mesh networking is the only architecture that would support action in real time. I suppose the only other benefit is if a failure at the central network would render all remote devices inoperable. So there is some failsafe in the mesh environment I suppose.

    3. Richard

      I see the use of the word “free” attached to most of their promos? Is that a European slant on things where services paid for by the goverment are free?

      1. Martin De Saulles

        not sure it’s fair to single out Europeans on this – I believe public education at schools in the US is “free”

        1. Richard

          I’m think those days are over, it is now “tax payer supported”.

          1. JimHirshfield

            huh? when wasn’t it tax payer supported?

    4. BillMcNeely

      You have not been to the major city of Dubai? Their internet connection does not support video.well

  5. Matt Kruza

    Really cool idea Fred. I am cynical (I would say wise and skeptical beyond my years lol) about a lot of “big ideas” and companies, but I think this concept along with mesh networks itself is insanely important. Best of luck! Potential partnerships with the like of Uber and Lyft (I get that their drivers are independent, but they could make mass distribution much easier.. and if drivers had a way to make a few bucks .. maybe a few hundred?? might be a very powerful incentive and quick distribution model)

  6. Melbourne2049

    Sorry to post here but was inspired to write a few thoughts after reading post on blockchain stack. Hope it makes some sense. 🙂

  7. LIAD

    Nothing for nothing but seems to me USV 2012+ vintage is investing in more moonshots and more exciting calibre of startup ideas than previously.Not to say the ‘social’ years weren’t mindblowingly successful just that the more recent companies have more awe-inspiring potential. Legacy = Impact > profit?

    1. fredwilson

      thank you for noticing that and for saying itit may just be boredom, been there/done that, at workwhich isn’t a good thingbut we are consciously trying to see the future and seed the future

      1. JamesHRH

        You should call USV 2012 the Hand Waving fund.

      2. Jess Bachman

        “Fund the change you want to see in the world.” – Capitalist Gandhi

        1. Dasher

          It is Gandhi – sorry for the nit but I see many people misspelling the great man.

          1. Jess Bachman

            Thanks, fixed!

      3. LE

        thank you for noticing that and for saying itRequires to much scrolling back to see what you are referring to.Disqus, as a commenting solution, needs to a) increase the size of the popup that displays the comment someone is referring to and b) make sure it’s obvious that you can get the popup by hovering over the name. (Add that to the list of other things I have mentioned over time that hopefully they are working on).I always do a BLOCKQUOTE to show what I am replying to but most people don’t.

    2. JamesHRH

      Man, you are a pain LIAD.Beat me to this comment. I am going to blame it on living in Mountain time zone.

    3. pointsnfigures

      Honestly, I think that the engineering that works in the lab is finally able to be monetized. Same is true for medical devices, drugs etc. I made an investment in that wasn’t possible five years ago.

      1. Dan

        Small world. I just read up on nocurrent and Jason was the attorney I worked with a few years back. I knew he was working on a side project and it’s awesome to see him pop back up. Godspeed.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Jason is great. Really like him and have high hopes for the company. He did a great job getting the right investors in this round. Already making progress.

          1. JimHirshfield

            “He did a great job getting the right investors in this round”Patting yourself on the back? 😉

          2. pointsnfigures

            Gahg!! It sounds like that, but no, wasn’t referring to me. I can’t say all the investors in the round, but strategic investors early are good investors.

      2. LE

        They need to lockup domain as well.

  8. Humberto

    Exciting!! I’m from Porto and have known the company for a while. It’s a clear win. 3 things:- its basically a technology, and a super cool one. clearly people are travelling more and more. so vehicles make a lot of sense as access points. – their business model is very unclear: who owns the internet connection, who sells it and who buys it (buses, end-users, other nodes in the network)- maybe now we’ll see fred posting about porto. Porto has a strong developer community nested in an excellent uni (FEUP), and i’m sure big more companies are going to span from it. its also a gorgeous, inexpensive city which won the best travel destination in Europe in the last few year!!

    1. fredwilson

      more than posting about Porto, USV folks will be coming to Porto

      1. gaspardorey

        Great to hear that Fred! Please keep us, Porto entrepreneurs, posted! Would be great to get in touch! 😉

    2. JimHirshfield

      And they make a nice fortified wine there, or so I hear. ;-)Would love to come visit.

      1. Vasudev Ram

        Yes, it’s called port 🙂

    3. JamesHRH

      Biggest problem with the Veniam promo video is that I kept getting distracted by how beautiful Porto appeared to be!

      1. ShanaC

        this is a problem? Now I want to visit

    4. Russell

      +1000 Porto!

  9. bsoist

    I’m all for taking control from existing powers, but not clear on how we prevent handing power over to new masters.



      1. LE

        Always going to be lucky sperm which survive the high heat of the frying pan. That is what the entire pyramid is built on.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Seems like that’s a line, not a dot 🙂

  10. Rohan

    Reminds me a little of OpenGarden (from TC Disrupt a couple of years ago).Congrats on the investment, Fred!

    1. fredwilson

      i loved opengarden…but i’ve had issues with their product over the years working reliably

      1. Rohan

        Yup, I remember your post. I was wondering why all went quiet on that – makes sense.



        1. LE

          You mean like this from one of the parent comments?Think drones following bikers during commutes to monitor their safety via the mesh…While it’s possible that people who have to actually make things work (for the dreamers) are jaded, it’s also possible that the people who are big thinkers (who have never had to actually make something work) don’t realize all the things that go into something actually working.

  11. sachmo

    Badass… I think the potential of something like this will have a much greater impact on AI then humans. Think drones following bikers during commutes to monitor their safety via the mesh…Not sure at all how this guy will make money, but cool investment.

    1. JamesHRH

      I love that bike visual!How about drones carrying your briefcase and hovering over your Citibike while you ride to work?

      1. JimHirshfield


        1. JamesHRH

          Because, DUH!Of course, why ride when the drone could basically be your jetpack?Never realized that this was a path to that future…. 😉

          1. Andrew Kennedy

            good shit. scary part is it ain’t too far out.

        2. Vasudev Ram

          The Jetsons were cool. In my school days I “invented” (mentally only :), what I called an aircar (you heard it here first – TM). We were living in a multi-storey apartment building. I thought, why should we go down in the lift (elevator), walk / ride (bike) / drive to the market, come back, up to the flat in the lift again, etc. Instead, have an aircar, a small thing like a submarine / torpedo shaped. With a few seats inside. Open top. Steering wheel and other controls. It sits parked on the floor in your flat (apartment). You get in. Using the controls, you make it rise vertically (like VTOL aircraft), until it is above the window sill. Then you fly it out of the window. Go to the market, wherever, and land there. Do your stuff there, buying, etc. Take off and fly back home and enter the flat through the window again, and land on the floor. Errands done, with much less hassle 🙂 I thought I had come up with the idea on my own. Much later I realized it was probably derived from reading Jetsons comics. Also later, I read about the Moller Skycar invention (real) which was something like my aircar idea.

  12. Mario Cantin

    Is the main reason to push for this technology to take power away from the Telcos and bring the overall prices down? Is the main benefit to users the fact that it’ll be cheaper then? Will users then no longer require a data plan from their provider?

    1. LE

      Will users then no longer require a data plan from their provider?They will because this doesn’t cover edge cases like when you are somewhere where there is no mesh. Like in the suburbs visiting someone. Or on vacation etc.Separately where I am there is no need for this.

      1. Mario Cantin

        I see, so if you dwell in a major city and almost never go outside of it, and you don’t mind being without coverage those rare times when you visit your grandma or go on vacation, then you could survive on the mesh network alone. It would have to be really cheap to be worth the hassle in this use case IMO.

        1. LE

          Very likely also that price pressure and loss of market to the telcos will cause them to price differently in order to retain customers. Or as I mentioned in another comment they will use this as a way to lessen the usage of their networks by working in conjunction with these types of networks.As such Veniam should be cutting deals with the telcos or cable companies not going up against them.

          1. Mario Cantin

            Interesting. Thanks.

  13. JimHirshfield

    Congrats João!!

  14. JimHirshfield

    “New York Public Library will rent Wi-Fi hotspots to people who need it mostSprint Wi-Fi hotspots will be funded partly by a $1 million donation from Google.”…Is NYC doing it wrong?

    1. fredwilson

      it’s too early to tell. if all of these networks can interoperate and people can roam from one to another, then no. all the new payphones will be free ad supported wifi hotspots

  15. JaredMermey

    Seems very cool.Why do the access points need to be on moving objects?

    1. LE

      I think the key to the moving objects [1] is that you can sell into 1 place that controls many potential spots. To do the same with buildings would take a much larger sales effort. This way if you can close 1 sales call effectively you get hundreds of spots at a time vs. 1 or 10. And so on. So it benefits by the nature that those spots offer the coverage but also shortens the sales cycle as well.[1] Other than the obvious angle of having a network that offers coverage in many places since 50 busses or trash trucks aren’t in the same place at the same time.

      1. JaredMermey

        Not understanding the nitty-gritty of the tech one iota, I’d think with moving fleets you could leave yourself open to pockets without coverage without some form of critical mass as your access points might not be on the right points of a map at any given time. Thought perhaps, maybe there was some sort of energy transfer with the motion. This is super fascinating.Fascinating to watch mesh/mesh-like v. plans/satellites/hot air balloons to get everyone connected (with strong connection).

  16. Richard

    Is this a developing country play?PS any signs of deflation in Europe?

  17. pointsnfigures

    read your partner’s post yesterday on USV. Like the investment and it proves my thesis on net neutrality. If there is a problem, new tech will find a way. Wait until you can laser beam the internet from point to point cheaply.

  18. ZekeV

    I want a house-to-house mesh network in the ‘burbs…

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Fairly sure there are distributed communities working on this – including distributed peer-to-peer networks that want to piggyback on those systems as a backup of sorts or alternative.

  19. awaldstein

    Congrats!I’m a fan and read everything i can on Mesh Networks so looking forward to this. Huge potential.Porto is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and there is lots of port ( have a buddy who is among the royal order there if you ever need anything) but quite astounding other non fortified wines as well.

  20. kenberger

    The name reminds of my favorite SE Asian country.The plan reminds me a lot of Dash Navigation, sold to Blackberry in ’09…This is awesome stuff whose chief ultimate value prop will emerge with time and lots of usage.

    1. LE

      Yeah either ‘nam or a snake’s venom.”” or “” would have been better. (Not that I love them but they are better..)(And both are available to register….)

  21. kirklove


    1. JimHirshfield

      Are you Judd Nelson in this analogy?

  22. BillMcNeely

    Does this have the potential to fuel the sharing economy? Or maybe the sharing economy helps fuel this?

  23. Matt Zagaja

    I think your post hides the ball. In the video Om talks about how the mesh network connected to the vehicles is collecting data from sensors and sending it to the cloud. Real time information about road use and conditions, construction, etc. is extremely useful for commuters and people running cities. If those WiFi boxes have air quality and other sensors, I’m sure the possibilities are limitless. If cars and buses can talk to each other and using some kind of machine learning optimize their routes and use of the road, it’ll be awesome.



      1. LE

        Yeah was more or less my first thought.Actually no my first thought was I never use wifi and keep it turned off on my phone. I actually prefer to use the LTE on the cell phone because it’s a single point of security failure in my mind. Rather than trust all the networks that are in the wild.That said Veniam probably has to cut deals with the cell companies under the premise of relieving congestion from their networks.

      2. Trey Shelton

        Actually mesh networks are the way to get around centralized control. Look at how FireChat (mobile messaging via mesh network) allowed protests in Hong Kong to flourish despite China shutting down the internet. This is big. Solid investment USV!

    2. ShanaC

      oooo. Self driving cars?

    3. Matt A. Myers

      The founder was quite excited by the thought of terabytes of data being uploaded to the cloud.

  24. BillMcNeely

    Om does not look or sound as healthy as he did a couple of years ago. I hope he is ok.

    1. LE

      Fon members share a bit of their home WiFi, and in turn get free access at millions of other Fon hotspots worldwide.

      1. William Mougayar

        I know about FON 🙂 but wanted to see what Fred and others think about these differences. It seems like the end results could be overlapping.

        1. Humberto

          i think that technology wise, they are quite different. in a way, FON is a business and client software solution completely nested on existing tech. Veniam (i think) has their own protocols for optimising the transportation of packets around mesh networks.

  25. Bodo Hoenen

    This is great, our project will be using mesh networks to connect communities together in some of the most remote places, for the purposes of facilitating education. Mesh networking is a great way to connect the rest of the world, and as you have suggested would be quite disruptive. I look forward to reading about Veniam’s progress.

  26. Supratim Dasgupta

    Yesterday Verizon LTE speeds sucked in midtown manhattan. Worse than meagre 1Mbps that I usually get.And was talking to my friend if there could be some wifi system thats installed continuously in the apartments and homes lined along each street. That way we have a similar cross mesh of wifi which is far superior than the phone data speeds. I would totally pay $10/month for such a service instead of standing on the road staring at google maps struggle to connect.

    1. ShanaC

      if it means you can get fast service n the outer boroughs for cheap, then definitely

      1. Supratim Dasgupta

        Yep. I read somewhere the city is planning free wifi in Manhattan. Have to see how that turns out. Or else will just do what needs to be done.Raise some funds & Start a private wifi company on the lines I mentioned 😉 Hopefully you will be our first customer!

  27. bobmonsour

    This looks wonderfully bold. It’s what’s needed. I hope they, or someone, can pull it off. Great video too!

  28. ShanaC

    I keep thinking that you could use this on airplanes and make a psuedo-skynet :)But actually this is amazing

  29. Steve Lincoln

    Does this have the potential to finally break the stranglehold that monopoly cable/Internet provider have over (high) prices and slow (compared with other nations) download speed? Will it work only in cities (where there can be high-density mobile nodes) or also in the burbs?

  30. marko calvo-cruz

    Really interesting, I wonder as public wifi will probably become more prevalent in the next few years, would extra security be added to these public networks?

  31. panterosa,

    I have loved this since Robin Chase’s first talk on it (TED?). @fredwilson:disqus when is the union square area non-vehicular mesh being made??? I want in.

  32. howardlindzon

    thats cool. period.

  33. matthughes

    Interesting to hear Veniam is from Porto – great city.

  34. paramendra

    This is HUGELY exciting. I think you should get one on one with De Blasio, like NOW, and make this happen for NYC. They are talking old phone booths, which is great, but this is the real deal. A NYC where there is internet access every inch of the city is safer and is on its way to becoming One City. (Reference: De Blasio’s Two Cities theme when he ran.)The Bitcoin is as fundamental as the Internet was in 1996, I give you that. But for a while I was worried you have become a one track train with a laser focus just on Bitcoins. But I guess not.Heck, this can be taken to Mumbai, to Kathmandu. What about backpacks? This could be taken to Namche! (Sagarmatha base camp —- Sagarmatha, the Nepali name for Everest).

  35. JamesHRH

    Who is the upwell customer? The consumer?You would need some sort of EZPass toll system for that, wouldn’t you?

  36. JimHirshfield

    Mesh all the bread

  37. LE

    So how can we buy it?From what I read (and what makes sense) that this is targeted toward selling for large ticket adoption. So their sales approach would appear to be is targeted toward the local trash authority or public transportation provider.The way you could game this (and help them) would be to approach those people in Lancaster (whoever runs the trash trucks or buses) and see if they would be interested at all given the right circumstances (or if this would even be a possibility) and then try to put the deal together with Veniam by doing the initial steps of testing it yourself. So you kind of shoot the gap with both parties.Obviously you don’t have time to do this and sell bread at the same time. But that’s how I would approach it.Separately on the website I’m not seeing what is in it or the costs for the equipment or the benefit to the municipal waste hauler. It may be there but it’s not obvious. Like why should and why would they do this exactly?

  38. Humberto

    one of the women was the founder of ZipCar and she was involved from the early ages.i think the CEO was a researcher at CERN (or was it ESA?) and brought his learnings and projects after that.

  39. Matt A. Myers

    Probably not too difficult to build your own from sourced parts and try to kickstart it; I imagine many more enthusiasts like yourself would be interested – maybe even something like this was already crowdfunded.