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Ex-Apple executive joins startup aimed at banishing smartphone cables

Fri 1st November, 2019 12:17am
By Stephen Nellis
    CAMPBELL, California, Oct 31 (Reuters) - For over 14 years
at Apple Inc  AAPL.O , Rubén Caballero had to include a cable
with every iPhone design whose wireless engineering he oversaw,
from the first prototypes in 2005 to iPhone 11 models on shelves
now.
    Now, as chief wireless strategist for Silicon Valley startup
Keyssa Inc, Caballero hopes to cut the cord for good - for all
smartphones. His new position has not been previously reported.
    Every iPhone since the first released in 2007 has come with
a cable as a failsafe way to transfer data, as has virtually
every other brand of phone.
    Keyssa wants to end that with its chip that can transfer
data nearly as fast as a wire by placing two devices next to
each other. Early customer LG Electronics Inc  066570.KS  uses
the chip to connect the second screen of its LG V50 smart phone.
    Wireless charging has taken hold in phones, but wireless
data connections like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi remain too finicky to
discard cables altogether.
    Keyssa has raised more than $100 million from the venture
groups at Intel Corp  INTC.O , Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
 005930.KS , Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd
 2317.TW  and a fund run by Tony Fadell, another former Apple
executive who helped create the iPod and then hired Caballero
for the original iPhone team.
    "Every single consumer product would love to solve the
external connector," Caballero, who left Apple earlier this
year, said in an interview at Keyssa's headquarters in Campbell,
California.
    Caballero, a retired Canadian Air Force captain who favors
all-black attire, also has his eyes on the inside of phones.
There, cables cause engineering headaches. 
    Camera modules connect to main circuit boards with a thin
cables. Bend them enough and they break, creating an
unintentional "beautiful antenna" that interferes with cellular
data connections, Caballero said.
    With Keyssa's chips, camera modules could touch the circuit
board to transmit data wirelessly. The chips use high
frequencies that cause no interference inside the phone or with
nearby devices.
    "What's beautiful about this is the frequency," Caballero
said. "It just fixes a lot of problems."
    Aside from phones, Keyssa is testing chips with video
display makers and at least one maker of lidar sensors, the
electronic eyes of self-driving cars.
    "Ruben is a powerhouse when it comes to commercializing
great technology," Fadell told Reuters.
    Caballero brings with him experience overseeing more than
1,000 Apple wireless engineers in a department with a budget of
$600 million for testing equipment alone. 
    Before joining Apple, Caballero worked at two startups and
relished the frenzied pace there and during his early days at
Apple working with Fadell.
    When Fadell brought him to Apple in 2005, Caballero asked
where all the test equipment and labs were for the group.
    "He said, 'We don't have anything, but we'll get it done,'"
Caballero said. "You know when has something in his eyes – you
can see the vision. After that, I was hooked. I used to sleep
under my desk. When you have that passion, it's incredible. And
I feel it here."

 (Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Greg
Mitchell and Richard Chang)
 ((Stephen.Nellis@thomsonreuters.com; (415) 344-4934;))
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