Vanu Bose, Who Brought Cellular Service to Remote Areas, Dies at 52

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Vanu Inc., in Lexington, Mass., harnessed cellular technology to reach people living with little or no service. Focusing on the radio components of wireless networks, Mr. Bose developed durable cellular sites that could run on solar power and that required only small amounts of energy.

That technology has been used around the world, particularly in rural areas. In Africa alone it is found in Rwanda, Mauritania, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Bose recently took his technology to Puerto Rico after it was lashed by Hurricane Maria and used it to help desperate residents locate family members. Through his company he donated more than three dozen cellular base stations to the island, each covering about a three-mile radius.

The month before he died, Mr. Bose spoke about that effort with The Boston Globe. “It’s been so motivating for our employees, because everyone watches the news and says, ‘I wish I could do something to help,’ ” the paper quoted him as saying. “Suddenly we have a way to help.”

That desire to help motivated much of Mr. Bose’s work, his friends and colleagues said. Andrew Beard, the chief operating officer of Vanu, said Mr. Bose had spent a formative year working with Project Orbis, which operates a hospital in a DC-10 aircraft to provide eye surgery to economically devastated regions. Summers spent visiting his extended family in India, witnessing extreme poverty and deprivation, also informed his work.

“He always wanted to address the needs of people who did not have a voice, either politically or economically,” Mr. Beard said. Telling Mr. Bose that something was impossible, he added, was like “catnip” for him.

Mr. Bose’s company helped remake wireless base stations, the nerve centers of cellular networks. The goal was simplification. Instead of having them rely on complex hardware, software and electronics, he developed base stations that ran primarily on software.

The research behind the company began at M.I.T. under two professors, David Tennenhouse and John Guttag. There, Mr. Bose worked on a software radio format. “He was extraordinary and very creative,” Mr. Guttag said in an interview. “Such a magnetic leader that many graduate students went to work for Vanu Inc.”

As Mr. Bose once told an M.I.T. publication, his interest in wireless technology began when he was an undergraduate and assisted his father by writing a paper about modifications to FM radio broadcasting.

At Vanu, he introduced software to a commercial market that sought to juggle multiple wireless networks using the same equipment. The company’s so-called virtual radio technology enables software to do the heavy lifting of signal processing rather than relying on complicated hardware. Software radios allow a single handset — a cellphone, say — to access multiple networks at the same time.

Among its clientele, Vanu worked with small rural cellphone carriers in the United States that provide roaming service for large companies like Verizon.

One base station developed by the company is small but has a lot of reach. Called Community Connect, it weighs around 20 pounds and is designed to withstand grueling conditions, including temperatures of up to 132 degrees Fahrenheit.

More important, the device runs on power from solar panels rather than the diesel fuel that keeps standard base stations humming, often at great economic and environmental cost.

Using that technology, Vanu in 2016 constructed a vast network of sites throughout Rwanda, offering cell service to residents who had had to travel miles to nearby towns just to send a text message or make a call.

The benefits go beyond telephone calls and rapid text messaging. Through cellphones, remote villages can also access medical information, digital banking services and even solar lighting systems.

Vanu Bose was born on April 29, 1965, in Boston and grew up in Wayland, Mass., about 20 miles west of the city. His paternal grandfather, Noni Gopal Bose, was a Bengali freedom fighter who was studying physics at Calcutta University when he was imprisoned for opposing British rule in India. He escaped in 1920 and fled to the United States, where he married an American schoolteacher. Amar Bose was born in Philadelphia.

Vanu Bose did follow his father by attending M.I.T., from which he graduated with an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, computer science and mathematics. He went on to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. there, both in electrical engineering and computer science. (His father, who died in 2013, earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering there.)

Vanu Bose, whose work received many awards, was named a technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum, the Geneva-based foundation that promotes economic development through public-private cooperation.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Bose, who lived in Carlisle, Mass., is survived by an 8-year-old daughter, Kamala; his mother, the former Prema Sarathy; and a sister, Maya Bose.

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