Electrical engineers Hossein Hashemi and Benham Analui made a computer chip that allows smart phones to do something most can’t: connect to the Internet in any country without expensive roaming charges. They entered their invention in the first entrepreneurship competition at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and their company, Abtum Inc., took first prize in April.

Hashemi, a USC professor, and Analui, a postdoctoral researcher, received $50,000 of startup capital.

The growing demand for broadband Internet access on hand sets has created a market for Abtum’s product, as many mobile devices need a separate chip to connect to the Internet in remote areas, such as Micronesia. Abtum’s chip works most anywhere.

“Everybody wants to be connected, and that will happen in the future,” Analui said.

What’s more, as the cellular industry gets more bandwidth, it means more frequencies will open up. Mobile devices will need different chips that can work on previously unused frequencies. Abtum’s chip is adapted to do that.

“Everyone else will

have to make a device,” Analui said. “We already have it.”

The new contest was the result of a $1 million endowment announced last year from engineer and hedge fund manager Fariborz Maseeh of Newport Beach. Called the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, it is unusual because it is aimed at encouraging engineering students, not business students, to become entrepreneurs.

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