Six 5G Startups Building 5G Infrastructure
It’s been over a year now since our foreign correspondents were roaming the globe – from Nauru to Saudi Arabia – scouting some of the world’s most exciting startups, many of which are flying under the radar. In fact, we found entire countries flying under the radar, like Indonesia’s chatbots and big data, or New Zealand’s remarkable agtech industry. (If that topic interests you, check out our New Zealand Agtech Report.) On one particular day, we were meeting with startups in Azerbaijan and ended up on the local news.
“What’s a startup?” the news lady asked our sunken-eyed MBA who had a hangover so bad even his hair hurt. It’s actually an excellent question. Once in a while, a startup we cover will ask us not to call them a “startup.” That stems from the false belief that “startup” implies a company with no traction. A startup is usually a company that starts out as an idea with the intent to arrive at a liquidity event at some point in the future. It can be called a “startup” from when there’s a whiff of traction until it exits. Today, we’re going to talk about some 5G startups working on 5g infrastructure.
The Promise of 5G
In the world of computing, the promise of 5G is an era where bandwidth is virtually unlimited compared to what’s available today. You’ve probably seen some of these big numbers being thrown around by pundits:
5G technology will produce massive amounts of real-time data which can be used to improve everything and power some incredibly useful predictive analytics solutions. The theme has generated a great deal of interest from investors who think they’ll find the next Microsoft by investing in 5G stocks. Unfortunately, there isn’t much going on in the 5G stock world. Plenty of companies will benefit from the infrastructure build out, one of these being a company in our disruptive tech stock portfolio. It’s something we talk about in our recent piece on Why We’re Trimming Our Gains in Teradyne Stock. Perhaps all the raw 5G innovation is happening in the bowels of the world’s telecom giants, or in any number of startups.
Six 5G Startups
Much of the information out there about “5G startups” concerns companies that are building solutions that will take advantage of 5G’s bandwidth once it has arrived. In other words, they’re building products and services that can only happen once 5G has reached a certain level of maturity. What we’re interested in are startups that are helping bring 5G technology mainstream. Here are some names we came across that fall into that category.
Movandi: The Millimeter Wave Spectrum
Founded in 2016, Los Angeles startup Movandi has taken in $57.4 million in funding to develop hardware solutions that help extend 5G performance and availability. The company’s exclusive partnership with Verizon has led to the launch of a “5G Extender” Indoor Smart Repeater Solution.” In order to understand this need, take a look at this great visual from the bright minds over at CB Insights.
On the far right, you’ll see the radio wave spectrum that 5G operates in which is referred to as “millimeter wave frequencies.” (Millimeter wave is often abbreviated as mmWave.) 5g brings with it certain technical challenges that need solving, such as requiring a visual line of sight between the 5G signal and the devices using it. Consequently, you’ll need lots of hardware devices that act as “repeaters” to create a daisy chain of devices emitting signals. This will enable Verizon to service users with 5G across large internal areas such as an office floor or a warehouse.
Verizon has been investing in millimeter-wave spectrum for years, and owns significant swaths of the higher-frequency band. This means they’ll be quick to get in bed with companies like Movandi that are building out hardware devices that solve outstanding technical problems that are slowing adoption.
DeepSig: Signal Processing for 5G
As Clarke’s third law says, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It’s hard to imagine just how incredibly complex a system you need to ensure that the 5 billion people on this planet who carry a phone around with them have access to a cellular network. Essentially, you carry a device in your pocket that lets you communicate instantly with two-thirds of the people on this planet. (And if the man gets you down, you can use the device to tell 47% of the planet on social media how oppressed you are.) One key component of this incredible global telecommunications system is signal processing.
Founded in 2016, Virginia startup DeepSig has taken in $7.7 million in funding from investors that include Lockheed Martin. The products that DeepSig has developed use machine learning to perform functions such as dealing with radio frequency (RF) interference which causes calls to drop, signals to be poor, and overall creates a bad user experience. A case study DeepSig published talks about how “Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the edge opens new frontiers in Radio Frequency (RF) signal analysis.”
“At the edge” refers to doing things on the device rather than up in the cloud. So, DeepSig is using machine learning algorithms at the edge for signal processing. They’re doing what so many other companies are doing – transferring the complexity from hardware to software. They’re also not alone when it comes to transferring intelligence to the edge.
EdgeQ: AI and Chips and 5G and The Edge
Founded in 2018, San Francisco startup has taken in $51 million in disclosed funding which came in the form of a Series A that closed in November 2020. Launched by former executives at Broadcom, Intel, and Qualcomm, the startup recently came out of stealth mode to announce – well, it’s hard to tell when looking at their sparse website.
Says a press release by the company, “EdgeQ will address the untapped 5G infrastructure market as the first company to converge 5G connectivity and AI compute onto a system-on-a-chip.” Sprinkle that with some blockchain and they’ll be cooking with gas. Vinay Ravuri, CEO and founder of EdgeQ, told Network World that we’re moving “from a smartphone economy to a constellation of intelligent edge devices.” Essentially, we’re creating a world where everything has a digital twin. Eventually, we’ll be able to create a nested simulation and move one more iteration from base. (According to Elon Musk, there’s a one in a billion chance that we’re not in the base simulation.) And after that crazy tangent, we’ll move on to talking about 5G antennas.
Alcan Systems: Zee Best Antennas for 5G
Founded in 2015, German startup Alcan Systems has taken in $9.19 million (7.5 million euros) in disclosed funding to build smart antennas which are flat, thin, and able to steer their beam electronically without any moving parts. Applications for such an antenna would be moving vehicles such as trains, ships, or that overland Unimog we’re planning to build in case the apocalypse arrives.
Unlimited bandwidth may sound great, but it comes with certain limitations. For example, mmWave frequencies have a range of 300 yards (300 meters) – 50x less than 4G – making electronically steerable antennas (ESA) essential to improve performance. ALCAN’s 5G solutions use liquid crystal which is controlled by an electromagnetic field. This can change the direction of the received or transmitted beam without needing to physically turn the antenna.
MixComm: A Fabless 5G Semi Company
Founded in 2017, New Joisey startup MixComm has taken in $8.6 million in funding to “address the challenges constraining 5G mmWave performance.” With an executive team hailing from Columbia, Qualcomm, NXP, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, this fabless semiconductor company claims to have “more mmWave and RF SOI experience than any company in the market.” (Says Semiconductor Engineering, RF SOI is a specialized process used to make select RF chips, such as switch devices and antenna tuners.) The company’s technology is based on breakthroughs from Dr. Krishnaswamy’s CoSMIC lab at Columbia University and is funded by Kairos Ventures. The first product is a chip dubbed the Summit 2629, “an RF front-end beamforming IC for 5G applications” which has twice the energy efficiency of competing solutions, among other benefits.
Cellwize: AI + Cloudification = Chime
Founded in 2013, Singapore startup Cellwize has taken in $56.5 million in funding from a slew of big names like Intel, Samsung, Qualcomm, Verizon, and VMWare. All that money has been used to build CHIME, “a cloudified and AI-driven radio access network (RAN) automation and orchestration platform.” This stuff gets incredibly complex, so we’ll try to completely oversimplify it. Mobile network operators (MNOs), of which there around 800 across the globe, need to support 5G. Cellwize helps them roll out their 5G deployments quicker and at a lower cost.
As you would expect, there are other technologies enabling the Cellwize platform such as machine learning and the cloud.
Microamp Solutions – 5G mmWave Transceivers
Sure, this is 5G startup seven in an article about six 5G startups, but who is counting anyways? In the city with the best tartar you’ll find anywhere, Warsaw Poland, you’ll also find some real tech talent. Founded in 2019, Polish startup Microamp Solutions has taken in around $3 million in funding from grants that have allowed them to not sacrifice a drop of equity. They’re using that funding, and the combined academic and industry experience of the three founders, to create mmWave transceivers that operate in an open-source manner for niche applications. (Transceiver is a combination of the words “transmitter” and “receiver,” and these devices are a key component when deploying any wireless technology.)
The CEO, Dawid Kuchta, could hardly contain his enthusiasm when introducing his company to us, so we’re going to Zoom over to Poland and highlight what they’re up to in a coming article. They’re just one of many interesting startups you’ll find if you venture outside the Silicon Valley Vatican.
The Other Hundred 5G Startups
In an interview with political commentary site TechCrunch, global head of Qualcomm Ventures, Quan Li, said the following:
Within 5G, there are three buckets of areas we look to invest in: one is in use cases, second is in network transformation, third is applying 5G technology in enterprisesCredit: TechCrunch Article
In this article, we focused on the network transformation bucket and didn’t even scratch the surface. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of startups focusing on use cases and enterprise applications, particularly in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT). In a future article, we’ll take a look at what sort of new and exciting IoT solutions may be emerging alongside 5G technology.
If your sacred 5G cow didn’t make it into our article, don’t panic. Drop us an email and we’ll convince you that our content market offering can’t be beaten when it comes to getting your great story disseminated to the masses.
For retail investors, investing in disruptive technology themes is never straightforward. The technology may take a decade or two to get traction (graphene), it may get loads of traction and rapidly become a commodity before any money can be made off the whole thing (solar), or it may have a false start (synthetic biology). All of these scenarios spell risk.
5G seems like it’s going to silently creep up on us and one day we’ll just start to see amazing products and services that are made possible by unlimited bandwidth. For investors, it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening in 5G and the world of startups is a good place to see what progress we’re making.