5G mmWave Startups to Watch

It’s coming sooner than the telecom industry originally planned for 10 years ago but 5G will begin deploying across the United States in 2019 (as well as many other countries). Even 10 years ago, the idea of achieving even 1 Gbps wirelessly was laughable to the ordinary person on the street. Imagine how they’d react when Qualcomm is now reporting typical speeds of 1.4 Gbps! You read that right, 1.4 Gbps.

To put that into perspective: the minimum bandwidth required to stream ONE high-definition video is about 5 Mbps, so you can stream almost 300 movies at the same time using mmWave.

We’re seeing some major movements in the big players: Sprint and LG have already inked a deal to supply the first 5G-enabled smartphone in the U.S; T-Mobile and Ericsson signed a $3.5B deal for T-Mobile to use Ericsson’s 5G New Radio technology to upgrade and future-proof the T-Mobile network.

Despite the massive speed gains, mmWave has many shortfalls. As implied in its name, mmWave uses very high frequency waves, which means the wavelengths are very short (mm). The shorter the wavelength, the harder it is for a wave to pass through objects. In the case of mmWave, ordinary objects like a tree or even a person’s body can severely impede a signal. Sounds like a big problem when nobody wants their daily Instagram perusing interrupted just because they walked into a building! This has led to the development of a technology called beamforming which helps alleviate some of those problems by using multiple antennas and strategically bouncing signals off of objects. However, there are still many challenges up ahead not only for beamforming but other areas of 5G, which opens the way for plenty of business opportunities to emerge.

Below are some exciting 5G startups to watch.

  1. Movandi. This Newport Beach startup has already raised $52.3MM and is developing fully integrated RF front-end systems to support a wide-base of applications ranging from base stations, small cells, and mobile access points. By integrating its RF front-end systems with proprietary beamforming software, Movandi is seeking to aggressively tackle the problem with mmWave signal interference.
  2. Phazr. This team of industry veterans created a virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) that utilizes mmWave spectrum for the downlink while using sub-6 GHz spectrum for the uplink. What does this matter? First, the war for mmWave spectrums has been plenty intense (in fact, Sprint sort of came out with a random windfall with its acquisition of WiMAX spectrum a decade ago, which led to billions in lost dollars but unexpectedly left Sprint with much needed spectrum today). Second, this will smoothen out the transition into mmWave. For most cases, we don’t need to be in the mmWave spectrum for uplink. By using sub-6 GHz spectrum, Phazr can eliminate many of the issues associated with mmWave at least for the uplink until they have been sorted out. In fact, the value prop of Phazr has gotten the attention of two of the largest mobile service providers in the U.S. Verizon and C Spire have reportedly requested to test Phazr’s systems.
  3. Pivotal Commware. Taking beamforming to the next level is Pivotal Commware, which is developing its proprietary holographic beamforming (HBF) technology. Compared to putting a loudspeaker on each device, Pivotal Commware’s HBF technology is powered by a low-cost, low-power software-defined antenna. What’s different about HBF? It dynamically shapes and steers beams allowing frequencies to be reused in adjacent beams without interfering with each other! So impressive is the tech that Bill Gates is one of the backers. Expect to see Pivotal Commware’s HBF to be deployed commercially in the coming months.

Questions or comments? I’d be happy to connect! Please email me at josh@joincommit.com or reach me on Twitter (@jjoshkim), and I will respond as soon as I can!

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