Omnispace raises $60M to beam 5G from space

Omnispace is the latest startup looking to cash in on the intersection of 5G and space-based Internet services. The company hopes to use its 2GHz spectrum holdings to build a global 5G network for IoT and broadband services that would include both terrestrial and satellite components.

And Omnispace on Tuesday announced it obtained $60 million in pursuit of that goal.

Company executives have said Omnispace is already conducting trials of its service with unnamed mobile network operators, and that the company hopes to launch commercial offerings as soon as 2023.

"We've got pilots already ongoing. Those are going to scale up very significantly with this funding," Omnispace CEO Ram Viswanathan told the Washington Business Journal.

As reported by TechCrunch, Omnispace started in 2012 as a holding company for 2GHz S-band spectrum licenses purchased from the remnants of bankrupt satellite operator ICO Global. CEO Viswanathan joined Omnispace in early 2016 in order to look at how the company might create a global network with the assets.

Omnispace's fundraising announcement is backed by some big names: Fortress Investment Group led the round, with Omnispace's existing investors Columbia Capital, Greenspring Associates, TDF Ventures and Telcom Ventures also participating.

Connectivity, mobile and satellite background

The company's leadership team includes Viswanathan, who previously headed Devas Multimedia. TechCrunch reported that the India-focused connectivity startup remains entangled in a legal battle with the Indian government over the cancellation of the firm's satellite launch. The company recently won a $1.2 billion ruling on the topic in US courts.

Omnispace's CTO, Dennis Matheson, previously worked for satellite company TerreStar and mobile data network operator Motient. And Mindel De La Torre, the company's chief regulatory executive, was previously head of the FCC's international bureau, which deals with satellite issues.

And Omnispace's board includes executives from the likes of Verizon, Intelsat, FirstNet and XM Satellite Radio (which is now considering its own satellite-powered Internet services).

Omnispace executives said the company's new round of equity financing will allow them to continue working on building a network that aligns with the 3GPP's 5G specifications on a global basis. "Together these efforts provide the foundation for commercial partnerships with mobile network operators, who enable the terrestrial component of the hybrid network, and wireless technology and device manufacturers," the company said in a release.

Omnispace isn't the only company playing at the intersection of satellite communications and 5G innovations. For example, incumbent satellite operators like Telesat have dabbled in satellite-powered backhaul for terrestrial 5G networks, while startups such as Lynk and SpaceMobile have promised to beam 5G connections from low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites directly to existing smartphones that are out of range of terrestrial cell towers.

Other satellite players, such as SpaceX's Starlink, hope to deliver Internet connections directly to end uses via their own growing LEO constellations.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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