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Funding for startups

SOMA Scores $50M

Broadband wireless vendor SOMA Networks Inc. has scored a $50 million VC cash injection, taking its total investment raised to a massive $175 million.

Founded in 1998, the San Francisco company targets the last-mile Internet access market untouched by DSL and cable, with a focus on internet service providers (ISPs), competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), and incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs). (See SOMA Untethers the Last Mile.)

To date, SOMA has kept a relatively low profile in the broadband wireless space, touting only three commercial deployments: Always on Network and 3 Rivers Communications in the U.S., and Jaring in Malaysia (see 3 Rivers Deploys SOMA and SOMA Powers Jaring). Today’s funding announcement, however, makes it one of the best funded broadband wireless players, eclipsing the likes of ArrayComm Inc. and Navini Networks Inc. (see ArrayComm Gets Greenbacks and Navini Nabs $30M).

The round was led by Morgan Stanley Venture Partners and Asian VC Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd. and included investment from Endeavour Investments Ltd. and NeoCarta Ventures Inc.

SOMA’s COO, Greg Caltabiano, says the company will use the major investment to boost its “geographic expansion” and is on track to make a return on the massive investment. “SOMA is at a place where it has products and customers, and now it is all about growth and execution… I can’t go into too much detail but now we are working with these late-stage type of investors, I can say we are making very good progress. It’s moving along well. The investors are patient, but, of course, they are also looking at results.”

So what exactly does SOMA offer?

SOMA’s air interface is based on wideband-CDMA technology, but the startup has had to add proprietary extensions to accommodate its antenna technology -- meaning SOMA’s customers have to buy both base stations and customer terminals. The payoff is that its terminals aren’t susceptible to multipath interference, and they can seek out the strongest signal path by continually listening in all directions.

The terminals pack the software to automatically assign priority to certain traffic types, such as voice, and they can also adjust to changing signal conditions. If coverage becomes weak, the connection will boost its level of forward error correction to compensate. SOMA claims its base stations can each serve more than 1,000 users at up to 12 Mbit/s per user. On the customer side, SOMA's box plugs into whatever network infrastructure is set up: Ethernet, wireless LAN, or plain old telephone service.

Looking ahead, SOMA’s COO says the company is keeping a close eye on development of WiMax technology and will support the 802.16 standard. “We have worked hard over the last five years to make sure the entire system is abstracted from the air interface so we can plug in the chips and make them work with the rest of our network.”

Tomorrow the vendor will announce a partnership with Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. (Nasdaq: SANYY) for the development of broadband wireless kit, following successful trial deployments, and later this month it's expected to tout further extensions to its VOIP offering.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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