Omnispace raises $60M to pursue ‘hybrid’ 5G network

The funding round was led by new investor Fortress Investment Group. (Getty Images)

D.C.-based Omnispace closed $60 million in equity financing to further develop its satellite-based service for 5G and IoT, which plans to leverage partnerships with mobile operator for the ground-based component of what it dubs a “global 5G hybrid mobile network.”

The funding round was led by new investor Fortress Investment Group, with participation from existing investors Columbia Capital, Greenspring Associates, TDF Ventures and Telecom Ventures.

Omnispace’s vision involves combining a non-geostationary satellite constellation and its 2 GHz “S-Band” spectrum holdings with telecom operators’ mobile networks on the ground.

In addition to developing the 5G non-terrestrial network (NTN), Omnispace will use financing to expand access for the 2 GHz mobile satellite service (MSS) spectrum and complementary ground component (CGC) spectrum in key markets globally.

“Omnispace will be the first to power global 5G from space to universal devices on a single, seamless network leveraging their 2 GHz spectrum platform,” said Joshua Pack, managing partner, Fortress Investment Group, in a statement.

Omnispace said its "one global network" will be 3GPP-compliant with the global 5G standard, ensuring security and device interoperability. Timing for commercial launch is 2023, TechCrunch reported, and the company said initial network elements will start service in 2022.

Those initial components, including the Thales Alenia satellites and other network infrastructure, "will validate several key elements to ensure successful launch of the commercial system," according to Ram Viswanathan, Omnispace’s CEO, in written responses to Fierce. The commercial service will use a global satellite constellation in concert with existing terrestrial networks, and Viswanathan noted that "a program of this scale will likely take three to four years." 

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In April of 2020 Omnispace selected joint venture Thales Alenia Space to design and build an initial set of two non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites for its IoT infrastructure. At the time, the startup was focused on compliance with 3GPP Narrow-Band IoT (NB-IoT) radio interface.

Tuesday’s announcement said the funding round will enable Omnispace to build on prior investments it made to validate 3GPP standards-based 5G products and technologies, and demonstrate 5G connectivity from space.  

The company’s website points to satellite innovation with an NGSO constellation that employs software defined radio tech to enable support of 5G protocols and devices. Omnispace also emphasizes that the mobile and satellite combo provides a seamless connection, so devices can move uninterrupted between terrestrial wireless and satellite without roaming and rate complexities.

“We are forging ahead in the delivery of truly mobile 5G connectivity solutions from space. Our network will leverage harmonized 2 GHz spectrum to bring the power of 5G to users and industries around the globe,” said Viswanathan in a statement.

Viswanathan was previously CEO of Devas Multimedia, where he spearheaded the creation of India’s satellite-terrestrial broadband internet and media services platform.

Omnispace hasn't disclosed which operators it may be working with yet, but Viswanathan said the company is currently in pilot mode with several mobile operators internationally and looks forward to announcing those partnerships in the coming year.  TechCrunch earlier reported pilots with several unnamed operators, with early traction in Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

While mission critical enterprise (like global IoT and M2M services) is the company's primary focus for hybrid 5G connectivity, "we expect some consumer adoption to supplement their current wireless carrier coverage through global roaming, " Viswanathan said via email. 

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Separately, back in December 2019, Omnispace announced its subsidiary was successful in a bid to build and operate a terrestrial network in Mexico with authorization by Mexico’s regulatory authority Insituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT) to complement the company’s global satellite infrastructure.

At that time, the ground component was focused on 4G LTE standards and Omnispace said its “unique combination of satellite and terrestrial technologies, customers in urban and rural areas will benefit from secure, reliable and cost-effective mobile connectivity and better performance from their existing mobile devices across the country.”

Omnispace's website focuses on applications to serve fixed and mobile IoT assets globally, delivering coverage in hard-to-reach areas, and speeding up deployment of 5G with enhanced capacity and coverage for mobile broadband. It calls out services for enterprise, agriculture, government users in public safety and other critical communications, and connecting and managing infrastructure assets.

Article updated with additional information from Omnispace and CEO comments.