Qualcomm Ventures invests in four tech startups to build 5G ecosystem

Qualcomm Ventures on Tuesday announced strategic investments in four technology companies to help build out the 5G ecosystem beyond just consumer applications, with an eye on enterprise and private networks.   

The latest start-ups to benefit from Qualcomm’s venture capital arm are Cellwize Wireless Technologies, Celona, Azion, and Pensando Systems. Their respective technologies are focused on solutions that range from radio access network (RAN) automation, to enterprise platforms, to cloud and edge compute.

Quinn Li, SVP and global head of Qualcomm Ventures, told FierceWireless that each of the companies are solving a unique problem in the 5G space.

They all fit into one of three key investment areas for Qualcomm Ventures’ 5G Ecosystem Fund, which include: companies developing new and innovative 5G use-cases; 5G network transformation; and end-tend innovative connectivity models for enterprise.

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“We’re really enthusiastic about the opportunity here to realize 5G’s potential impact on the mobile ecosystem,” Li said.

Qualcomm Ventures doesn’t disclose individual figures for how much it has put into each company, according to Li, but to date it has invested more than $170 million in the 5G ecosystem. In addition to capital investment, the start-ups get access to Qualcomm Technologies’ wireless expertise and networks, and global 5G ecosystem relationships.

The startups

Here is a breakdown of each company’s focus and what Li said Qualcomm is looking to help fuel:

  • Israel-based Cellwize is focused on mobile network automation and orchestration. Through its CHIME platform it’s deployed an automated smart network, which Li said has allowed operators to function with more efficiency and flexibility.

“This is in alignment with 5G network transformation where a software defined and virtualized network architecture is being adopted and deployed,” Li said in a Q&A via email.  

The Cellwize investment was announced Monday, with Qualcomm Ventures and Intel Capital leading a $32 million Series B funding round. Verizon Ventures and Samsung Next also participated in the round, as did existing shareholders.  

Cellwize already counts Verizon as a customer. Over the summer the carrier said the new vendor agnostic, AI and machine learning (ML)-based platform would be used to speed the deployment of its 5G sites. The CHIME RAN automation platform helps pre-determine the most efficient design for a new cell site, with parameters that include which nearby sites to connect customers and how to create the fastest connections.

Cellwize also counts Telefonica, Movistar and others as customers.

  • Cupertino, California-based Celona is working on an integrated solution that bridges the divide between private LTE/5G and enterprise networks.

According to Li, Celona contributes to the strategic value of 5G wireless by building a platform “that allows enterprise to deploy infrastructure as easily as Wi-Fi today.”

Qualcomm Ventures and NTTVC led a $30 million Series B round for Celona, which closed at the end of October, bringing its total capital investment to date to $40 million.

Celona is particularly interested in the opportunity from recently available Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the U.S. for enterprise.

  • Palo Alto, California-based Azion Technologies is focused on mobile edge computing (MEC), what Li categorized as a building block for 5G.

The investment is for an undisclosed amount of series A funding.

Its Edge Platform enables developers to write and deploy serverless applications and create zero-trust security architectures, among other things. It also helps service providers virtualization efforts via MEC.

“We’re really looking forward to helping Azion enable next-generation 5G applications, which includes holographic social presence, immersive gaming, remote telemedicine, and more,” Li said.

  • Milpitas, California-based Pensando Systems is a three-year-old company that is helping enable edge computing for enterprises and service providers.

Li said it allows for “secure, programable and distributed functions to be implemented across the data centers and enterprises.”

The company completed Series C funding for a total of $278 million to date, according to Crunchbase. At the heart of Pensando’s platform is its own custom, programmable P4 processor called Capri, its website says.

“Pensando’s technology is allowing edge computing to happen in a more efficient manner across industries, and we’re thrilled to help them scale their solutions,” Li said.

Complementing Qualcomm’s vision for 5G future and infrastructure

Qualcomm itself builds technologies that help power key areas of the 5G ecosystem, including platforms for mobile smartphones, adjacent industries like RF front-end, automotive, and IoT, and a recently announced platform for 5G RAN infrastructure that spans a variety of deployment scenarios.

“The latest investments complement Qualcomm’s effort and vision for 5G infrastructure. As 5G continues to evolve, networks are shifting to a more open and virtualized model, and that is true for private networks too,” Li said. “In addition to being more flexible and open, automation and edge computing will be key features to seamlessly manage future 5G networks and support low latency applications.”

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In a recent column for FierceWireless CCS Insights Geoff Blaber pointed to the need for broad-based partnerships needed for 5G, which were on display at the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit last month. Blaber cited the shift to 5G as a platform to enable more interesting use-cases. He wrote that a focal point during the keynote summit of 5G helping to ease the transition of extending the walls of the enterprise to the walls of homes, aligned with CCS Insights’ view “that edge computing for enterprise applications will be the beachhead for the most interesting, innovative and lucrative 5G services.”

Indeed, two of the four companies Qualcomm Ventures has invested in enable edge computing, which Li categorized as building blocks of 5G, while the other two directly or indirectly target enterprise applications, among other uses.

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“We are excited to be working with these four companies to accelerate the deployment of 5G and enable new use cases in enterprises,” Li said, noting it also is looking at how 5G capabilities can be leveraged in industries like education, healthcare and manufacturing.

Opportunity beyond enterprise

Qualcomm sees many areas as most significant for 5G-related economic impact, according to Li, based on its high-level aggregate findings from an independent IHS study commissioned by the company that projects 5G will enable $13.2 trillion of economic output by 2035.

He pointed to Industrial IoT as an area where enhanced mobile broadband (eMMB), Massive IoT, and ultra-reliable low latency come together.

There will be a need to bring the edge-cloud on premise to perform local analytics while keeping sensitive data secure on site and to enable ultra-low latency control, Li said, creating an opportunity for private networks.

However, he emphasized that private wireless networks are not only for enterprises.

“There this a great opportunity emerging for targeted needs like ports, harbors, warehouses, logistics, mining, manufacturing, or even construction,” which also need dedicated networks for critical low-latency requirements like controlling equipment and machines.

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When it comes to 5G companies, Qualcomm Ventures’ investments also have included Altiostar, Airspan and Jio Platforms, the latter which was for a 0.15% equity stake.  

The investments focus on companies that can either benefit from the existing Qualcomm technologies, or that can work with the tech giant to develop and further innovate new technologies, according to Li.

Airspan, Baicells and others have integrated Qualcomm solutions. In those situations, Li said Qualcomm works collectively with its portfolio companies to strategically scale 5G solutions.

“This integration enables us to accelerate 5G innovation and identify those breakthrough innovations that will enable 5G to transform industries,” Li said.

Qualcomm is no stranger to putting money behind ecosystems to accelerate adoption. As Li noted, the venture capital firm has invested over $1.5 billion in more than 360 companies since its founding in 2000. That includes 11 unicorns, meaning at over $1.5 billion exits, in the last five years. Those include Affirmed Networks, Zoom, Cloudflare, AMEC, Xiaomo, Mobike, Ring, 99, Cruise Automation, Thundersoft and Fitbit.  

Article updated to correct the number of Qualcomm Ventures investments since 2000 is more than 360, not 650 investments.