5G and AI SoC vendor EdgeQ out of the starter blocks with $51M in funding

Led by former Qualcomm, Intel, and Broadcom employees, system-on-a-chip vendor EdgeQ has emerged from stealth mode with a $51 million funding round in hand.

Investors in Santa Clara, Calif.-based EdgeQ included Threshold Ventures, Fusion Fund, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang—under the auspices of AME Cloud Ventures—and an unnamed strategic customer.

EdgeQ is on a mission to merge 5G and artificial intelligence on a programmable chip for devices and use at the edge by service providers and enterprises.

"We provide an open platform converging 5G plus AI, which abstracts much of the complexities for our customers working on 5G deployment—from supporting multiple chipsets, different software stacks, board design, cost, power, and latencies in transferring data in between, not to mention, potential security hazards," said Vinay Ravuri, CEO and founder of EdgeQ. "Though we are not ready to disclose the hardware details, our 5G chip architecture uniquely lends itself to AI in a way without needing an extra AI accelerator hardware, saving both power and cost to the end customer."

By introducing open programmability to the baseband, EdgeQ provides a new software-driven development model for OEMs and operators that can support existing cellular protocols, such as 4G, 5G and beyond.

Until recently, Qualcomm has focused almost exclusively on the consumer 5G market, making chips for use in smartphones and tablets whereas EdgeQ was purpose-built to address infrastructure. In addition, Ravuri said Qualcomm's design was closed while EdgeQ's was open.

"Their chip technology does not support 5G connectivity and AI computing, making it inadequate for enterprise-grade 5G infrastructure, which needs robust computing capabilities in addition to 5G," he said. "We can bring the best of breed here—the cellular, but also offer to the market what they’re really looking for, which is an open ecosystem where they are able to innovate and add/develop features on this chipset that they can’t do otherwise. That is what we see as a big departure from the existing Qualcomm offerings."

5G modems and connectivity are better equipped to enable low latency for enterprise and service provider use cases, such as IoT, but the 5G services ecosystem is largely nascent to date.

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"Because modem chip technology is so difficult to build, there are few competitors in this space," Ravuri said. "To participate in this space, it requires at least two generations of experience or failure. 

"There are very few companies that have the domain expertise and track record of EdgeQ. EdgeQ stands out from those players because we deliver much greater software flexibility with a fully programmable chip. Our product also uses far less power at a fraction of the cost."

EdgeQ will announce its first chip in the coming months. EdgeQ was formed two years ago and currently has about 90 employees. Ravuri said EdgeQ, which has offices around the global, plans to increase its headcount by 21% next year.

As for additional funding rounds, Ravuri said EdgeQ was set for now.

"We’ve raised enough to last 12-18 months," he said. "At that point, we’ll assess our next steps. A company like Qualcomm would spend about $1 billion to develop a new modem chip. We’ve found ways to do this at a fraction of that amount. We’ll be taping out the chip with our existing round."