Omnispace raises $60 million to fund hybrid network

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WASHINGTON — Omnispace, a company developing a hybrid space and ground network to provide 5G and internet of things services, announced Feb. 2 it raised $60 million to fund the rollout of its system.

The Virginia-based company said it raised $60 million in a round led by Fortress Investment Group, along with existing investors Columbia Capital, Greenspring Associates, TDF Ventures and Telcom Ventures. The company has not disclosed how much funding it has raised to date.

Omnispace is developing what it calls a “global hybrid system” that combines both satellites and terrestrial wireless networks to provide connectivity using 5G standards. That system will ultimately be able to provide seamless connectivity for a variety of IoT applications.

The company is going after “enterprise market segments” with its system, said Ram Viswanathan, president and chief executive of Omnispace, in an interview. Those include agriculture, mining and energy, and shipping and logistics.

“We’re bringing ubiquitous connectivity solutions to those markets which, today, they don’t have,” he said. In urban settings, those companies can use terrestrial wireless networks, but in remote locations have to rely on satellite-based solutions that aren’t integrated. “You have a fragmented technology solution that is more expensive and less efficient.”

Omnispace intends to offer services using a wedge of spectrum in the two-gigahertz band originally assigned to ICO, a company that planned to launch a constellation of satellites in medium Earth orbit. Omnispace purchased ICO’s assets out of bankruptcy, including the one satellite ICO successfully launched in 2001.

Omnispace awarded a contract to Thales Alenia Space in April 2020 to build two smallsats that will serve as prototypes of a future constellation. Thales has since subcontracted much of the work to other companies, with NanoAvionics building the buses, Syrlinks the S-band payloads and Anywaves the antennas.

Viswanathan said the company is taking delivery of the two satellites late this year, with launch in the first quarter of 2022. Exolaunch will arrange for the launches of those satellites as rideshares on SpaceX Falcon 9 launches.

Omnispace will use those satellites to test aspects of its overall system, including various use cases. “We’re calibrating the space segment requirements accordingly based on these early tests,” he said. That will help the company determine how many satellites it needs to provide service. Those prototype satellites will also allow Omnispace to retire the original ICO satellite, which it has used for testing and to preserve its spectrum.

Viswanathan said that the company expects to have the space segment completed in about four years. Omnispace will raise additional funding, he said, likely tied to announcing plans for the full commercial system.

Omnispace is competing against several other companies developing satellite constellations for IoT services. Some of them, such as Astrocast, Kepler and Swarm, have already launched satellites and even started to offer services.

The difference between Omnispace and its competitors, Viswanathan said, is its adoption of 5G standards, versus “legacy technologies” used by other companies. That allows it use standard chipsets found in terrestrial devices. “It enables automatic seamless connectivity by satellite to that device wherever it may be” when terrestrial networks are not available.

“The ultimate network architecture is a seamless integration of the existing 5G mobile networks, wherever they may be in the world, with an overlay of satellites that helps extend the reach of that network,” he said.