Connectivity

This 5G chip startup plans to go toe-to-toe with telecom giants. Here’s how

Former Qualcomm VP focuses his new venture on enterprise clients first.
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Jian Fan/Getty Images

· 4 min read

EdgeQ founder and CEO Vinay Ravuri wants to make standing up a mobile network as easy as plugging in a wi-fi router.

Whether it’s connecting an airport tarmac or a factory floor, most companies that need to provide internet access in commercial settings can’t simply turn on their own small-cell network. That’s partly because most microprocessors that power 5G networks require heavy customization to make them work in an enterprise context, Ravuri said.

At the same time, the main alternative—wi-fi networks—don’t usually offer the stability needed to support the high volume of traffic generated by large enterprises, according to Ravuri. That’s where EdgeQ, one of the few 5G chipmaking startups, hopes to step in.

“We’ve basically integrated what would be separate chips into a single chip. You can treat it as black box, and you can also make modifications if you have the wherewithal, but you don’t need to. It’ll work out of the box,” Ravuri said. “If I have a customer that wants a small cell…the ease of use is like wi-fi.”

Ravuri recently spoke with Tech Brew about how his startup plans to make private 5G networks more accessible by creating tech that’s purpose-built to support next-generation mobile infrastructure with minimal customization required. It’s a concept that’s generated buy-in since the company’s founding in 2018, raising more than $130 million from 16 investors, according to PitchBook.

“There is actually no good solution out there,” Ravuri said of companies that want to set up their own 5G network without repurposing chips designed for mobile phones or undertaking heavy-duty engineering to make their networks just…work.

The idea for EdgeQ bloomed during Ravuri’s earlier days at Qualcomm, where he worked as a vice president of mobile product management. At the time, the technology giant was developing the next generation of mobile connectivity that would build on the 4G capabilities that enabled the rise of “killer apps.” Vinay saw an opportunity with 5G to target a sector that’s bigger than individual smartphone users.

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“We enable private installations…in environments where wi-fi doesn’t actually work well: factories, places where the reliability matters a lot. Sometimes it’s schools, sometimes it’s airports, hospitals, things like that,” he said.

Vinay also saw a “springboard” for a new company leveraging the RISC-V ecosystem, the open-source computing language that makes it easier for wireless devices to communicate and interface with each other, as well as the emerging OpenRAN ecosystem that aims to make pieces of radio networks more interchangeable.

When Ravuri started EdgeQ in 2018, he said he saw an opportunity because the market for 5G chips parallels “the old PCs and servers where they were vertically integrated, whether it’s IBM or these other companies,” he said. “There was no real silicon company that can go horizontal.”

In going horizontal, the company has an arrow nocked at merchant silicon vendors like Qualcomm and MediaTek that have traditionally dominated the standalone processor market. Other major players that make chips—namely Huawei, Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia—typically do so for their own products.

There are obviously a plethora of uses for chips aside from powering advanced connectivity in mobile phones, including Ravuri’s enterprise network targets. EdgeQ isn’t coming for the handset chipmakers’ lunch—at least not just yet.

“[We’re looking at] IoT devices, base stations, access points—the network side of things,” he said. “For a startup to go and just completely replace Qualcomm in these big markets is not easy…We wanted to focus on building this IP, but yet still generate revenue in near-term places that are much easier. We do plan to eventually look at the phone and these [other] high-volume markets as well.”

For now, Ravuri is looking ahead to seeing EdgeQ’s products at work in the real world.

“We just were in production as of six months ago. So this year, we’re hoping to scale, meaning our customers go put [our chips] into their networks and they generate revenue,” he said. “It’s prime time this year.”

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