Bill Gates-backed Pivotal Commware raises $10M as it ramps up 5G hardware

In this scenario for a wireless application, Pivotal Commware’s Echo 5G device consists of a paddle-like antenna placed on the exterior of a window, and a power puck installed on the inside. (Pivotal Commware Photo)

Pivotal Commware, one of several metamaterials startups backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, says it has secured $10 million in convertible-debt financing to help it roll out signal repeater systems for 5G wireless data services.

The company, based in Kirkland, Wash., takes advantage of the electronic properties of metamaterials to produce flat-panel antennas with no moving parts.

One product line, the Echo 5G, can be used by wireless customers to boost the millimeter-wave broadband signals transmitted by 5G operators. Another product line, the Pivot 5G, can be used by operators to extend the range of 5G signals and wrap them around corners, to places that might otherwise be dead spots.

Chris Brandon, Pivotal Commware’s chief operating officer, told GeekWire that the company is due to start shipping the Echo 5G to wireless network operators sometime in December. He said it was premature to disclose which operators will be using them, but they should start showing up next year.

“2020 is a big year for us,” Brandon said.

He said the $10 million debt financing round, reported in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, comes on top of a $17 million Series A equity round in 2017 and a $22 million Series B round that closed last December.

The SEC filing listed five investors as backing the loan, with an option for converting the debt to equity at a later time. Brandon said the backers represent “most of our major investors,” but he declined to identify them further. For what it’s worth, Pivotal Commware’s prior investors include Gates as well as DIG Investment, Lux Capital and Thermo Companies.

Brandon said the fresh investment will put Pivotal Commware on firm footing as it closes in on its product launch and adds to its employee count, which is currently approaching 100. “It’s all good news,” he said.

Pivotal Commware was spun out from Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures in 2016 to take advantage of metamaterials technology for terrestrial wireless applications. The other metamaterials startups spawned by Intellectual Ventures include Kymeta (for satellite antennas), Echodyne (for radar), Lumotive (for laser scanning) and Evolv (for security scanning).

Pivotal Commware antenna
Pivotal Commware’s 5G antenna is designed to be installed by wireless subscribers. (Pivotal Commware Photo)

Pivotal’s Echo 5G device is designed to be installed by the customers themselves: Pivotal’s paddle-like antenna would go on the exterior of a window, with a “power puck” installed on the inside.

The devices will help 5G operators compensate for the potential drawbacks of millimeter-wave signal transmission, including faster attenuation and a signal-blocking phenomenon known as structural shadowing. Pivotal says it demonstrated gigabit-scale transmission rates for indoor applications during recent field trials.

Bigger companies such as Ericsson and Qualcomm are also vying for a piece of the 5G equipment market, but Brandon said he’s hoping that Echo 5G and Pivot 5G will hit a home run for the company and its investors.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine-inning ballgame,” Brandon said.

Update for 11:56 p.m. PT Oct. 29: We’ve tweaked references to the Echo 5G device to make clear that it’s more than an antenna.

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