Pivotal Commware raises millions more in investment for beamforming antennas

Pivotal Commware beams
An artist’s conception illustrates different applications for Pivotal Commware’s software-defined antenna system. (Pivotal Commware Illustration)

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Pivotal Commware, a venture that’s backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is in the midst of a fresh funding round that could bring in $20 million or more for its effort to develop flat-panel antennas that boost wireless communications.

In documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bellevue-based startup said that four investors have put $14.75 million into a Series B equity funding round so far.

The filing says the offering amounts to $20 million, with $5.25 million yet to be sold. However, Pivotal Commware’s vice president of marketing and sales, Kent Lundgren, told GeekWire via email that the final amount of the round is yet to be determined.

Lundgren said participants in the round “will include existing investors and perhaps some new strategic investors,” but declined to go into further detail.

Pivotal raised $17 million just last year in a Series A round that included Gates as well as DIG Investment, Lux Capital, the family office of private equity investor Barry Sternlicht and The Thermo Companies, which is the corporate parent for the Globalstar satellite venture.

When that round was announced, Pivotal CEO Brian Deutsch said the company intended to ramp up its workforce from 20 to 40 employees, and LinkedIn listings indicate that’s what has happened.

Pivotal is one of four metamaterials-based ventures that have been spun out from Intellectual Ventures, a technology incubator that’s also based in Bellevue. The others are Kymeta, which focuses on flat-panel satellite antennas; Echodyne, which builds radar systems suited for drones and connected cars; and Evolv, which is working on security scanning applications.

Gates has invested in all four ventures.

In Pivotal’s case, metamaterials technology has opened the way for software-defined, “holographic beamforming” antenna systems that can focus signals on fixed or moving targets. That’s an advance on today’s standard wireless communications hardware, which typically sends signals in a wider, less efficient beam.

This year, Pivotal demonstrated a repeater system that can receive millimeter-wave signals and amplify them to boost 5G reception inside buildings.  The same technology could be used to “reflect” 5G signals around corners or into a cul-de-sac, allowing carriers to widen coverage without having to install more base stations.

“This way, service providers can further minimize costly base station deployment,” Pivotal Commware says in a product brochure.

The Echo 5G Beamformer could become commercially available in 2019 or 2020 as wireless carriers make the transition to 5G.

Another Pivotal application, known as Fasthaul, transmits signals over a high-speed wireless connection using millimeter-wave frequencies, as an alternative to fiber connections.

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