Singaporean Deep-Tech Startup Transcelestial Raises US$9.6M Series A

Space-tech startup Transcelestial is working to develop a constellation of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit to deliver an ultra-high-speed backbone network connectivity

Singapore-based wireless space laser communication technology startup Transcelestial Technologies announced in a July 3 press release that it has raised US$9.6 million in a Series A financing round co-led by EDBI, the venture capital (VC) arm of Singapore Economic Development Board, and Wavemaker Partners, which led the startup’s seed round.

Existing investors Entrepreneur First and SEEDS Capital, an investment arm of Enterprise Singapore, and two previous angel investors participated in the round, along with new investors Airbus Ventures, the VC arm of the world’s largest airliner manufacturer, Cap Vista, the strategic investment arm of the Defence Science and Technology Agency of Singapore, and tech-focused investment firms Partech Ventures and Tekton Ventures.

The firm is also backed by AirTree, SGInnovate, and SparkLab Global Ventures.

Solving the global Internet distribution challenge

Today, the Internet has made it possible for people across continents to see and talk to each other, facilitated the free flow of knowledge, and opened a world of opportunities and new possibilities driving innovation. Currently, any Internet-enabled device receives internet through three main mediums:

1. Inter & Undersea Cables: Data that is hosted in other countries or continents like video conference calls, or YouTube videos, is transmitted through massive transcontinental fiber-optic cables placed at the bottom of the ocean. These cables carry almost 99% of the world’s data, according to Transcelestial.

2. Inter & Intracity fiber: Once the undersea cables reach land, telecoms and governments build 100kms of national fiber grids to carry this data to larger cities and smaller towns. Larger cities usually have a mini-grid of core fiber further bringing data to municipalities.

3. Last Mile Connectivity: Finally, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecoms, and other providers then take this data and use fiber and wireless technologies like mmWave, 4G, etc. to deliver it to homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and cell towers.

The problem with this model lies in its high rollout cost, leaving a huge portion of the population with either no Internet or poor connectivity. This leaves a large chunk of the population disconnected from the world, with no access to the life-altering tools and knowledge available through the Internet.

“One of the core motivations to start Transcelestial has been inspired by my personal experiences with Internet access growing up in Jamshedpur [India]. The first day at my university in Singapore, I experienced the content and collaboration that comes with high-speed Internet – it was revolutionary!” said Rohit Jha, CEO, and Co-Founder of Transcelestial.

“At Transcelestial, we want to offer such an opportunity, experience, and revelation upon everyone who wishes to push our civilization faster and further,” he added.

This last-mile Internet connectivity startup was founded in 2016 by Jha and Dr. Mohammad Danesh and is working to build the world’s first Space Laser Network that aims to use wireless laser communication and nano-satellites to deliver commercial high-speed Internet anywhere on Earth.

Transcelestial raised $1.8 million in Seed funding in December 2017 to develop this technology in stealth. The startup used the funding to develop a prototype Wireless Laser Communication, also called Wireless Fibre Optics technology, which combines the speed of fiber optics with the flexibility of radio waves to bring down the cost of providing connectivity, according to the press release.

Transcelestial has been selectively running closed beta trials of this technology with telcos in Asia like SK Telecom in South Korea and Telecom Infra Project’s (TIP) Ecosystem Acceleration Center (TEAC) Initiative, to address last-mile connectivity, the biggest challenge of Internet distribution.

Uptick in internet usage sparked by COVID-19

The global pandemic has forced economies to adopt a new lifestyle that includes working from home to ensure social distancing. This has lead to an increase of 35-45% in Internet usage compared to pre-COVID-19, straining last mile distribution networks.

Though 5G connectivity is highly-anticipated and posited as a game-changer for a variety of fields, it is a short-range technology, and to roll it out to all who need it would, therefore, require 40 million cell towers to be built in five years, entailing sky-high upfront costs, Transcelestial says.

According to a report by Ericsson, 5G subscriptions are expected to reach 1.9 billion, and 5G networks are projected to carry 35% of the global mobile traffic and cover 45% of the world population. By 2025, Southeast Asia will make up almost 29% of total global deployments in 5G adoption, according to the startup.

“Even prior to the widespread adoption of work-from-home practices, the demand for data has been on a secular uptrend. Transcelestial’s cost-effective, high-speed wireless fiber optics is well-positioned to fulfill this global need for connectivity,” said Geoffrey Yeo, General Manager of SEEDS Capital.

“SEEDS Capital’s follow-on investment into Transcelestial aims to support the further commercialization of its cutting-edge wireless laser communication technology,” he added.

CENTAURI – Replacing Cables on the Ground

The deep-tech startup has built CENTAURI, a mass-produced network device that leverages its proprietary Wireless Laser Communication Technology to create a wireless distribution network between buildings, traditional cell towers, street-level poles and other physical infrastructure.

It is a shoe-box sized device that weighs less than 3 kilograms and can deliver true fiber-like speeds to customers at a fraction of the cost of traditional fiber, claims Transcelestial. The device is a rapidly deployable, affordable, low cost, and high-speed Last Mile Connectivity solution that speeds up the adoption of 4G and 5G globally, according to the startup.

At launch, there are two versions of devices available – 1 Gbps Full Duplex (4G & Enterprise ready) and 10 Gbps Full Duplex (5G-ready). Higher bandwidth capabilities will be unlocked and available for order shortly, according to the press release.

“With the Series A capital raise, we are now working actively to get CENTAURI in the hands of customers globally within the next 12 months. In order to deliver on this global promise, we have set up a manufacturing capability which will scale into the world’s largest for production of CENTAURI class Wireless Fibre Optics devices,” said Transcelestial CTO Danesh.

Chu Swee Yeok, CEO and President of EDBI said, “As the front runner in laser communications technology, Transcelestial’s CENTAURI platform will help catalyze the adoption of 5G communications, a key enabler for the next wave of growth in the digital economy, including areas such as smart cities, industry 4.0 and urban mobility.”

“Transcelestial has created a patent-pending terrestrial laser communications system that can deliver over 10 gigabits per second even during heavy rains. What’s even more impressive is that the team achieved this in two years with only $1.8M in seed capital by combining proprietary software with off-the-shelf hardware components,” said Paul Santos, Managing Partner at Wavemaker Partners.

“Transcelestial has also received solid commercial interest from corporates all over the region, which is a testament to the strength of the product and the team,” he added.

The Transcelestial team believes that an orbit-based distribution approach can resolve the first two global Internet distribution problems, and is working to develop a constellation of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit with the aim of delivering ultra-high-speed backbone network connectivity.

The key element will be the usage of Transcelestial’s Wireless Laser Communication Technology to deliver end-to-end fiber-equivalent speeds, according to the press release.

This is Airbus’ first investment in Singapore and the firm plans to open new offices in the country in partnership with Transcelestial’s other investors.

“Space-based laser communications is the future of Internet connectivity happening right at our doorstep. With the backdrop of burgeoning growth in Southeast Asia, we believe that Transcelestial’s Wireless Laser Communication Technology will disrupt and enable unprecedented connectivity within the region and beyond,” said Chng Zhen Hao, CEO of Cap Vista.

“More than that, we see Transcelestial playing a key role in putting Singapore Spacetech on the map, and seeding the growth of the regional Spacetech ecosystem as well,” he added.

Top: Transcelestial Technologies Founder and CEO Rohit Jha

Header Image courtesy of Transcelestial Technologies

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