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Skylark Wireless to hire, expand manufacturing capabilities ahead of wider commercial rollout – The Business Journals

A local startup is scaling up for commercial sales of its 5G wireless network technology, which has caught the attention of internet service providers and the defense sector.
Ryan Guerra, co-founder and CEO of Skylark Wireless, said the company’s technology is being used to expand broadband internet access in places that have historically lacked reliable connectivity. After being born out of Rice University, Skylark focused on early-stage adopters of its technology, like the military. While Skylark’s work for the military continues, the company is also doubling down on its commercial sales efforts.
Skylark has mainly worked and developed its radio platforms out of the garage of a three-story townhome near Midtown. Late last year, the company leased space in the East End Maker Hub to allow for more rapid prototyping, components sourcing and warehousing, unit staging and final assembly of its products.
Houston-based Skylark Wireless develops wireless technology that transmits data across vacant frequencies typically used by broadcast television stations. Using proprietary massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technologies, Skylark’s software-defined radio systems can connect users over 1,000 square miles from a single tower.
A good portion of Skylark’s seed funding to develop and pilot its technology came from awards from the National Science Foundation, Guerra said. The company has also received awards from the U.S. Air Force: Skylark and Rice are studying spectrum sharing between 5G systems and Department of Defense systems in an $11.7 million project through the Air Force’s Other Transaction Authority (OTA) consortium.
“If they’re buying equipment that’s off the shelf, it’s cheaper for them, it’s more reliable and they love that,” Guerra said. “That was also good for us: We wanted to develop a commercial product, but the DOD was able to help us by being that early adopter.”
Skylark is employing a business-to-business model and targeting sales with internet service providers. Skylark can sell its capabilities to the retail consumer-facing ISPs, which can then offer rural customers options with faster and more reliable connectivity. Some of those rural areas might lack a good ISP, so Skylark ended up forming a subsidiary company — Skylark Broadband — to serve as that reliable ISP in specific markets. Through a project with the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, Skylark Broadband is looking to roll out service to around 4,000 households, Guerra said.
With a team of 26 full- and part-time employees, Skylark is also bursting at the seams of its Midtown-area townhome headquarters, Guerra said. The company is looking at a larger commercial office space in Houston to house its growing team. Skylark is looking to add more team members to its sales and support teams as the company installs more and more units in the field.
As Skylark works to increase commercial customers, the company wants to expand its in-house manufacturing capabilities, Guerra said. The cost of owning a manufacturing line was too high when the company was smaller and producing fewer units, but Skylark wants to bring manufacturing much closer as it scales.
“It’s going to be our first wide-scale commercial product and we need to ramp up production, testing, quality control, deliveries and lifecycle management within a space of six months,” Guerra said. “We’ve built thousands of radios to date, but now we need to do it in a very short amount of time and very high volume.”
Broadband access became even more top-of-mind for the public and policymakers as millions of Americans worked from home or engaged in some form of “distance learning” from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Once you have a high-speed broadband internet connection, all modern services run through that,” Guerra said. “Telehealth, education and remote learning, even just entertainment, being able to talk to people on the other side of the world anytime you want: That all requires a high-speed broadband connection today.”
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