What happens when an old customer contacts you with a tricky problem? You build a business to solve it, of course.
That’s the back story behind 5G Open Innovation Labs (5G OIL) startup partner, Firecell. The company, which focuses on democratizing private networks for the enterprise, was founded just 18 months ago by serial entrepreneurs Claude Seyrat, Olivier Dhotel, Ulla Saari and Cedric Thienot. In less than two years, Firecell’s team has grown to 27 people and the company has built a fast-growing roster of 30+ customers including some of the most dominant brand names in Europe and North America.
The company that brought them the initial problem? It became Firecell’s first customer.
Firecell’s private mobile network “4G/5G in a box” is a dedicated mobile network for private use. It allows companies and/or government organizations to connect machines, vehicles, people on campus, in a factory or on a difficult site, separate from public networks.
“We realized very early on that if IT departments understand Wi-Fi, they aren’t afraid of installing our solution,” explains Firecell Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) Olivier Dhotel. “And so everything we do is to make our solution as affordable and as simple as Wi-Fi. We also wanted to offer a solution at a very affordable price point to limit barriers to enterprise adoption.”
Olivier remarks that Firecell’s customers are quite different from those the founders expected when they first launched the company. About 50 percent of the company’s business is coming from the United States and because the business positions itself as a way to provide small private networks, it has attracted the attention of the expected manufacturing, logistics and enterprise customers but also, customers in military/defence and the transportation sector.
Inside the Firecell “box” customers will find a server with pre-installed software providing the equivalent of an access point, as well as several SIM cards and cables. The solution can be up and running in as little as 15 minutes in a lab and up and running as a mini network in a small facility in just two days. Firecell’s 4G/5G Labkit pricing starts at around $25,000 US. The company’s Orion Private 5G network for a small facility or pilot project starts at around $39,000 US. Both solutions can be easily purchased from the company’s website.
“The Labkit product originally was designed for lab use, to help organizations test, demo and educate around 5G. However, because the solution’s core is built with open-source software, it provides a level of transparency and flexibility to any big client who might want to use it for a broader application with fairly ambitious needs. So after that initial product, we built a second solution, called Orion, that is a small network ideal for 4G/5G pilot implementations, with a few access points and robust indoor/outdoor connectivity,” explains Olivier. “As we control the whole software stack, we are able to work on some very advanced use cases. For instance, with one customer, we have developed very precise indoor tracking using a 5G network with one-metre precision. For another transportation customer, we have built a 5G-enabled time-sensitive network that allows for very low latency, and high throughput. With a network of this calibre, customers can pilot mobile robots and automatic guided vehicles, and interface directly with machines, which could allow them in the future to eliminate the need for ethernet cables.”
These use cases are fueling Firecell’s product roadmap and that is opening up the possibility for the company to affordably address a wide array of customers in multiple industry sectors.
Olivier discovered 5G OI through a LinkedIn post. “It immediately sounded like the right ecosystem for us,” he says. Participation in the Lab’s ecosystem is giving Firecell a much-needed US presence and entry into the US market.
“It has opened doors that by ourselves would probably not have opened otherwise,” he admits. This has led to interesting conversations with 5G OIL partners such as T-Mobile and VMWare as well as several venture capital (VC) firms.
The next big thing for Firecell will be to build out the company’s channel partner network. The team is currently in discussions with some large B2B telcos in Europe and the plan is to go to market together in Q2 of 2023.
“This is a big step for our company. It will give us a higher level of credibility, greater experience and greater access to a broad market,” says Olivier.
The 4G/5G private network market is ripe for growth and it's an opportunity the Firecell team is eager to capitalize upon.
Says Olivier “We’re small. We have low overhead. We have zero red tape. And we’re hungry to conquer the world.”
Posted February 28, 2023