There is a growing market for private cellular networks, or dedicated cellular networks that are configured to support a company’s specific requirements within a confined area (such as a warehouse or wind farm). For example, some mining and energy companies have adopted private cellular networks to help facilitate operations that extend over great distances, as the increased range of cellular phones provides advantages over Wi-Fi alternatives.
A number of major vendors offer private cellular network services, including AT&T and T-Mobile, as do some startups, including Celona Networks, Anterix, and Airspan. (More recently, asset management giant BlackRock announced that it would deploy a private network at its new headquarters in partnership with Verizon.) But that hasn’t stopped new projects from springing up to challenge the incumbents. Check out Expeto, which is developing a platform that allows corporate customers to extend their private networks over almost any type of cellular connection.
Proving that there is investor appetite for startups in the market, Expeto this week closed a $12 million Series B round led by Sorenson Capital with participation from the 5G Open Innovation Lab, Samsung Next and Mistral Venture Partners. Bringing Expeto’s total to more than $25 million (including $5 million in debt financing), proceeds will be directed toward product research and development as well as customer and partner acquisitions, according to CEO Michael Anderson.
Large, mission-critical organizations in sectors such as energy, mining, and manufacturing need mobile connectivity to support next-generation use cases. “Today, it’s more difficult to buy, integrate and manage a mobile operator’s connection,” Anderson told TechCrunch in an email interview. “If they want to connect, companies have to deal with a mobile network operator (MNO) here and this MNO there… Expeto allows organizations to manage their mobile connection as if it were part of their own network.”
Founded in 2015 by Terje Strand, Ryley MacKenzie, and Brian Baird, with Anderson joining in 2020, Expeto does not sell cellular service. Instead, it provides tools to enable businesses to manage multiple private cellular networks, including 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, from a single pane of glass. Expeto supports managing network policies as well as monitoring network usage and performance, and is designed to operate behind a corporate firewall, in a private or public cloud, on the edge or from a geographically remote location depending on the requirements of the use case.
“With Expeto, companies only see one network — no matter how many mobile operators or publishing sites they run,” Anderson said. “[They can deliver] Mobility for any type of device with just one SIM card [card]Maintain network device privileges across different connection types and physical locations [and] Make self-service changes in real time on the mobile networks they manage.”
Expeto currently has “more than” 20 customers supporting more than 50 private wireless sites, according to Anderson, who did not disclose revenue numbers when asked. He claims the pandemic has led to “excessive demand” for Expeto’s products as companies embrace automation and remote operations, even as some organizations look to cut costs in the face of economic uncertainty.
To his point, there seems to be a lot of interest among the establishment in deploying private cellular networks. A recent survey of more than 600 IT decision makers by TECHnalysis Research found that nearly three-quarters of them believe their company will eventually use a private 5G network. A separate report from ABI Research estimates that the 5G private network market will reach $47.5 billion in 2030, up from $3.7 billion in 2021.
“Because Expeto use cases are linked to meaningful and relevant developments in operational efficiencies and growth initiatives, we have not encountered significant headwinds and continue to sell based on the savings and efficiencies that the Expeto platform uniquely enables,” said Anderson. “We plan to raise our next round of capital in the second half of 2024. We have determined that the best approach to continue our high growth momentum is a financial structure that includes equity and debt with a focus and accountability for differentiated growth, innovation and references from recognized leaders in multiple vertical markets.” .
Andy Duong of Samsung Next says Expeto is “uniquely positioned” to expand by leveraging its customer base as a distribution channel. Long-term play can be cooperation with cell providers to sell additional services; Expeto is already working with Nokia and Ericsson for their wireless access networks, which are parts of mobile networks that connect devices like smartphones to the cloud.
“We invested in Expeto because it simplifies enterprise networks across private and public mobile networks,” he added. “While 5G network chips can be customized to meet SLAs for emerging connected applications, they also bring additional complexities in network management. This is made easier thanks to Expeto’s cloud-based platform enabling hybrid private mobile networks for enterprise customers.”