There's a growing market for private cellular networks, or dedicated cell networks configured to support a company's specific requirements within a confined area (think a warehouse or wind farm). For example, some mining and energy companies have adopted private cellular networks to help facilitate operations that span over significant distances, where the increased range of cellular offers advantages compared to the Wi-Fi alternatives.
A number of major vendors provide private cellular network services, including AT&T and T-Mobile, as do some startups, including Celona, Anterix and Airspan Networks. (Recently, asset management giant BlackRock announced that it'll deploy a private network at its new headquarters in partnership with Verizon.) But that hasn't stopped new ventures from cropping up to challenge the incumbents. See Expeto, which is developing a platform that allows corporate customers to extend their private networks via virtually any type of cellular connectivity.
Demonstrating that there's investor appetite for upstarts in the market, Expeto this week closed a $13 million Series B round led by Sorenson Capital with participation from 5G Open Innovation Lab, Samsung Next and Mistral Venture Partners. Bringing Expeto's total raised to over $25 million (inclusive of $5 million in debt financing), the proceeds will be put toward product R&D as well as customer and partner acquisition, according to CEO Michael Anderson.
"Large, mission-critical enterprises in sectors like energy, mining and manufacturing need mobile connectivity to support next-gen use cases. But today, mobile operator connectivity is hard to buy, integrate and manage," Anderson told TechCrunch in an email interview. "If they want connectivity, enterprises have to deal with this mobile network operator (MNO) over here and that MNO over there ... Expeto lets enterprises manage mobile connectivity as if it were part of their own network."
Co-founded in 2015 by Terje Strand, Ryley MacKenzie and Brian Baird, with Anderson coming onboard in 2020, Expeto doesn't sell cell service. Instead, it offers tools to enable companies to manage multiple private cellular networks, including 3G, 4G and 5G networks, from a single pane of glass. Expeto supports managing network policies in addition to monitoring network usage and performance, and it is designed to work from behind a corporate firewall, in a private or public cloud, at the edge or from a geographically remote site depending on the use case requirements.
"With Expeto, enterprises see just one network -- no matter how many mobile network operators or deployment sites they're managing," Anderson said. "[They can deliver] mobility for any type of device using just a single SIM [card], maintain network device privileges across different connectivity types and physical sites [and] make real-time, self-service changes to the mobile networks they manage."
Expeto currently has "more than" 20 customers supporting over 50 private wireless sites, according to Anderson, who wouldn't reveal revenue figures when asked. He claims that the pandemic has driven "significant demand" for Expeto's products as companies embrace automation and remote operations, even as some organizations look to reduce costs in the face of economic uncertainty.
To his point, there appears to be high interest among the enterprise in deploying private cell networks. A recent by TECHnalysis Research survey of over 600 IT decision-makers found that nearly three-quarters believe their company will eventually use a private 5G network. A separate report from ABI Research estimates that the market for 5G private networks will reach $47.5 billion in 2030, up from $3.7 billion in 2021.
"Because Expeto's use cases are associated with meaningful and relevant advances in operational efficiencies and growth initiatives, we have not experienced significant headwinds and we continue to sell on the basis of the savings and efficiencies Expeto's platform uniquely enables," Anderson said. "We plan to raise our next round of capital in the second half of 2024. We determined that the best approach to continue our high-growth momentum is a financial structure comprising equity and debt with focus and accountability to deliver differentiated growth, innovation and references from recognized leaders in multiple vertical markets."
Samsung Next's Andy Duong argues that Expeto is "uniquely positioned" to scale by leveraging its customer base as a distribution channel. The long-term play could be collaborating with cell providers to sell additional services; Expeto already works with Nokia and Ericsson for their radio access networks, the parts of mobile networks that connect devices like smartphones to the cloud.
"We invested in Expeto because it simplifies enterprise networking over private and public mobile networks," he added. "While 5G's network slices can be customized to meet the service-level agreement for emerging connected applications, they also bring additional complexities in network management. This is made easier thanks to Expeto's cloud-based platform that enables hybrid private mobile networks for enterprise customers."