Extend 3G Into Corporate Buildings

Wifi point to point

Image via Wikipedia

Cell site
Image via Wikipedia

I was lucky recently to meet some of the chaps behind the launch of SpiderCloud. They are offering a “Radio Access Network” or RAN solution to extended mobile coverage within larger organisations and are at pains to point out that this is not a Femtocell solution. Unlike the current fad, the Enterprise-RAN solution from SpiderCloud connects securely with the operator network over existing internet capacity and effectively extends cell coverage within a building. Uniquely it can then switch voice and data traffic over the (hosting) company’s existing fixed and IP infrastructures, as well as providing what is in effect additional cell capacity on the operator’s network for traditional mobile traffic. The user’s handset registers with the E-RAN node and is recognised within the Location Registers of the operator as normal. SpiderCloud’s access control mechanisms determine whether the handset is recognised as a company phone and traffic / call requests routed accordingly. The HLR registration with the operator ensures that incoming voice is also received and handled correctly.

The devices are installed locally and are akin to WiFI access points (and reportedly for similar costs). Where they seem to score over femto- and picocell technology is the intelligence built into the spectrum management software of the central Services Control device which manages the individual Radio Nodes. Gone are the competitive signal power battles endemic in the femto- solutions which can have a detrimental effect on nearby commercial cell sites. The E-RAN nodes are an extension of the operator’s network and hence SpiderCloud’s selling model will be through major network operators – looking not only to extend their network but to offload traffic from their backhaul and core networks to save on expansion costs. Certainly data capacity is very much an issue in the UK and in other European locations, as the tidal-wave effects of wider BlackBerry and iPhone use are exacerbated by newer, sexier models which continue to find their way into business use.

The system appears to include interconnection using VoIP (SIP) to traditional fixed infrastructures to route ‘on-net’ calls. As a step towards fixed-mobile-convergence, this could be a goer. With desktop phone extensions alone costing £200 plus, and PABX installations stretching to £1,000 per desk plus maintenance and usage, companies could eliminate proportions of their fixed infrastructure and move employees to mobile handsets without incurring increased mobile spend. Hot-desking and remote working still apply but perhaps with more efficiencies using the SmartCloud offering. It would be interesting to see how a working solution integrates with Microsoft OCS or Cisco to provide a complete solution. With imagination from the operators, might such technology convince orgranisations to ditch their fixed infrastructure ? Highly unlikely, but this could be a useful FMC stepping stone.

The SpiderCloud approach opens up some intriguing business models. For example, the hosting company is effectively housing the operator’s network – space, installation, power and network capacity. There could be a business model that sees payments (or at least subsidies) back to the customer. Rather awkwardly, their website describes their technology as ‘disruptive’ but I think it unwise to use this VC-catching buzzword in the context of radio and 3G networks. Ho Hum.

The company was launched in California last week with VC backing from Charles River Ventures, Matrix Partners and Opus Capital. Some of the main players are from mobile broadband provider Flarion (now Qualcomm) so the pedigree is there. They are not due to start shipping kit until well into 2010 but worth watching to see what happens with this product.