Silicon Valley 3G femtocell startup SpiderCloud Wireless just closed a big $35 million funding round, but it’s about to reveal a deal arguably of much bigger importance. On Thursday, SpiderCloud will announce a new contract with one of the world’s biggest telecom infrastructure makers, NEC, to supply its enterprise small cell technology to carriers around the world.
SpiderCloud is in the femtocell business, though its executives blanch when you use the ‘F’ word. Femtocells have a reputation for being interference-causing dumb little base stations that don’t play nicely with each other, making them practically useless for large-scale deployments. SpiderCloud likes to call its products small cells, and in truth it has developed something akin to a femto cloud, where hundreds of tiny indoor cellular nodes can share the same airwaves.
It’s that ability to scale that makes SpiderCloud so appealing to Japanese vendor NEC, said Martin Guthrie, head of NEC’s business development team in Europe. NEC has built a sizable business selling residential and small business femtocells to carriers with its partner Ubiquisys, but it hasn’t been able to expand into covering large buildings or campuses because of the interference issue, Guthrie said.
“We were never really able to play in the very large enterprise space,” Guthrie said. “For us that makes SpiderCloud a perfect fit.”
The large enterprise is also particularly appealing to NEC because those big business contracts allow it to make full use of its small cell gateway. The small cell controller acts like an intelligent switch in an enterprise 3G network, offering up services and security features that wouldn’t normally be available over a public mobile network. For instance, NEC can offer virtual PBX capabilities, turning employees smartphones into office extensions as soon as they enter the private network.
The controller can even grant different levels of access depending on where an employee is in the network. For example, anyone on a top floor executive level may have access to confidential documents stored on corporate servers, but as soon as they leave that floor those files would be wiped from their smartphones or tablets.
For SpiderCloud, the deal represents a huge opportunity for SpiderCloud to get in front of the world’s largest carriers, who are ultimately the ones building these private networks for their business customers, CMO Ronny Haraldsvik said. SpiderCloud has shown that it can land big deals on its own – it is working directly with the world’s largest operator by revenue Vodafone. But in general, carriers are very insular creatures, preferring to work with a limited set of big network vendors.
NEC may not have the scale of an Ericsson in the overall mobile infrastructure market, but it is a leader in the femtocells, ranking among the world’s top vendors, according to Infonetics. NEC’s equipment supports about 1 million femto connections, and its customers include Japan’s Softbank Mobile, France’s SFR, 3 U.K and Russia’s MTS and MegaFon.