Intucell, an Israeli startup, has raised $6 million in a Series A round led by Bessemer Ventures. The company, which was founded in 2008, is one of several helping transform telecommunications networks to handle a wider array of base stations and methods of connecting back to the web.
Intucell’s technology uses idle cell phones to provide information about a network’s configuration and then automatically and in real-time helps adjust the network’s parameters to deliver a better user experience for customers. It doesn’t require a client installed on each cell phone, but instead senses the RF disruptions caused by idle handsets to map out where demand is likely to come from and how the network will react to it. Then its software installed in the core network can tell the equipment to take action; for example, shrinking the coverage area of a tower if it’s particularly overwhelmed. Such technology radically changes the game for operators, who generally perform network tweaks and adaptations in days as opposed to minutes. They also use network engineers as opposed to algorithms.
In short, Intucell helps make cellular networks scalable, a feat that becomes more and more important as mobile data demand skyrockets. It’s no longer enough to have some spectrum and a pipe to the web. Now, that pipe back to the web, or backhaul, has to be fiber and even then networks are still becoming overwhelmed. Soon operators will not only have Wi-Fi offload, but will marry that Wi-Fi closer to their networks to provide easier handoffs. They will also add small base stations in metro areas in the form of picocells or femtocells.
But multiple networks and more base stations, as well as more demand, are forcing operators to undergo a shift similar to what the data center saw as the demand for computing began to overwhelm the profits and abilities of systems administrators to handle it. For example, when it took one person to manage 10 servers, owning 500 was an investment, but now with corporations owning tens of thousands, such a ratio would constrain demand. So places that required a lot of computing adapted and came up with new architectures and software that helped become the redundant, autonomic and cloud-based computing centers familiar today.
That same shift will have to happen in the mobile networks, and Intucell is just one company that will help make this shift a reality. Its technology allows for a self-optimized network that can adapt to user demand in real-time, a feature that Daniel Deeney, a partner at New Venture Partners had called for when speaking with me last year about Verizon’s $1.3 billion fund for startups that will help the operator advance its Long Term Evolution network. Intucell has already convinced a few undisclosed mobile operators to use its software.
“The traditional way of managing networks are not effective anymore, said Rani Wellingstein, CEO of Intucell. “Operators now have this data crunch and need to develop new operational models to run the network. Traffic is more dynamic, the growth in data requires more capacity and much faster response times, and revenue aren’t going to increase. Operators must add automation to the way they manage the network.”
This area is ripe for startup activity, from deeply technical solutions that enable operators to manage more complicated networks without increasing spending — or cram more bits into a megahertz of spectrum to boost capacity — to logistical solutions such as improving billing, so that operators can introduce congestion pricing or upsell subscribers in real-time. Mobile networks are changing, and in the next few years, we’ll see the startups emerge that hope to take advantage of that. At least I hope so. Because otherwise mobile innovation is headed toward a wall.
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