Private wireless startup Celona wants to make cellular as easy and economical for the enterprise as Wi-Fi, and the company just banked an additional $30 million from investors who see the same potential. The company’s Series B round, which brings its total capital raised to $40 million, was led by two venture capital firms that are part of the wireless industry, NTTVC and Qualcomm Ventures. It also included Celona’s previous investors, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Norwest Venture Partners and Cervin Ventures.
“It was somewhat intentional to have a mix of Silicon Valley traditional VCs and somebody who is deeply entrenched in this new emerging private 5G world, like Qualcomm and NTT,” said Celona CEO and Co-founder Rajeev Shah. “We see this really opening up some important doors for us as a startup.”
Opening doors is a huge part of the private wireless play because most enterprise customers don’t go directly to network equipment vendors looking for solutions – they call their systems integrators or value-added resellers. These relationships are key to Celona; the company already has several in place, and the alliances with Qualcomm and NTT could bring more.
CBRS changes everything
Now that CBRS spectrum is available to US companies, interest in private LTE and private 5G is skyrocketing. Shah said enterprises are eager for a wireless technology that supports more security, mobility and reliability than Wi-Fi 6. But until now many companies have been hesitant to invest in cellular because of the complexity.
“People say ‘we want private LTE and private 5G, but we need it in a way that is familiar to us, that we can control, that we can operate.'” said Shah. “That’s kind of where we come in.”
Celona’s goal is the integration of cellular wireless functions with existing enterprise IT and cloud infrastructures. “What we are realizing is that there are these two massive technology ecosystems of enterprise networking infrastructure and cellular networks that are really coming together,” said Shah. “It almost feels like two different languages are being spoken sometimes, and we feel like that is always the recipe that gives a newcomer an opportunity.”
Shah and his co-founder, Mehmet Yavuz, may be well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. Shah led product management and marketing at Aruba and Federated Wireless, one of Celona’s CBRS spectrum management providers. Yavuz has held leadership roles at Qualcomm and Ruckus Wireless, now part of CommScope. They both have deep understanding of cellular networks coupled with experience working for companies that sell directly to the enterprise.
Celona’s founders have seen a role for cellular in the enterprise for years, and now CBRS is making it much more achievable. Celona said in a press release that it plans to use the $30 million to “capitalize on fundamental changes within the enterprise market created by the availability of the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the United States – a development widely viewed as the most significant development in enterprise wireless since Wi-Fi.”
Shah said that in some deployment scenarios, the cost of private wireless can be comparable to Wi-Fi on a dollar-per-square-foot basis. “This concept of bringing cellular networks to the enterprise certainly seems to have gotten some serious traction,” he said. “We continue to believe that it is the natural next step for enterprise wireless.”