Industry Spotlight: SmartCIC CEO Toby Forman

April 8th, 2024 by · Leave a Comment

Whereas the rollout of 4G had a huge effect on the consumer marketplace, with 5G we are seeing the enterprise market in position to take advantage.  That means an opportunity for new players to come in with new ways of delivering wireless services to that market.  SmartCIC has been doing that in Europe and the US with its sights set on a growing number of markets globally.  With us today to talk about the opportunity in cellular intelligence and fixed wireless access Toby Forman, Co-Founder and CEO of SmartCIC Global Services and SmartCIC Technologies.  

TR: What is your background and what led you to found SmartCIC?

TF: I do not have a traditional background, I’m more of a streetwise type of guy, a bit of a disruptor. My background is actually in marketing, and you could call me a disillusioned marketeer.  I went from marketing to digital brand protection, where I built an anti-fraud solution back in the early 2000s, which is where my interest in technology began. Later I decided to build my own business providing field services solutions to tour operators in the Alps here in France where I have lived for 20 years.  That business grew from being a French domestic business into an international business and then became a B2B business working with large carriers.  We aggregate connectivity for customers, whether it’s DIA, FTTx, DSL, or cellular.  We have a network of around 25,000 partner engineers around the world to do the delivery part of what our customers need: demarcation extensions, hardware provisioning, installations, and maintenance so that effectively our customers have a true end-to-end solution.

TR: You have been investing in fixed wireless services, how does that fit into your approach?

TF: For us the definition of fixed wireless is using publicly available cellular networks as a broadband replacement service. We are not talking about point-to-point microwaves, which can be confusing. That means that you can be agile in terms of how you deliver. You can be disruptive because instead of waiting for a wireline solution to come in, you can deliver in days rather than weeks. And that’s essentially our sort of global proposition and what we deliver against for our customers. It’s a fully managed service.  Our SLA is different in different parts of the world. In Europe, we can be anywhere in 48 hours with an engineer, SIM card, router, antennas, etc. In North America, we can be anywhere in 5 working days. And then outside of the US internationally, we can be there in 10 working days.

TR: SmartCIC is expanding its presence in the US, how does that fit into your business? 

TF: The US has already been a core market for us for our international business, but we’ve realized that there’s a real opportunity to build a sustainable business in the US around the delivery of fixed wireless solutions and field services. We started in 2021, but it’s taken us a couple of years to get ourselves sorted out and understand what our strategy is, which is to use master agents. We have appointed our first master agent, TMR, in October of last year.  Abundant IoT came on board at the beginning of this year. We are doing a lot of marketing and attending a lot of shows. We believe there is a huge opportunity in the States for these types of services.  There are other players in the marketplace, but I think it’s a fairly nascent market. I think the perception of cellular connectivity in the States has been tainted a lot by the way in which LTE was rolled out and how effective it has been in the States. With networks now rolling out 5G, even low-band 5G, we’re beginning to see performance that really works. From a channel perspective, we think there is an opportunity to make money through us.  There is a huge opportunity in 5G.

TR: How do you measure that performance?

TF: There are two parts to our CELLSMART proposition. The first part is the fixed wireless. The second is actually the intelligence that sits within SmartCIC Technologies. We have developed a performance testing methodology and technology that goes out and actually tests these networks. We ran a big campaign last year called Drive to really understand the performance of the three major carriers across the US. And we’re continuing that effort this year.

TR: How does it work?

TF: It’s a bit like Google’s Street View, but for cellular.  We have a car that is running speed tests every 60 seconds and capturing RF data every half second. What that is telling us is that the networks that are being built out by the operators in the US are becoming capable of supporting these types of technologies.  They are delivering the bandwidth that enterprises need in order to be able to use that type of access technology. We also have roof-mounted equipment that collects information, and we have backpacks as well, which enable us to go into buildings.

TR: Was this a one-time thing or will you continue to monitor that performance?

TF: The technology part of our business is something that we’re building up.  We’re talking to customers about delivering information and intelligence to them on an ongoing basis.  We are putting together a plan for our NFL City survey where we will go to each city four times a year.  We will test to see how the networks are developing and provide insight and intelligence. We will contrast that against a similar program that we’re running in Europe in the top 20 soccer cities.  We can look at performance from a country-by-country point of view both for MNOs and soon also MVNOs.  But we’re also looking at MVNOs. We are also investing in building out our AI engine that will enable us to predict the performance of cellular networks.

TR: How do you leverage that information internally?

TF: At the end of the day, we have a unique insight into how networks are operating. When we’re selling fixed wireless access, we certainly use that intelligence to underscore and to be able to work with our customers to find out whether the applications that they want to run over that technology will work or not. That’s really important because we’re an incredibly transparent business in that respect. We’re not going to sell our customers a solution that isn’t going to work. We want to understand what applications they want to run and what their expectations are.  Then we can use that intelligence to help temper that discussion. From a delivery perspective, we’ll also use that intelligence so that our engineers are primed with the right SIM cards from the right operators when they go on-site to install.

TR: What do you think might drive adoption of this alternative access technology in the US?

TF: Operators are not going to monetize the amount of investment that they’re making in 5G unless they can bring enterprises on board. You can’t do it by just enabling consumers to download a Netflix movie 10 times faster than they could before. And enterprises want to be disruptive, to be agile and flexible. Fixed line connectivity is sometimes a pain to get installed, and we know that because we’re in that business. Instead, we can get a site online with a primary connection that is stable and enterprise-capable within days. We believe we’ve got the right solution to be able to deliver that for an enterprise in the US.

TR: Are there particular verticals are you seeing traction with?

TF: We are seeing a lot of large-scale retail rollouts, like gas stations, for example, effectively, there is a desire to be able to connect locations as quickly as possible. When customers are rolling out SD-WAN overlay, they can’t monetize that overlay until the underlay is in.

TR: Do you find that customers intend to use this cellular replacement technology all the time, or are some using it temporarily until the fiber arrives?

TF: I think we’re too early in what we’re doing in the US to tell, but certainly in Europe, what we’re seeing is a mix. For example, we rolled out 600 sites in Germany and Poland, for a major petrochemical brand. Now 60% of those sites are remaining on fixed wireless because the connectivity is stable enough to support that, while at 40% of those sites the fixed wireless is being downgraded from primary to secondary when a wireline solution comes in. I fully expect exactly the same thing to happen in the US.

TR: For your international business, are there any parts of the world you see opportunities to expand into?

TF: Africa is huge for us as a potential opportunity. It’s on our doorstep from Europe, and we’re already investing. We have undertaken some charitable activities, and we have two people that are already based in Africa: a service delivery manager based in Cameroon and a salesperson based in Johannesburg, South Africa. From a pure development point of view, it’s a very low base.  Over the next five to six years, the landscape’s going to change a lot in terms of the arterial network that needs to take place for people to be able to benefit from the digital economy that is starting to evolve. We are going to be there to be able to support customers who want to take advantage of that.

I think the Middle East is interesting because it’s beginning to open up. That presents an opportunity for us to come in and help customers understand how they can navigate the intricacies of working in a very complex environment. Relatively speaking, Western Europe is easy. When you start getting outside of Western Europe and places like the US, you need experts on the grounds who know the markets and that’s what we have.

We operate in Asia and we’re doing a lot of work in Australia and New Zealand.  From a strategic standpoint, Singapore is an interesting target.  We will probably look to invest there probably in the next two years.

TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!

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Categories: Industry Spotlight · Wireless

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