OpenCell is the first multi-operator, indoor mobile signal solution provider, for small cells, in the UK. As an influencer of international groups, investing in the future of infrastructure connectivity, Opencell is able to provide a highly secure and fully managed signal solution. Ensuring everyone has got network.
The European spoke to CEO Graham Payne, about the many benefits of engaging with the firm’s solutions.
A team of well-connected, telecoms professionals and engineers are behind OpenCell. How has this pool of experience enabled the business to grow from a startup?
Graham Payne: First and foremost, our connections and professional backgrounds were what enabled us to secure the first fully licenced, multi-operator, in-building signal solution with all four of the UK mobile operators. As our solution enables reliable in-building mobile signal, all the network providers needed to be certain that the system would be properly designed, installed and maintained. The users that benefit from our service are also the operator’s customers, so we needed to assure them all that neither their brand nor customer service experience would be tarnished. From our first large pilot site in October 2015, we have become a trusted partner to all the operators.
Paul Graham founded OpenCell in 2014 following success running a business providing signal boosters. His customers kept pressing him for a fully legal, more reliable solution. Over the years, he had built up his industry contacts, so at this point he reached out to Nick Brown (another OpenCell director) who was working at IP Access. Nick had been involved in Small Cell technology development and had a wealth of technical, backhaul and transmission design experience.
With the technical and on-site engineering background elements of the business organised, Paul and Nick knew that they needed to connect with the network operators. At this point they reached out to me and OpenCell’s Chairman Chris Burke. I was previously Director of T-Mobile and then the MD of MBNL. Together Chris and I had a lot of network connections and Chris also had a lot of previous experience in helping startups. He was invaluable in laying the foundations for the business.
A year on, once completing the pilot sites and developing contracts with all four operators – we now have 34 customer sites ordered with 22 already live.
How has OpenCell pioneered an in-building mobile signal solution to work anywhere in the UK without the use of signal boosters?
GP: The key to our solution is that our small cells connect to the mobile operator’s networks; and we’ll only switch them on if the operators have opened the port for our cells on their network. In this respect, the operator is fully in control of the network and our Femto cell system is, in effect, an extension of their network. For context, it’s important to understand that the background of the mobile signal booster industry has historically been a host of very poor quality equipment – often poorly installed and poorly maintained, if at all. This has caused a lot of problems for the businesses that have invested in these systems. Similarly, these systems cause problems for operators too. During my time at T-Mobile, I experienced first-hand how an illegal system can interfere with a legal signal.
Ofcom rightly organised a purge of these systems and put in place a £5,000 fine and possible jail time for anyone caught using signal boosters. However, with the rising societal reliance on our connected devices, there were many instances when businesses needed to provide access to mobile signal in their buildings. This combined with increasingly strict environmental requirements for building materials and processes, landlords and business owners were finding that they had little or no indoor signal once the newer, more energy efficient windows were installed. It was our founding ambition to resolve these challenges through OpenCell.
With instant mobile communication now an essential part of any business, how has OpenCell adapted and what are the next steps in its development?
GP: I think OpenCell is born of this demand. Many of our earliest customers are providing different forms of hospitality, workplace and leisure environments. They are all very different businesses, but what they all have in common is a lot of different people congregating together in buildings for new experiences and to make things happen. This shows that for any business, it’s now incredibly difficult to provide a rounded customer experience without providing reliable mobile signal too. One of our customer’s customers found out what we did and said to our engineer onsite: “Oh you’re OpenCell, you’re doing God’s work!”
One of our industry partners WiredScore run the Wired Certification programme, endorsed by the Mayor of London. This is a way for building owners to have their building certified based on its level of wireless connectivity. The fact that this certification exists is testament to the recognised importance of indoor connectivity.
Though we are making great strides with businesses managing redevelopments and refurbs, we would like to see the early involvement of OpenCell when planning a new build. Many businesses are still unaware that there is a legal, multi-operator solution available and therefore do not engage us early enough in the process. Therefore, this means the solution cost needs to be retroactively figured into build budgets, which is difficult for project managers and there is a missed opportunity to increase the overall value of any building before sale.
How does your technology protect against data security breaches?
GP: Security is very important and by design is one of the key advantages of our solution. Our Femto cell system is an enabler of mobile connectivity, the security of our system for voice calls and messages is as fully encrypted and highly secure as your mobile device. Without wanting to get too technical, our connection to the mobile networks is controlled by a private VPN and IPsec tunnel going over the internet. Known as an end-to-end solution, it’s impossible to break into because the connection will be severed if there is even a hint of risk or a breach.
Many businesses are opting for a mobile-first phone solution. Can your services provide this?
GP: Absolutely, bring-your-own-device schemes are increasingly popular. The days of separate workplace and personal mobile phones are certainly not behind us – but the desire and need to be well connected on both, wherever you are, is irrefutable. In fact, it’s been said that mobile connectivity is the new utility for our modern way of life.
Because our solutions are a managed service too, we provide 24/7 monitoring of our customer’s indoor signal levels. The reality is that 90% of possible problems can be fixed remotely, however this is sensitive technical equipment so we also have specialist engineers who will be on site within a day to resolve individual equipment faults.
It’s also worth noting that the network’s collaboration on a 4G rollout in the UK (with a roadmap to 5G service) is in full swing so now is a great time to think about how to take advantage of this country-wide increased connectivity.
Do you have any new projects planned for 2017?
GP: Yes and though we can’t name new client names, because of commercial sensitivity, we’re projecting significant growth this year. The types of customers we’re working with are expanding in interesting ways too. Current OpenCell customers include community workplace providers WeWork and Workspace; premium hotels brands like Hilton and Claridge’s and a top-tier casino, among other unique leisure venues.
This year our pipeline of projects includes: private rental schemes, co-living spaces, shopping centres, sports clubs, high-net-worth individual’s private homes and even factories and warehouses. We’re also working on expansion into other international markets, starting with Germany. 2017 will be an exciting year for OpenCell.