This week, startup Highway 9 Networks came out of stealth mode to turn the vision of private mobile networking into reality for the enterprise. The company has raised $25 million from top investors Mayfield, Detroit Venture Partners and General Catalyst, and it already has several customers, including MIT and a major manufacturer.

To be sure, Highway 9 has an impressive executive roster, including the founding team: CEO Allwyn Sequeira, CTO Debashis Basak, VP of R&D Serge Maskalik and Senior Director of R&D Sachin Thakkar, all of whom came from the telco and edge business unit at VMware.

Enterprise private mobile networking skyrockets

Over the past few years, the enterprise interest in private mobile networking has skyrocketed. Toward the end of last year, I ran a survey and a whopping 94% of network decision-makers said they have or planned to deploy private 4G/5G.

However, deployments have lagged, primarily because there isn’t a simple solution geared to enterprises. One choice is to use equipment from companies like Nokia and Ericsson, which provide 5G infrastructure to the telco providers. These aren’t ideal for businesses besides the biggest of big, as carrier-grade systems are designed for mass scale and require a level of technical acumen that most businesses do not have. In fact, many wireless operators have outsourced operations to vendors to help with a skills gap.

A few network vendors have built systems specifically for enterprises but tend to follow the traditional, on-prem management model that the cloud has replaced. Being technically accurate, Highway 9 isn’t a private cellular vendor. They are a mobile platform company that offers a solution that utilizes a cloud model – a.k.a. a mobile cloud – with private mobile networking being the first use case.

Using a mobile cloud provides ubiquitous reach across indoor and outdoor environments and multiple carriers, cloud-delivered mobile services and security, and better integration with enterprise IT infrastructure and policies that simplify operations and scale up quickly and easily. There are three components of the Highway 9 Mobile Cloud:

  • Cloud-native, micro-services based mobile services: These are all the core services required to operate a private mobile network, including spectrum, RAN/radio and SIM management. This provides the administrator with complete network visibility, including operational technology, if the network is used to connect IoT devices.
  • Mobile edge: the term edge is nebulous as it has many meanings. The Highway 9 Mobile Edge is the layer for integration with cloud providers, mobile service providers and enterprise infrastructure, and it helps scale enterprises’ private 4G/5G deployments faster.
  • The physical network. This is the hardware layer and includes things like physical SIMs and cellular access points. In a discussion with Sequeira, he told me the company integrates with and resells best-of-breed partner equipment as it has no desire to compete in a rapidly commoditized market. Highway 9 focuses on mobile services and edge layers and partners with top vendors for the physical network.

One of the interesting features Highway 9 offers is “Virtual Mobile Zones” (VMZ), which enables organizations to create secure, private zones to partition devices or applications. This has both performance and security benefits, as traffic from one zone never interacts with traffic from another.

The “crown jewel” of the Highway 9 Mobile Cloud is its 360-degree customer experience portal. This is where administrators can manage VMZs, automate onboarding new networks or devices, and have visibility into day two operations. Start-ups often eschew management for more technical features, which is a mistake as a vendor is only as good as its manageability.

Private mobile cloud use cases

In talking with CEO Sequeira, I asked him about use cases, and he identified the following three immediate ones:

  • Everywhere mobile coverage enables companies to extend telco networks across their campus, including both outdoor and indoor locations. Cellular coverage is critical today in hospitals, manufacturing plants, warehouses, and large enterprises, and Highway 9 is significantly easier and cheaper to deploy than telco-specific DAS systems.
  • Always on mobile data is where companies require a higher level of reliability in their wireless networks than Wi-Fi offers. This is for many industry-specific use cases, such as warehouse robots, autonomous machines, factory floor equipment, healthcare devices, and more. Wi-Fi is low-cost and fast to deploy, but the performance can vary greatly.
  • AI-based automation and machinery. Highway 9 Mobile Cloud is highly scalable and ideally suited for companies looking to automate operations. The company uses its data to deliver AI-based features to automate network changes due to latency and mobility requirements.

The vision of private mobile networks has outpaced vendor innovation. Traditional cellular manufacturers can’t scale down to meet the needs of enterprises, and mainstream network vendors are battling their own innovation issues to get customers to upgrade their Wi-Fi and campus networks. Highway 9 Networks fills an important gap as it uses the power of the cloud to deliver mobile cellular at an enterprise level.

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