Ericsson veterans take on enterprise Wi-Fi with Comcast backing

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Artificial intelligence is not just for connected cars and video games, according to former Ericsson employees who have set out to disrupt the $12 billion market for wireless local area networks. KodaCloud, a startup led by veterans of Ericsson and BelAir Networks, is betting that AI can help Wi-Fi networks heal themselves before users even recognize a potential problem.

The startup also wants to change the game with its business model. KodaCloud is offering Wi-Fi the way wireless carriers offer cellphone service. A customer pays a monthly subscription fee for hardware and service, which comes from the provider and can be updated periodically. The target KodaCloud customer is an enterprise with several campuses, and the startup’s current go-to-market channel is the managed service providers who sell Wi-Fi to enterprise customers. KodaCloud has contracts with about 100 MSPs, and so far about 500 Wi-Fi access points have been installed across 50 locations.

Comcast Ventures, the venture capital arm of Comcast/NBCUniversal, is KodaCloud’s largest shareholder. Comcast Ventures also was an investor in BelAir Networks, which Ericsson purchased in 2012. BelAir Networks’ portfolio included carrier grade indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi access points, Wi-Fi controllers and Wi-Fi network management software.

Bernard Herscovici, founder and CEO of BelAir, is now founder and CEO of KodaCloud. Hersovici and his colleague Marcel Chenier both worked at Ericsson after the acquisition, and have left to form KodaCloud. They are joined by Ronny Haraldsvik and Scott Fortier, both former BelAir executives, as well as by other executives from 8×8 and Aruba.

Haraldsvik said KodaCloud customers pay roughly $30 per month per access point. KodaCloud said its APs can be installed and activated with the use of a web-based dashboard or a smartphone app, using a customer’s existing internet connection.

KodaCloud is positioning its cloud-based solution as relief for the harried information technology support person who is constantly troubleshooting the enterprise Wi-Fi network. The company said its artificial intelligence-powered service automatically adjusts interference parameters in customer networks using learning and real-time calculations with contextual information. Herscovici said the same artificial intelligence could someday be applied to in-building cellular networks, but that is a future challenge.

“Our job No. 1 is to make sure Wi-Fi works very, very well,” said Herscovici. He said the KodaCloud software monitors and manages the network 24/7, and that KodaCloud will refresh its hardware every four years and update its software as needed.

The market for cloud-managed Wi-Fi is expected to grow quickly, and KodaCloud is entering an already-crowded field. Wi-Fi heavyweights Cisco/Meraki, Xirrus, Aruba Networks (owned by Hewlett-Packard) and Ruckus Wireless (owned by Brocade) all offer cloud-based solutions, as do other dedicated startups like Cloud4Wi. KodaCloud wants to differentiate itself with artificial intelligence.

“Rather than simply monitoring network status from the cloud, KodaCloud actually manages the network in real time,” said analyst Iain Gillott, founder of iGR Research. Gillott thinks customers also will value the ability to make Wi-Fi an operating expense by paying a monthly fee instead of buying hardware and paying for software licenses.

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Martha DeGrasse

Wireless Infrastructuremdegrasse@rcrwireless.com Martha DeGrasse has been creating content for RCR Wireless News since 2011. Recent feature reports include Building Tomorrow's Neworks, Outdoor DAS and Small Cell Case Studies, Wireless Infrastructure Service Company Review, and Investing in HetNets. (All of these can be found by clicking on Reports at the top of this page.) At RCR, Martha also developed the 5 Things to Know Today series and the Mobile Minute. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York. Martha left Dow Jones to move to Austin, Texas, where she managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Follow her on Twitter @mdegrasseRCR