Microamp Solutions Brings 5G to Eastern Europe
Many tech newsletters you’ll find in your inbox these days think the availability of funding is what keeps entrepreneurs from succeeding. “Disadvantaged Group X has only received Y% of venture capital funding,” you’ll hear them say, stamping their feet and demanding that you fund entrepreneurs on some criteria other than their potential to succeed. Take a trip to Eastern Europe and you’ll quickly see how the funding availability hurdle doesn’t exist for people who chase success no matter what the odds are. Money matters, but what’s most important is how scrappy you are.
From Hungary to New Zealand, we’ve found amazing startups with little access to funding compete with companies that have taken in literally billions. Russia’s NtechLab is a prime example. Many of these companies are undervalued because of their location, and oftentimes founders will retain a large percentage of equity, something that self-perpetuates. The longer you hold onto equity, the less likely you are to want to part with it, especially when the person you’re giving the equity to hasn’t had to fight for it like you did. The end result is that you’ll often find companies that have made a great deal of progress just by bootstrapping their company and finding “free” funding. One such company is 5G startup Microamp Solutions.
About Microamp Solutions
You might not think of Poland when you think of 5G, but that’s changing as a group of talented young Poles are capitalizing on a perfect storm heralded by a revolution in 5G. Founded in 2019, Poland’s Microamp Solutions has raised $3 million in grant money from Poland’s National Centre for Research and Development and Polish Agency for Enterprise Development to pursue their vision of building 5G infrastructure that can occupy the niche between tiny IoT devices and large Telcom connectivity platforms. The need for 5G infrastructure is something we looked at in our recent piece on Six 5G Startups Building 5G Infrastructure noting the need for mmWave hardware for 5G deployments.
Microamp Solutions is developing their own high-power mmWave 5G transceivers that will democratize 5G infrastructure. Soon, even an MBA will be able to set up their own 5G network using nothing but a server and a Microamp Solutions transceiver. In order to better understand the technology and opportunity, we had a chat with Microamp Solutions CEO and Co-Founder, Dawid Kuchta.
The word “tranceiver” comes from the words “transmitter” and “receiver” and it’s what it says on the tin. These are high-power hardware devices that transmit and receive data and communicate with other devices such as smartphones or other terminals. Using a transceiver (radio head) and a server with a full network implementation, anyone can offer a 5G network with great data rates, small latency, and high capacity. It’s much easier to create cellular infrastructure if you can remove the complexity.
Today’s infrastructure doesn’t support mmWave, and there’s nobody developing mmWave high power transceivers like the ones Microamp Solutions is. Even if they are, that’s not an issue. mmWaves have been used for many years in telecommunication, but never for terminal communication. Now, mmWave technology is beginning to be included in smartphones from the factory because phone manufacturers see this as the next big leap forward in wireless communication. Since smartphones are being released with 5G receivers, they now need transceivers to communicate with. It’s easy to see why the consumer market is attractive for 5G deployment, but there are other opportunities as well.
Industry applications represent an incredibly large opportunity set that’s experiencing strong growth. It’s where Microamp Solutions hopes to establish its niche, becoming a big fish in a small pond. Both Microamp founders come to the table with extensive RF design experience. (The CEO and CTO wrapped up a PhD in power amplifier design last year.) In fact, it’s all their industry contacts that will help the company succeed. Their first customers are Polish enterprises, and they plan to expand into other Eastern European countries as the next step towards global expansion, places like Czech and Slovakia.
As with most disruptive technologies, we’re still somewhere on the Gartner Life Cycle, which means Microamp doesn’t plan to have products going to market until 2023.
That doesn’t mean they’re not selling stuff already. They’ve already sold an implementation of their power amplifier to a customer as a white label solution, and now they’re planning to unveil an entire product line early this summer. The plan is to manufacture everything with several local contractors, something that will keep their hardware away from prying eyes. The final product will be a low-cost openRAN transceiver that will work with equipment from any other vendor. Since 95% of our audience doesn’t know what openRAN is, here’s a quick primer.
5G and openRAN
There’s an unwritten rule that you’re not allowed to wax poetic about telecommunications technology unless you first include a diagram with lots of acronyms nobody knows attached to some clouds that all move something in the same direction using arrows.
Now that that’s sorted, openRAN is a standard that many major telecom operators around the planet are adopting. Standards help spur the adoption of technologies such as 5G because they allow for everyone to create equipment and software that speaks the same language. The quality assurance types call this “interoperability.” While anyone can come up with a standard, it only works if everyone else uses it. That’s why traction is usually measured by looking at how many large players are signing up. For openRAN, there are plenty of notable adopters around the globe – Japan’s Rakuten, DISH in the U.S., and Telefonica in Latin America.
As for Europe, four of her biggest telecoms – Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and Telefonica – recently announced their intent to adopt openRAN, so developing hardware based on that widely-adopted standard is skating to where the puck will be. With Microamp Solutions, anyone can create their own 5G network using openRAN standards.
Some 5G Use Cases
In May of last year, Nokia set a data transfer world record for speed – 4.7 gigabytes per second. With standards like openRAN helping to accelerate the adoption of 5G technology, it won’t be long before we’re all able to access connectivity with bandwidth that’s measured in gigs-per-second. Most of the real innovative use cases for such bandwidth haven’t even been dreamed up yet, but they’re easy to think up.
If autonomous driving is a $7 trillion industry, then some of that money will certainly be spent on connectivity. Once we have autonomous buses plying the road of our inner cities, we’ll then want to optimize our routes based on demand which can change based on anything from the weather to what musical performance is being held. Imagine all the data coming off a public transportation network being analyzed in real-time to make every city’s public transportation network as efficient as the Hong Kong MTR. The speed at which you collect all that data affects the extent to which you’ll be able to optimize it. The same holds true for other industrial applications.
For example, we’ve talked before about digital twins that allow us to replicate a physical factory with a digital one. We have essentially turned our physical assets into data. And what do we do when we have lots of big data? We feed it to hungry artificial intelligence algorithms so they can make sense of it and help things run more efficiently using predictive analytics. Microamp’s transceivers are particularly suited for the smart factory use case because they can offer low-latency connectivity across the entire shop floor without the need to run a bunch of cabling.
5G may also help other emerging technologies find traction. One example would be augmented reality/virtual reality, two technologies that demand high bandwidth. If you thought virtual reality was pretty cool before, with 5G we ought to be able to render everything at resolutions that are indistinguishable from the real world, even without foveated rendering.
Emerging Market Threats and Opportunities
The first question we had was what intellectual property (IP) the company has. Mr. Kuchta confided that if any sufficiently large company wants to copy what they’re doing, IP won’t stop them, they’ll just copy the functionality. However, if you create a narrow enough niche, competitors won’t be interested, because it won’t be worth their time. In that respect, the niche provider can then enjoy many years head start before the market leaders come sniffing around to make a build-vs-buy decision. If you’re a good business that’s sufficiently entrenched with key customers, staffed with talented people, and firing on all 12 cylinders, you’re probably going to get swallowed by a bigger fish that’s looking for the easiest way to get to where you are.
In addition to the narrow niche competitive moat, they also have an emerging market premium. That is, they’re operating in a place where other companies would be hesitant to go in alone. Earlier, we talked about how emerging market entrepreneurs need to navigate business environments that might be seen as illegal in developing markets. (All you ESG types may want to cover your ears for what we’re about to say.) Sometimes, having to deal with corruption, pay off criminal enterprises, or bribe a building inspector, are all accepted costs of doing business in emerging markets. Even if you’re willing to accept that, you still may not be able to enter a particular market unless you look and feel like a local. In other words, you need local boots on the ground if you want to play.
Here’s a 5G startup with a product, a customer, and founders with the wherewithal to only give away equity if it comes with acceptable terms. The longer you can bootstrap your startup without giving away equity, the more valuable the equity you hold becomes. Microamp Solutions is executing under the radar and competing alongside some of the world’s most notable 5G startups. When the company’s CEO wakes up at 3:00 AM to take your call so he doesn’t have to spend thousands on some overpriced PR agency, it tells you a lot about his ability to manage the money they’ll no doubt raise in a future equity funding round.
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