What comes to mind when someone says “mobile network infrastructure”? Chances are you’re thinking of cell towers in fields or spires on top of towers in the city, if anything at all. The challenge in the world of infrastructure is that people use it all the time – so often, in fact, that it’s become invisible to most people. You only realize it when it’s not there, for example losing a cell signal when you’re in a parking garage or when you’re in a remote location and your signal taps out. Suddenly, you curse the infrastructure gods and wonder why the big telecom companies haven’t solved this problem yet.
Despite an increasingly connected world and new challengers taking on mobile incumbents, there are still many places where you can’t get a cell signal. That’s where Nextivity comes in. The San Diego company has quietly built a massive mobile infrastructure footprint but has not built a single cell tower. Joe Schmelzer, the senior director of product at Nexitivity, spoke with Tech Daily to talk about how the company has grown – and how it decides what products to build, bucking the ‘next big thing’ for ensuring more people get baseline coverage.
Build to delight people who don’t benefit
As anyone with a cell phone knows, cell signals don’t go through concrete or across open fields well. That’s where Nextivity plays.
“We can extend the network edge – build reliable coverage at the network edge,” said Schmelzer. “… cellular networks are outside and most people are using their phones and making calls inside. It’s extremely difficult for those signals to penetrate buildings – and it’s actually getting worse.”
This challenge of weak cell networks at the “network edge” gave Nextivity its opportunity: build a signal amplifier that would extend the range or strengthen the network at its weakest points. But once this idea was clear, the team didn’t just get to building. Even though listening to customers is considered a holy grail of product development, Schmelzer believes it’s only one part of the solution. Instead, Schmelzer immediately calls his two closest colleagues – the head of marketing and the head of sales.
“We’re all working together, well in advance of product launches, to understand how these things are going to be delivered to the market, what the logistics are going to be, who the target customers are, and how we’re going to establish each individual product in the marketplace,” said Schmelzer.
A focus on the end-to-end commercialization process is key to Nextivity’s success, said Schmelzer. The company has been steadily growing since it was founded over a decade ago and now has over 130 employees on the back of its end-to-end product development process.
For example, Nextivity has three ‘customers’ – the mobile network operator that purchases the solution, the cell user that benefits from a stronger signal, and the network operator employee or contractor that installs the signal booster. The value proposition is clear for the network operator and cell user; it’s the installation team that can make or break the project. So Schmelzer said that Nextivity looks not only at how they can build the best possible product for signal boosting but also how they can build it in such a way that it’s easy to install. When that happens, the installation team saves time, which saves everyone money and hassle – and gets the primary benefit to end users faster.
Schmelzer said that this mentality come from listening for what problems the customer is having. It’s not relying on them to tell you, but instead observing what problems they have to solve in their day to day and thinking how you could provide a solution for them.
Entering on their own terms
The mobile world is all about the next big thing, with 6G networks coming into full force from major providers. The problem is that major providers are, as Schmelzer said, “gargantuan behemoth giants” that are difficult to work with. Any challengers to these behemoths – with their billions in profit and near-monopoly on the market – is forced to play by their rules.
“You’re going to be subject to these giant corporations and their ways of operating,” said Schmelzer. “You have to align your own business process with their business process.”
While Nextivity does play the big mobile game, which Schmelzer said starts with a team with a “strong carrier background and strong mobile background,” the company isn’t worried about 6G. They’ve built their business to enter the market on their own terms, eliminating the need to chase fads or the next big thing.
“What we do is improve networks,” said Schmelzer. “We improve coverage. What that means from a technology leadership standpoint is we don’t really have to be out there and be first. We don’t need to be the first company to put a 6G signal booster into the marketplace … once the networks have been deployed [and] once they’ve matured to a certain degree … that’s when it really makes sense for us, from a timing standpoint, to operate.”