Californian startup Beamlink brings you a portable cell in a lunch box that anyone can set up – ideal for minimising disruption through post-disaster wireless access. This is their startup story
Tell us about your start up
Beamlink brings Internet to disaster prone communities, providing peace of mind for survivors and first responders and easing the relief and recovery process. Our lunch box sized cell towers, called “Bentocells,” can be set up by anyone with the push of a button, can operate completely off the grid, and function just like normal cell towers – connecting directly to phones via LTE or 5G-NR to provide broadband internet access. They also provide Wi-Fi to allow nearby computers and sensors to get online. Currently in beta, we intend to sell these directly to first responders, community centres, local governments, and telecom carriers interested in providing tailored solutions for disaster resiliency. Our long term goal is to complement the traditional telecom model, enabling those historically underserved to take connectivity into their own hands – literally.
What is your USP, how do you stand out from your competition?
Cellular technology is perfect to provide connectivity in disaster zones, but cell sites are designed to be set up by trained radio engineers who have spent months on site surveys, not fast and dirty by doctors and first responders. Currently, while everyone waits for cell networks to be repaired, they are limited to the use of satellite networks, which isn’t capable of providing the connectivity needed. Beamlink is the only cell tower that can be set up by anyone with the push of a button. While we offer better range, bandwidth, and durability than any other solutions, our main value propostion is ease of use. Using Beamlink BentoCells to provide 4G/5G coverage, survivors and first responders can continue to use their own mobile phones, don’t have to install any apps, and don’t have to coordinate with ISPs or carriers. This provides peace of mind and critical resources to survivors and essential situational awareness to first responders, while freeing up resources for ISPs and carriers to rebuild their networks.
What is your relationship with the telecom sector?
We function both within and alongside the telecom sector. On the one hand, we build cell towers, and they’re regulated like cell towers, so we have to work within the existing regulatory framework. However, our business model is the opposite of traditional carriers – we don’t provide coverage, we provide equipment – which can make it look like we compete against the sector as a whole. The way we see it though, the telecom sector is doing a lot right, and there’s no point changing what works. There is, however, an equity gap in access that no amount of technical innovation can address without also changing the underlying network architectures and business models, something established carriers can’t simply change tomorrow. We seek to complement these carriers by supporting and extending their existing services, filling in gaps that are major pain points for them. You can consider us to the telecom sector as both a vendor and a neighbour, depending on the use case.
How have you got to your current stage of development?
To date, we are entirely grant and self funded. We’re backed by the National Science Foundation through their SBIR program and have received recognition and funding from Cisco, Mozilla, the GSMA, and the University of Southern California. We’re now preparing to raise a seed round of funding and transition over to a VC-backed, growth-oriented startup model to be able to expand our worldwide reach.
Why did you establish the business?
Our team has a varied background in social entrepreneurship, aerospace and network engineering, and disaster response / resiliency. Being partially in the telecom sector but partially outside it, we’ve noticed a disconnect between the traditional telecom business model and the needs of disaster-prone communities and humanitarian aid NGOs. While the telecom sector is constantly innovating, there continues to be a huge need for communications technology that can be operated by communities and NGOs in the field. We built the BentoCell to complement the traditional telecom model and fill in these gaps, keeping disaster prone communities and first responders online and expanding Internet access to those who need it most.
What motivates you?
We were on the ground during Hurricanes María and Harvey and saw first-hand how quickly connectivity went down, how long it took to bring back, and how big of a difference there was between wealthy communities that got it back first versus the communities that still lack connectivity today. Many people in this space are doing amazing work, but cellular technology is not designed with them in mind. Our motivation comes from their passion and drive, and we hope to enable NGOs and community members to get back online as fast as possible, and in the long run, never experience outages due to natural disasters.
Read more on this on the Cisco Blog
What does the future hold for your business?
We are running paid pilots and a closed beta now. We’re also raising a seed round of funding which we plan to close in Q2 2023. Using these as a launchpad, we plan to start large scale production in the summer and begin covering live disasters during storm season in the Fall. We also plan to begin international testing once we’ve completed beta tests in the US.
- Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, USA
- Number of Employees: 7
- Last funding round: 2023 Pre-Seed ($150k secured) alongside NSF SBIR Grant ($250k)
- Website: https://beamlink.io
- Founders and key employees:
Beamlink are one of the startups you can meet at Connected America on 28-29 March 2023 at the Irving Convention Center, Dallas. Register to meet them here or to bring your startup along to the event, message Katie Dudney