A new company backed by $40 million in venture capital money is making a run in the enterprise in-building coverage market, promising a cheaper alternative to distributed antenna systems and a technically superior solution to femtocells.

SpiderCloud Wireless has developed a platform that enables operators to deploy and manage customized 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks. SpiderCloud calls its platform an enterprise radio access network (E-RAN), and promises a quantum leap in performance and cost reductions compared with DAS and femtocells, which face a scaling problem in the enterprise, the company said.

SpiderCloud's marketing plans call for operators to provide enterprises with coverage and capacity within local, defined areas in buildings and other structures using the E-RAN, which would serve as a campus network that consists of access points set up in the most needed areas. The enterprise would not be responsible for deploying and managing the system like it would with DAS, said Ronny Haraldsvik, vice president of marketing with SpiderCloud. However, enterprises would have to make a commitment to that particular operator.

Haraldsvik said the sweet spot is enterprises with 100 to 10,000 employees. Though these types of businesses can't afford to install a DAS and manage it, they still need additional coverage and capacity for their workers who are using a large number of smartphones.

"Our business proposition is to sell to the operator and have the operator's large business partner install the infrastructure in exchange from a commitment from the enterprise,” Haraldsvik said. “The business case makes sense because the payback for operators is in months, not years.”

Haraldsvik added that the company has reached the point where it is finalizing agreements with core vendors. User trials are on target for the fall, with commercial operations expected by early 2011, he said.

I once thought that femtocells could be a major breakthrough for in-building communications. That still could be the case, but it appears that SpiderCloud has done much of the dirty work for operators to move the E-RAN concept ahead. Femtocells are still in their infancy in the consumer market and, as Haraldsvik points out, they still suffer from interference issues when one or more are deployed together.

Operators do desire to obtain a deeper penetration in the enterprise, and if they can get a service commitment to recoup their costs, they would welcome the added revenue stream in a market that is becoming super-saturated with consumer subscribers. Consequently, it’s very possible that we’ll see future systems that combine public-safety frequencies and commercial frequencies, especially when LTE comes along. Right now, SpiderCloud is making the system compatible with W-CDMA.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.