Nokia acquires Unium, a mesh WiFi startup that works with Google Fiber, as part of big home WiFi push

While Nokia’s former handset business forges ahead with its new device strategy under licensee HMD, Nokia itself has taken one more step to build out its business with carriers in a new wave of services. To coincide with MWC in Barcelona and a bigger step into the WiFi business, the company today announced that it has acquired Unium, a startup out of Seattle that builds technology for mesh WiFi for home networking services.

Unium’s tech is used to address one of the biggest pain-points in home WiFi today: it helps fill in dead spots in home WiFi arrangements, where you may not get signal or interference from other networks, and the accompanying security issues that might come alongside those.

Unium and Nokia’s focus will be to extend gigabit networks within the home, beyond the deals that Nokia already has in areas like community and rural broadband, and fiber to the home, and more specifically with its home gateway solutions, which today announced an extended portfolio of mesh WiFi gateways and beacons, new software to upgrade gateways, and new software for service providers and customers to monitor and optimise solutions.

“The Unium team is excited to join Nokia and drive a unique and innovative customer experience through our intelligent Wi-Fi solution, making every customer-touch better,” said Martha Bejar, CEO at Unium, in a statement.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are trying to find out. Unium had raised at least $26.7 million in funding since it was founded in 2002, according to Crunchbase, while Pitchbook puts it at significantly higher, $57.7 million. Formerly known as CoCo Communications, its backers included local investor Swiftsure Capital, among others. The most recent valuation, from the beginning of this year, according to PitchBook was $62.4 million.

Notably, Unium’s customers included Google Fiber, one of Alphabet’s high-speed internet efforts, and — earlier — the Department of Defense.

“Like many people, we had difficulties with the WiFi in our homes including dead spots, buffering of movies, and music that stopped mid-song. In 2013, we decided to solve these problems based on our decade of experience working with the U.S. Department of Defense to solve their wireless and security problems. People deserve better WiFi,” the company’s former CEO John Stachowiak said back in 2016. “That’s the mentality that Google Fiber and our other customers have, too.”

Nokia has declined to comment on what happens with Unium’s existing contracts.

Unium’s solution links in with those of carriers in a “plug & play” format and means that if you live particularly in properties with thick walls, you can move around without dropping WiFi signal.

Unium fits into the trend of some of Nokia’s most recent acquisitions, which underscore the company’s attempts to move deeper into areas to work more closely with carriers. Other acquisitions in that vein have included Comptel for software-based data communications for carriers, and a couple of security acquisitions, Nakina Systems and Deepfield.

(Notably, Nokia’s $190 million acquisition of French connected device maker Withings, made to extend the company’s own consumer-focused IoT strategy, has been less fruitful and the company is currently re-evaluating its wearable division overall.)

This, you could argue, is about Nokia looking for ways to add more value into a business that is already sizeable for it. The company said that its tech is in 47 million home gateways globally, in partnership with carriers and others, giving it a head start for where it will deploy Unium’s tech.

“We look forward to having the Unium team join us,” said Federico Guillén, president of Nokia’s Fixed Networks business group, said in a statement. “The home networking market is booming and whole-home Wi-Fi is a key enabler for this. Today’s Wi-Fi solutions still have serious issues with sticky clients, interference, coverage gaps and capacity issues. With Unium inside, our Nokia Wi-Fi solution will deliver an unmatched user experience, going beyond what standard mesh Wi-Fi solutions deliver today.”

Nokia said the deal is expected to close in Q1 2018.