FloLive, an IoT startup building cloud-based private 5G networks, raises $15.5M led by Intel

As enterprises and carriers gear up for operating and scaling IoT services and monitoring the activity of their devices, machines and more globally, a startup that is building technology to make this easier and cheaper to implement is announcing some funding.

FloLive, which has built a cloud-based solution to stitch together private, local cellular networks to create private global IoT 5G networks for its customers, has raised $15.5 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its service, both through investing and building out its tech stack, upgrading its network to 5G where it’s being used, and building a global SIM2Cloud offering in partnership with an as-yet unnamed global cloud provider.

Intel Capital, the investment arm of the chip giant, is leading the investment, with Qualcomm Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, 83North and Saban Ventures also participating. Intel, Qualcomm and Dell are all strategic backers here: the three work with carriers and enterprises to power and manage services and devices, and this will give them potentially a better way of integrating a much more flexible, global technology and network to provision those services more seamlessly across different geographies.

This is an extension to a $21.5 million round that London-based FloLive raised last year, bringing the total for the Series B to $37 million. From what we understand, the startup is also now working on its Series C.

As we move towards more ubiquitous 5G networks and services that use them, the challenge in the market that FloLive is addressing is a critical one to get right.

In a nutshell, enterprises and carriers that are building networks for managing IoT and other connected devices face a scaling issue. Typically, IoT networks to cover services like these are built on national or even more localized footprints, making it a challenge — if not completely impossible — to control or monitor devices in a global network in a centralized way.

“If you look on high level at tier one networks, you see two main things,” Nir Shalom, FloLive’s CEO, said in an interview. “These networks are built for local footprints, and they are mainly built for consumers. What we do is different in that we think about the global, not local, footprint; and our data networks are for IoT, not only people.”

Of course there are some carriers that might look at building their own networks to rival this, but they will often lack the scaled use cases to do so, and may in any case work with providers like FloLive to build these anyway. The bigger picture is that there are 900 larger mobile network operators globally, Shalom said, and the majority of that group is far from being able to do this themselves.

FloLive’s approach to fixing this is not to build completely new infrastructure, but to stitch together networks from different localities and to run them as a single network. It does this by way of its software-defined connectivity built and implemented in the cloud, which stitches together not just 5G networks but whatever cellular technology happens to be in use (eg 4G, 3G or even 2G) in a particular locale.

FloLive’s tech lives in the core network, where it builds a private radio access network that it can integrate with carriers and their capacity in different markets, while then managing the network for customers as a single service.

This is somewhat similar to what you might get with a enterprise virtual private network except that this is focused specifically on the kinds of use cases that might use connected objects — FloLive cites manufacturing, logistics, healthcare and utilities as four areas — rather than laptops for employees.

The resulting network, however, also becomes a viable alternative for companies that might otherwise use a VPN for connectivity, too, as well as carriers themselves needing to extend their network for a customer. In addition to its IoT focused core network, it also provides business support systems for IoT, device management, and solutions targeted for specific verticals. FloLive supports devices that use SIM or eSIM or “softSIM” technology to connect to networks. That’s one part that likely interested those strategic investors as it allows for significantly easier integration.

“We are truly excited about floLIVE’s unique cloud-native approach to IoT connectivity,” said David Johnson, MD at Intel Capital, in a statement. “Cloud-native architectures bring efficiency, scalability and flexibility which are important for IoT services. In addition, floLIVE’s cloud-based core can provide consistency of features across many independent private and public networks. We look forward to the expansion of floLIVE’s products and services enabled by this investment.”

Updated to note the round is $15.5 million, not $15 million.