Keima is a software company from Cardiff, Wales, created in 2006, which develops and markets Overture, a software tool for the design of telecommunications networks (IoT, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi, Fixed Wireless, etc.). A few months ago, with the support of the International Trade Development program of the government of Wales and the soft landing service for international companies of the City of Madrid, its Chief Operating Officer, Iris Barcia, came to Madrid to plan the expansion of the company in Spain.
M.I.A.: Companies that offer specialized products in very specific verticals are often unknown to the general public. Could you explain briefly who you are?
I.B.: We are a software company that develops and markets a tool for designing telecommunications networks. A simple way to describe what we do is to think about the antennas that operators such as Telefónica, Vodafone or Orange deploy in Spain: Overture integrates data analysis, radio frequency propagation algorithms and automation to assess in which areas they need more antennas and of what type; what technologies to deploy, the level of densification and the optimal location that offers users the best service with the least investment. The number of factors that influence such a decision is enormous, and we need intelligent tools that allow us to evaluate all these factors together.
Another example would be the deployment of Wi-Fi networks or the design of infrastructures for Smart Cities
Although Overture is used globally, most of our clients are in the United States, where for years we have had a second office and have gained valuable insights working on very varied projects on a national scale. Especially since it is a huge and very dynamic market, in which we are becoming increasingly aware of the transformation of the sector and the consolidation of new business models: our traditional end customer used to be mobile operators or service companies and vendors (Nokia, Ericsson), but now we also cater to cable companies, shared infrastructure, IoT providers, even municipalities involved in smart cities projects … the list keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Right now we have consolidated clients in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In recent years we have noticed more activity in the European market and that has led us to consider the opening of a third office in Madrid.
M.I.A.: For those of us who are not telecommunications experts, what exactly do you do and why is it important?
I.B.: Our goal has always been to build a tool that minimizes the difference between the strategic plan and the reality of the deployment. This is important due to the high cost of each mobile phone base station, a precise planning allows to assess if the impact on the users and the network performance justifies the investment.
Much of what we do is based on innovation and the search for new technical solutions that break down existing barriers. We have had the advantage of being an atypical company for our sector. Being small allows us to be very agile and quickly adapt to changes in the market, and by remaining independent we have been able to bet on more innovative strategies that have transformed the processes and traditional planning techniques. For example, in 2012 we presented the use of social networks for mobile planning at MWC for the first time. We also created our own digital environment models (clutter models), seeking to reproduce as realistically as possible the elements that affect the signal propagation and with the necessary resolution in the current heterogeneous networks. Both aspects, being able to model the behavior of users and to accurately reproduce the behavior of the signal, are decisive for the sizing of 4G and 5G networks.
Structurally, we are more oriented towards product commercialization than the provision of services, especially since our clients usually find that traditional tools or processes are not valid for the problems that arise in current and future networks. This is how we have grown in the US and British markets, offering a transforming product and for which an adaptation process is not necessary.
M.I.A.: Now that we are still with the hangover of the Mobile World Congress, in which 5G seems to have been one of the dominant themes, and knowing that you are part of European committees in the field, is 5G really going to change things that much? How does this new era impact Keima’s strategy?
I.B.: This MWC witnessed a clear consolidation of 5G, I think I can’t remember any stands without a reference to this technology. This interest extends to a more proactive attitude from governments and institutions, which point to 5G as an economic booster and are studying in greater detail the associated impact. One of the biggest benefits of 5G will be latency, and this could open the door to new applications. Capacity will continue to depend on the frequency of transmission, although 5G has the advantage of contemplating the use of high frequencies (above 28GHz), which implies a smaller coverage radius and a greater densification of the network.
For now, on a commercial level, we have noted an interest in autonomous car projects and especially in the provision of wireless broadband. One of the latest algorithms that we have developed allows the automated design of this type of connections (Fixed Wireless Access). In the United States, Verizon is a good example of this and 5G FWA is already available in several cities. But the commercial deployment of mobility solutions will come in a more distant future. There are still important technical aspects to solve at high frequencies
For us, the integration of 5G is very positive. When we imagine what the communications networks of the future will look like, we lay the foundations of the current version of Overture and the requirements of 5G perfectly fit those parameters.
M.I.A.: Being a relatively small company, your presence in markets as mature and demanding as the US and the strong weight of exports on your business may be surprising. When did Keima plan to come to Spain? For what purpose?
I.B.: Having been born and raised in Spain there is a personal component that can not be ignored, so we have always talked about the possibility of opening an office here. We believe that Spain has a lot of potential and talent, besides being a very clear gateway to the Latin American market. Yes, it is true that we had not planned to open an office outside the UK in 2018, but Brexit forced us to accelerate our expansion plans.
When choosing where to locate, we were left with two finalist cities and we valued the presence of mobile operators and companies in the sector. But Madrid also had very clear advantages from a mobility point of view.
Our experience so far has been very positive and much easier than we expected. In fact, we underestimated the pace of the US market and that is limiting for now the opportunity to explore the Spanish market at the level we had as a goal, but we believe that the outlook is very positive.
M.I.A.: An inevitable question in these times of uncertainty regarding Brexit and the future relationship between Europe and the UK: are you observing that there are more technological companies like yours that are designing or implementing contingency plans that Include establishments in other European countries? Do you think cities like Madrid should be more aggressive when approaching companies or professionals like you?
I.B.: For now we are only seeing part of the damage caused by Brexit. I believe that its consequences, whatever happens on March 29, are deeper than we can imagine, and as in our case, represent a clear opportunity for a city like Madrid. The step we have taken is enormous for a company like ours, and in my case there were factors that facilitated it, although I am sure that there are more companies in our situation.
In my opinion, one of the great barriers for Madrid is that Spain is very associated with tourism, slowness of processes and especially with little business / entrepreneurial culture… Even though we have found a very positive environment, I am forced to admit that that there is an element of truth in those perceptions. Changing them will require a lot of work and a clear and direct message is needed. Regardless of the origin of the company, I think that little is known about the technology that is created in Spain and the existing entrepreneurial network. .
M.I.A.: On a separate issue, the work of governments like Wales is praiseworthy, with programs such as its International Trade Development (ITD) to help the international expansion of its most promising technology companies. Could you tell us something about your experience with them in this regard?
I.B.: I can not compare it with Spain because I do not know the processes and aids available here, but the Welsh programs are associated with European funds, so I imagine there may be similar initiatives. The support provided by the Welsh government is very broad and innovation and technology are very much encouraged: participation in international fairs, free advice for SMEs, free training courses for SMEs, subsidized business development trips, organization and communication of events business … They are very proactive and the treatment they offer is very personalized and very oriented to exports and growth: they simplify the application processes to the maximum: if the objective of their program is an SME that has to dedicate a worker to request aid, that worker is not generating knowledge or value.
In any case, something I have noticed is that Wales promotes its small businesses without fear, they integrate them as part of their brand and part of their external activities. I think that is very positive for both parties.
M.I.A.: You have been one of the first companies to make use of the soft landing spaces that the Madrid City Council has enabled for foreign companies through its investment attraction office, Madrid Investment Attraction. What do you think of this initiative and how has the experience been so far?
I.B.: M.I.A. is a very interesting initiative, and I would certainly recommend it to other companies like ours. Being one of the first companies in these spaces we noticed that they are not standard co working areas and there are certain aspects that are still being developed that I think would maximize the positive aspects of the program, such as the organization of events. But the support we have received from M.I.A. is excellent, the location of the spaces is incredible, right in the center of Madrid, with good communications and many services right at our doorstep.
M.I.A.: To conclude, one last question about the future. What are your next challenges in Spain, and how do you think the Madrid City Council or other public bodies could help you?
I.B.: We have not had to face the big challenges yet: establishment of a company, contracts… that is the part that has been delayed given the volume of work this year. I think that a space like this is ideal for connecting companies. Foreign companies installed in M.I.A. have direct access to international markets, they are established companies and have contacts and knowledge that they can transfer. M.I.A., on the other hand, has very valuable local knowledge for any company that is opening a business in Spain, and can provide access to more specialized professionals in a particular sector.