Comms365 is celebrating its 15th birthday, and Mike van Bunnens, the company’s CEO, sat down with Comms Business to reflect on its journey and look to the future.
Van Bunnens explained that he started the business in 2008 with Shaun Nicholls, who acted as the “tech brains” whilst van Bunnens looked after sales and general management. The two knew each other from Pipex Communications and were interested in the “cellular side which was still very embryonic at that point”.
The company initially focused on remote monitoring services, with the company interconnected with Vodafone. Comms365 then put IPs on SIMs to enable condition monitoring of devices. Van Bunnens reflected on a difficult first few years as “people didn’t really understand the technology” as well as the economy taking a downturn.
He explained, “We were educating the market from a very early stage explaining how, if you put a SIM in a router and connect back to a device, you can monitor it. People thought it was interesting but didn’t think it would catch on.”
The defining moment
The turning point came when Comms365 demonstrated the power of its technology in a project with Global Crossing. Van Bunnens explained that Global Crossing had won a contract with a train operator and needed to put in connectivity in railway stations up and down the country. Initially, Global Crossing was looking to put in fixed ADSL lines and was struggling to make this work.
Comms365 produced a proof-of-concept that showed 3G could be used at all sites to take payment on ticket machines, before interconnecting into Global Crossing’s network in just three weeks.
Van Bunnens explained, “We helped them get 50 train stations across the line within SLA, and that was our defining moment. That was the first big customer that saw the value of what we did. We learned a lot through that project and, as is always the case, when you succeed with one big customer, people hear about it and start talking about it.”
The business “spiraled from there”, with more capability added to the company’s network and Comms365 opened its first office in 2013.
Van Bunnens added, “It’s grown organically year on year on year and, as the technology has become more mainstream, we’ve found there’s a lot more competition. I like to think that we played a massive part in educating the market on this type of technology. I take a great sense of pride that in our 15 years, we have defined a lot of the standard ways of doing this type of service.”
Nowadays, the company has three data centres in the UK and two in the USA. Van Bunnens added, “We’re one of the few providers of cellular IoT services that has full core network assets. We don’t just use AWS or IBM or anything like that. We have data centers, we have proper interconnect and, as a result of that, we’re able to do a lot of very complex work for partners and their customers.
“That gives us a lot of credibility with our partner base, and it helps our partners differentiate their services as well. There are around 300 resellers of SIM services in the UK alone now, and I’m fairly confident that, if you pit us against all of those, we can come up with a different type of solution.
“Our partners like that because they rely on us to help them win hotly contested opportunities that need that little bit of extra credibility or capability.”
Ready to level up
Looking to the future, Comms365 expects 5G to create new opportunities and possibilities. The company started the journey of 5G nearly two years ago and van Bunnens explained there are “some areas” where you can get “extremely fast throughput” but the “low latency is not there yet”.
He added, “Standalone 5G when that comes out in the next 12, 18 or 24 months will be the game changer for fixed wireless access. At this moment in time, it’s not really there yet.”
In February, Comms365 announced that John Whitty had joined its board to help foster even deeper Channel relationships with new and existing partners. Whitty began his career in the 1980s, when he was a member of The Royal Corps of Signals for nearly two decades. He then moved into the private sector as CTO of Pipex Communications.
Whitty has since held leadership roles at Kabel-X, GCI Com and Solar Communications. In recent years, he was the CEO of Air IT before being invited to become chairman of Gradwell Communications in July 2022.
Van Bunnens explained how this came about. He said, “We’ve got a long history together and we first spoke to John back in 2018 about potentially coming on as chairman. This is why I respect him: in 2018, he said I’d love to join you guys, but you’re not ready. He said we were doing really well, but he didn’t think we needed a chairman at that time.
“What I’ve bought John in for is to help us become a better organisation. I recognise my skill set and I know where my limitations are. We’ve got to the point where we’ve got a really lovely business, we’ve got loyal people that enjoy working here, we’ve got great customers and partners, but I don’t know the next level up.
“Having somebody like John onboard opens my eyes to what else can be done with the business.” With the stage set for Comms365 to reach new heights, we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled in the months and years ahead.