Web Development by SUSTAINABLE

Zeetta Networks: from Bristol to the world

32 min

One of the most innovative start-ups around, Zeetta Networks is here to solve a problem you may not even know you have – but once it’s fixed, you’ll wonder how you ever put up with it. Cityscape introduces you to the brains behind a product that promises to shake up the technology market, helping everyone from music festivals and sports stadiums to rural towns and entire smart cities

We’ve all been there before: you’re at a music festival, a corporate event, a Christmas market, a football match, or even just heading home during the city-centre rush hour, whatever it is – and the WiFi signal available is shockingly poor. Thousands of people trying to get onto the same network means no-one is effectively able to connect to the internet, stream music, or enjoy the available service in any meaningful way. The same can be said for shops in busy areas attempting to take cashless payments: while financial transactions are usually low-bandwidth, an overcrowded network means retailers have to keep customers waiting for minutes on end until their card machine payment can go ahead. This phenomenon is so commonplace that we’ve come to accept it as business as usual: the bigger the crowd, the poorer the signal and the worse the connectivity – c’est la vie.

But for the thousands of sports fans who regularly visit Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol, life has been very different. A pioneering network slicing solution means that the 27,000-capacity stadium has been able to partition the available network to ensure that retailers and visitors alike can both enjoy a stable and reliable service throughout the day, with neither contactless payments at bars nor Instagram video streams of the game taking a hit.

Thousands of people trying to get onto the same network means no-one is effectively able to connect to the internet, stream music, or enjoy the available service in any meaningful way

The intelligent network solution also means that the electronic turnstiles required to access the stadium have a consistently low latency, and state-of-the-art sports technologies such as player biometrics and analytics – which give managers a 360-degree view of the pitch so that they can see everything that’s happening in real time – can continue to work as they should, even with the latter using up to a sizeable 120Mbps of data out of the cloud.

This achievement is no small feat at a venue known for hosting popular large-scale events: last year, it welcomed more than a hundred thousand fans to watch Rod Stewart, Take That, Muse, and the Spice Girls as part of its Summer Series 2019. This year, they will be bracing themselves to host The Killers, one of the world’s biggest rock bands who headlined the last Glastonbury Festival. So what’s their secret?

In short: NetOS®.

The NetOS network control and management software platform is an intuitive and user-friendly solution that simplifies operations through automation and intelligence by effectively ‘slicing’ up the network’s available bandwidth in order to ensure key services can remain online even during peaks of activity. Even better, especially for any fans of keeping it local, the innovative product has been developed by Ashton Gate’s highly skilled next-door neighbours at Bristol SME Zeetta Networks.

“What we’re doing is enabling networks to operate more intelligently and dynamically,” explained Justin Paul, Zeetta Networks’ director of marketing and storyteller-in-chief. “In essence, there’s only so many ways you can slice the pie – that being the connectivity, the bandwidth, and the speed. In traditional networks, or what we call homogeneous networks, it’s very egalitarian: your Twitter post is just as important as the police running a facial recognition programme to find a child who’s lost in a crowd. But we changed that paradigm. Sure, you only have so much bandwidth, but we can separate it out so that some services can be prioritised, partitioned, and protected.

“That then becomes a heterogeneous network, where different services have different requirements. You can try and balance those as much as possible, but you can also say: ‘I’m going to unilaterally give the resources to a specific service to meet its needs over everything else.’ That’s a big change from the way things are done today.”

At Ashton Gate, Justin is confident that the NetOS Enterprise software in place will be of immense benefit – and the stadium staff know it, too. “People at Ashton Gate are very innovative and really are engaging with the technology, because they know it can have a huge impact on their business going forward,” Justin pointed out, noting that the ongoing partnership means Zeetta provides agile software updates to the stadium every six to eight weeks.

“People never like to be the first to try new technology; there’s always a leap of faith when you start investing in a new technology and working with a start-up. It was fantastic that Ashton Gate was ready to take that leap.”

Saving human lives with 5G

Elsewhere in the city, just a short 10-minute walk from Ashton Gate, Zeetta has also been deploying the very same technology – this time, though, to save lives.

Because Bristol is a harbour city, its waterways have played host to many avoidable deaths: some down to car incidents, others due to floodwater, and many attributable to alcohol consumption. In the last five years alone, more than 30 people have lost their lives in the city’s waters; between January and June 2017, for example, a body was pulled out of the water every month on average. One of the victims, a qualified kayak coach who had gone on a night-time paddle in the River Frome with a friend, had even taken several safety precautions before their adventure, including packing glow sticks and torches – but the two still capsized at Snuff Mills park and couldn’t be saved in time. Most recently, in August 2019, 17-year-old child passed away after jumping into Bristol Harbour during the day to retrieve a ball.

Determined to put a stop to these catastrophic accidents, Bristol City Council teamed up with Zeetta to trial a pilot solution as part of the 5G Smart Tourism project, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Harnessing 5G, the company helped the local authority install specialist thermal imaging cameras around key hotspots in the harbourside that would trigger an alarm in the city control room every time someone crossed a virtual barrier line in the area, allowing rescue services to respond immediately. “On a hot sunny day, it might be that people are eating their packed lunches while dangling their feet over the edge of the harbour,” said Justin. “But at two o’clock in the morning, the situation might be more sinister.”

Bristol Waterfront

The thermal imaging cameras, which are also key in helping locate bodies during the night, use a much higher bandwidth than normal CCTV cameras – around 40 to 50Mbps, to be precise. “We’ve helped connect those cameras and, when they need to be switched on and focused on a particular area, we configure the network so that everything else can take a lower priority. This ensures that the power and the bandwidth go to those thermal cameras in order to assist the emergency services,” the marketing boss explained. “We effectively enabled the service to say: ‘I don’t care about your Twitter or your LinkedIn or your Netflix streaming; I’m directing all of those resources to the thermal cameras, because what we’re going to do now is save lives.’ Water safety is really important for a harbour city. If we can save just one life using our technology, that’s a really good story to be able to tell.”

I don’t care about your Twitter or your LinkedIn or your Netflix streaming; I’m directing all of those resources to the thermal cameras, because what we’re going to do now is save lives

After the cameras were installed, at least two people were saved as a direct result of the underwater detectors. The mother of a man who had drowned in 2018 called the initiative a “Godsend.”

Tragically, the city council has so far been unable to expand the 2018 pilot and, unfortunately, one of the most recent drownings took place in an area where the local authority had been planning to put another camera in but had not been able to in time. “After all, there are several miles of harbourside and limited resources,” lamented Justin. “In the future, it would be really lovely to have a permanent network of these cameras to make sure that the entire harbourside is protected. It’s something that the council and the mayor are very passionate about.”

A virtual journey through the Roman Baths
The Roman Baths

The life-saving thermal imaging project was just one of six initiatives carried out under the 5G Smart Tourism umbrella, launched by the DCMS as part of its 5G Testbeds and Trials scheme in order to connect the main attractions in the West of England’s £1.75bn tourism industry by harnessing 5G technology via the University of Bristol’s 5GUK Test Network. The year-long programme focused on the intersection between infrastructure, mobile services, tourism, and digital applications so as to expedite the roll-out of 5G across the UK by trialling its capabilities – all while promoting the thriving creative digital industries in the country. Led by the West of England Combined Authority, the £8m scheme brought together 19 partners in total, including Zeetta.

One of the projects sitting within that wider programme used Zeetta’s NetOS software to take people through a three-stage journey of the Roman Baths’ rich history via augmented reality technology. By using NetOS Rapide – a deployable, out-of-the-box version of NetOS that does not require permanent infrastructure or pre-existing reliable connectivity – the start-up was able to show visitors at the IBC2019 exhibition in Amsterdam the ins and outs of the first-century temple and baths, built between 60 and 70 AD. What’s more, this was done in spite of the conference’s dreadful WiFi made available to delegates.

“What we found [during the exhibition] is that you can do things with technology, but you have to think through the actual business issue first,” said Justin, one of the lucky few from Zeetta who had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands for the event. “When we started doing the 5G augmented reality work, people thought it was a nice thing to have and to enhance the overall experience. But they hadn’t really understood it from the telecoms point of view that if you try and run an AR app on your phone, you need a very high-end device to do it – like the iPhone 11 or the Samsung Galaxy S10 – because the processing is phenomenal. And even then, some of these phones were getting just 25-30 minutes of battery life during processing.

“What we did was use our network in a box in order to run all the processing in the box itself, with its own processors. This meant that almost any smartphone could then use the service, and in terms of battery life, you’re talking hours rather than minutes. That has a real-world impact: no-one is going to use a VR or AR application at an exhibition when they’re out for the day if they know they’ll burn through the battery in 30 minutes.”

From urban to rural

Another arm of the government’s 5G Testbeds programme is 5G RuralFirst, a scheme part-funded by Cisco and the DCMS alongside the University of Strathclyde and a consortium of other partners – including Zeetta. A few months before IBC2019, back in February, Zeetta’s consortium partners travelled to the sunny seaside of Barcelona to show international delegates and policymakers at the Mobile World Congress what the RuralFirst team had been up to. The 5G-enabled technologies demonstrated live at the event included everything from a Connected Cow app that allowed people to monitor the behaviour of cattle from their phones, right down to automated machines that can grow arable crop remotely without the need for onsite agronomists or operators. From Zeetta’s side, Justin was present at the event to use the NetOS platform in order to show delegates what their network splicing and control centralisation technology can do for rural areas.

But it was Simon Pearcy, the company’s VP of engineering, who most enjoyed their involvement with RuralFirst. “I live in Bath, so seeing our project with the Roman Baths was an interesting experience,” he told Cityscape. “But the one that really struck a chord with me was 5G RuralFirst. There’s a personal connection there: my wife is from the Shetland Islands, where connectivity has always been an issue. Over the last 25 years, they had no mobile phone signal and very poor and unreliable broadband. Only in the last two years has 4G connectivity suddenly started to become available – and it’s been transformational.

“Coming from an urban environment and then going out to that rural environment, you can really see how connectivity is becoming a basic commodity – a basic utility, even – and how much the lack of it, or the unreliability of it, is impacting the day-to-day lives of people and businesses. If you look at how telecoms has changed over the past few decades, it’s turned from a premium nice-to-have, to a must-have commodity. Almost – and this is a bit of a first-world statement – a basic human right.”

Change is the only constant

Simon has experienced this decades-long evolution first-hand. With 30 years of experience in the sector, having worked for tech giants such as Cisco and AT&T, the engineering lead can safely say that the most interesting aspect about the telecoms industry is that it is always in flux.

“Change is a constant. I’ve been in this industry for 30 years; at the start of that, the internet didn’t even exist. I remember sending an email over JANET to the other side of the world, and that was a massive achievement,” he reminisced, laughing. “I remember when the World Wide Web appeared, and that was a step change. I remember being involved in early 3G. And then Steve Jobs came along and just chucked in the iPhone, showing us that there’s still opportunity for paradigm shifts to come along.

“Because of this, its depth and range has become more prevalent. If you couldn’t connect to the internet 20 years ago, it wasn’t really an issue; nowadays, if you can’t get online, a whole load of stuff stops working. Our interaction with the world and the permeation of that connectivity into our everyday lives is much more present – and will continue to change and grow.”

When I started my 30-year journey in telecoms, there was just a tiny bit of data. Now, data is taking over

Speaking about the tech sector’s latest achievement, the roll-out of 5G, Simon said that the beauty of it is that it can encompass many things: high dynamicity, system interoperation, and new technologies, to name just a few. “The aggregation of multiple technologies into one seamless connectivity is really what 5G is about, and what Zeetta is here to help with,” he explained. “I think that’s very interesting: it’s not just cellular, it’s not just WiFi, it’s not just wired, it’s not just optical; it’s bringing together all of those things in an environment that can change rapidly, and that serves many different things.

“When I started my 30-year journey in telecoms, there was just a tiny bit of data. Now, data is taking over. And suddenly, it’s not just individuals that are requiring connectivity within the scope of smart cities; it’s all sorts of IoT sensors and devices, all of which are integrated into the same network with very different demands on connectivity. Some are high bandwidth, some need low latency, others are low bandwidth – but all of them still require connectivity. And all of that needs to be brought together. The journey to multi-technology has already started.”

A rich and limitless ecosystem

As could be expected, one of the more standout benefits of working for a sector rooted in evolution and global interconnection is the diverse range of talent it attracts. Though never having worked outside the UK, Simon is grateful to have worked with several people from all over the world, from all walks of life. “Its global reach means that sometimes, its boundaries aren’t quite so obvious. As technology is improved, you can be talking to someone as if they’re in the room next door, but they’re actually on the other side of the world. That’s part of the richness of the technology sector: it transcends these international boundaries and brings people together,” he said. “The need to standardise has also brought people together as a community, and therefore enabled this cross-pollination and flow of people between geographies.”

Within the four walls of its Bristol headquarters, Zeetta has grown to become a microcosmic example of this boundless sector. Despite having just 30 members of staff – in itself a remarkable 900% rise from its three-person team back in 2015, when it spun out from the University of Bristol’s High-Performance Networking Group to become a commercial venture – a third of the SME’s employees hail from other EU countries. Its CEO, Vassilis Seferidis, for example, is Greek; director of product management Joan Garcia Espín, who joined Zeetta from Bristol Is Open, comes from Spain; others are Italian or Romanian. It is only natural, then, that their NetOS software is also a global product. While details remain confidential, Zeetta has been in talks with customers from countries such as Germany, Korea, Singapore, Japan, France, and Italy.

“There are no limits of where we can take it,” said CEO Vassilis. “We have been focusing the last couple of years on smart cities enterprises, and we increasingly find ourselves involved with 5G technologies, like new-generation phones or how we can implement our technology into the service providers – the people who provide connectivity in different environments, all over the world.”

Vassilis has been at the company from the start, called in to help steer its spin-out from the university in 2015 – a move motivated by the fact that the team could see a clear commercial future in a centralised software capable of controlling a whole network. “The software becomes the brains of the network, if you’d like, and that can be applied to other types of networks – not necessarily a data centre, but to a very big stadium, for example, or to a university campus. Zeetta basically developed extensions of the technology originally used in data centres to support other types of networks.”

As well as the support Zeetta received from the university professors who were originally involved in developing the technology, the company has enjoyed the thriving digital ecosystem of its host city. Bristol is home to a prolific landscape of start-ups, incubators, and tech companies. As Vassilis put it, “it’s not by accident that Bristol has been voted the best place to start a technology start-up in the UK: it’s a very fertile environment.”

“It’s the Silicon Valley of the UK, basically,” he stated. “And we benefit out of this expertise. You have the whole ecosystem working for you because there is capital, there are start-up companies, there is talent available. Of course, London is much more visible, bigger in size and in its support of venture capital. But if you take London out of the equation – since it’s essentially an outlier – Bristol, for its size, is leading in this field.”

We’re in the cutting edge of technology – not only in the UK, but worldwide

For someone who hails from the sunny Greek port city of Thessaloniki, it’s difficult to accept that Bristol is the best city Vassilis has ever lived in – but he guarantees that its tech-oriented culture and his own personal and professional satisfaction here far outweigh the breezy promenades of his hometown.

In fact, the CEO enjoys the Bristolian way of life so much that he has attempted to mirror it within Zeetta over the past three years at the helm. “Our culture is very much around innovation,” he said, despite the fact that the start-up has already developed a now tried-and-tested product. “Innovation is a very big part of what we’re doing. We participate in a lot of projects and activities that are generating a lot of new intellectual property. We’re in the cutting edge of technology – not only in the UK, but worldwide.

“We encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Because we’re a small company, what differentiates us from bigger players, such as major network companies, is very much this innovative approach – which means we can target new projects and new technologies much faster and be more responsive and agile than our competitors.”

There is weight behind the CEO’s claims. Vassilis brings to Zeetta an enviable professional background of working for enormous technology corporations such as BT, Toshiba, Philips, and the British Standards Institute. For his work in helping introduce the Samsung Smart TV platform to people’s homes, he landed a spot in the prestigious Euro50 list of the most influential people in the telecoms industry in Europe. And still, despite the decades of experience under his belt of working for the top tech suppliers in the world, he considers what Zeetta is doing to be far more innovative.

The Bristol Harbour Festival

Many of his employees, like engineering lead Simon, also boast a long track record of working at some of the world’s leading tech firms, often for more money than they would make at a start-up. But what SMEs like Zeetta have discovered over the years is that skilled professionals are happier to be involved in more meaningful, hands-on projects. “A lot of my employees are more excited about our projects and the chance to change the world than they are about going to a 9-5 job somewhere in a big corporation,” Vassilis pointed out.

For example: take the Bristol Harbour Festival, one of the UK’s largest public festivals which celebrates the city’s maritime heritage through an annual blowout including live music and dance, street performances, fireworks, theatre presentations, and other cultural entertainment. Originally launched in an attempt to save the docks from being filled in, the weekend event, which has been in place since 1971, still succeeds in attracting thousands of visitors to the city each year.

You could use that same technology to let someone see the event from a quiet space while still having that crowd experience

For last year’s festival, and as a grand finale of sorts to the DCMS 5G Smart Tourism project, Zeetta deployed its NetOS software as an innovative live trial to demonstrate the scalability and utility of the 5G in major events. The sliced 5G network proved itself to be more than capable of partitioning and protecting services even in a hyper-congested environment of more than 250,000 attendees.

And for Zeetta employees hoping to experience some of that first-hand excitement of seeing a product they created make a tangible difference in people’s lives, the company developed an interactive AR application that gave visitors a 360-degree view of the festival’s three major stages. You may remember the gut-wrenching feeling of being at a music festival where the performances of two different but equally interesting acts clash with each other; to make matters worse, one stage is usually a 10-minute walk from the other, so you can’t even see half of each act to get a taste of both. With Zeetta’s app, visitors were able to access a real-time, high-quality, 360-degree stream of each stage, filmed from the perspective of front-row seats. According to Justin, at one point there were almost 800 people concurrently streaming the footage at around 4Gbps – a huge amount that translates to around four DVDs’ worth of data per second.

“We wanted to show that we could have a very congested public service network, and in the background still run a retail network slice and a public safety slice that wouldn’t be impacted by this congestion,” explained Justin. “And that’s exactly what we showed: throughout the festival, the council was looking at the service it was running with public safety cameras, and even when we had those huge peaks of traffic, their network was still protected. We were really pleased with the outcome. We showed that 5G can scale as it was designed to do – but also, that our slicing technology allows you to have those protected slices without degrading the service in another slice.”

We showed that 5G can scale as it was designed to do

The company is now looking to scale this technology further by allowing even those who aren’t attending the event to enjoy this same immersive experience. “Some people would love to experience a festival, but maybe they’re wheelchair-bound or have issues that mean they can’t be in a crowd,” said the marketing expert. “You could use that same technology to let someone see the event from a quiet space while still having that crowd experience. That was important to the council, too: they wanted to see if the technology could be used for accessibility.”

Learning is a two-way street

When asked whether Zeetta planned to broaden its reach to include larger-scale festivals or more nationally recognised sports venues, neither Justin, Vassilis, nor Simon ruled anything out. “We would love to [approach bigger festivals], and we’re talking to a number of events organisers,” revealed Justin. “But one of our challenges is that there is a lot of education needed with disruptive technology. You have to explain to people that while this may be how they do things today, it isn’t necessarily how things need to work. When technology isn’t their main business, you have to do a lot more explaining – much more so than you would if you went into a high-tech company and explained how you could manage their network and segregate their R&D from the visitors’ network, for example. It’s much easier selling to a technology company than to someone like a stadium.”

Director of product management Joan Garcia Espín agreed with his colleague, telling Cityscape about how a lot of his work entails engaging with non-technical organisations to show them that NetOS isn’t a flashy piece of technology, but rather a crucial enabler that can help fix many existing and wide-reaching problems. (Not many music venues, for example, will know that using NetOS can help them sort through the hierarchical data permissions of backstage staff, all while keeping cashless bar services, electronic ticketing machines, and the general public connection running stably throughout a gig.)

“You have to tell them [what the benefit is]. You have to say: ‘I know you feel it’s flashy and a ‘nice to have,’ but if you encounter this type of situation, this is where you will really struggle, and we are solving that problem already.’ It’s about engaging in that conversation so that they start having an eye-opening moment… then they can start to understand the real value and benefit,” said the director. “But we’re still doing a lot of handholding because our product is new technology. It sits across two different traditional disciplines in networking: monitoring and controlling. It unifies the whole interaction of the engineer or IT manager – whoever it is – with the network infrastructure. That’s the bit where people may require a bit of handholding.

“And we also learn from them,” Joan was quick to add. “Especially in product management, you sometimes specify features because you heard a customer say something, but then when you actually develop the product, those features are just a nice-to-have – because the real, actual problem wasn’t well understood. That’s where we have to be quick and very sharp in understanding what the real issue is. Otherwise, we will be using a lot of energy developing things that will not fit customer needs.

“For me, it’s about explaining case studies. It’s down to storytelling: you tell a story that will make people think about their problem. You try to push them to empathise. And then you can start opening doors to discussions about the problem they’re trying to solve.” As Justin put it, from a marketing point of view, you can’t beat a case study.

But getting that message across to potential clients shouldn’t prove too difficult – especially considering that the creators behind the product have full confidence in its value. “The technology that we have developed is really in keeping with the key issues that haven’t been addressed by network hardware vendors or software vendors for many years now,” said Joan. “There is an increasing pressure on new technologies, new gadgets; the limitations [of the enterprise network] is hindering this advance in some respects. I see a growing demand for the type of technology that we have. I hope and expect that Zeetta will keep developing the business and keep scaling in that respect, because it’s a need that is emerging.”

It is in part due to Justin’s contributions to the company that directors like Joan and Simon can really articulate the full breadth of benefits within NetOS. When the marketing boss (whose professional background includes names such as Huawei and Nokia) took up the new job after meeting Vassilis at an event, he discovered that many of Zeetta’s talented technologists were often unaware of how impressive their achievements actually were. They would drop accomplishments into conversation “as if it was the most normal thing in the world,” explained Justin – when in reality, it was a remarkable feat with potentially wide-reaching application.

It’s down to storytelling: you tell a story that will make people think about their problem. You try to push them to empathise

“The more I talk to industry analysts, the more people say that they’re not aware of anyone doing the same things we’re doing. It’s a unique approach. For example, given enough time, any network engineer can do the things we do in terms of building a network. But we can automatically programme every element in a network within a few seconds, at the press of a button, so we get it 100% right every time,” he continued. “Cisco-certified network engineers can probably do it right 99% of the time, but for every 1% that they make a mistake, they have to find those faults and fix them. And for each element they have to programme, it takes them around two or three minutes – the same amount of time we take to programme the whole network. You multiply those two or three minutes by 400 and suddenly you have a huge, huge task ahead, with the potential to bring in several errors.

“One of our guys casually dropped that into conversation once, and I thought: ‘Hang on a minute, pause there – did you just say you can do this?!’ You have to lead them back and say: Do you understand the real-world problem you’ve solving there? You’ve said we can do in minutes something that takes days for someone else to do, and they might not even get it right the first time!

“This is one of the funny things of working in a start-up with very clever people: sometimes they haven’t understood the business implications of the clever stuff they’re doing. That’s part of the challenge, but also part of the fun.”

Teaching the next generation

Thankfully for Zeetta’s hometown, some of these clever people have been taking time off their busy schedules to share some of that valuable knowledge with others in the city of Bristol. Joan, for example, voluntarily mentors students at the University of Bristol as a result of his personal passion for innovation and R&D – an interest developed while studying for his Master’s in business innovation at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. Almost two years ago, when he heard that Bristol University was promoting third-year student mentoring, he decided to take up the opportunity to teach the next generation about innovation in product development.

“It’s part of the students’ curricular activity, but they take it very seriously. You’re there to tell them, ‘Have you thought about this? Have you thought about how you’re going to develop this? Did you consider this will have an effect on that?’ And a lot of the time, you see their eyes open widely in response; they go away and think about what you said, and then try to come up with a new solution. It’s really rewarding.

“It’s almost like trying to explain something to your children: you have to make an effort to guide them through the race, but you also have to hear the interesting things that they come up with – especially since they’re not constrained and have an open mind.”

Where to next

Zeetta has certainly been making waves in the UK tech market since its spin-out from the university five years ago. Most recently, the company locked down a substantial innovation grant from ENGIE as part of the French multinational’s ‘Big Pitch’ competition last year, beating 32 other contestants. It joined the Orange Fab innovation laboratory, a platform that connects start-ups to corporations to facilitate relationships and strategic investment. It was announced as one of the lucky winners to join in the latest funding round of EU Horizon 2020 projects. It was shortlisted at the 5G World Awards for its contribution to network slicing in the form of NetOS Rapide. In 2018, it unveiled a world-first proof-of-concept demonstration of a blockchain-based carrier marketplace for LSO Sonata, which lowers the cost of business-to-business interactions for network service providers by incorporating virtualisation and slicing technology. Before that, in another global first, the company helped successfully trial a Facebook-designed open-source Voyager device on a live optical network in Spain – a feat that could increase metro and long-haul fibre-optic transport optical network capacity from 10Gbps to 800Gbps without affecting existing services.

So where could the future take a company that has already achieved so much in such little time? If the enthusiasm of its members is anything to go by, the sky’s the limit for Zeetta.

“We’re certainly hoping for big things,” Justin explained. “We have five target areas we’re going after now: the stadium market, because that’s where we are today; smart cities, because that’s also where we are today; we see big opportunities in education, because they use a lot of technology and reutilise a lot of assets; we see the events market as being something we can target with our Rapide product; and also, any office environment where there is a degree of complexity and non-standard requirements. We see a broad appeal in what we do. We have traction in Bristol, and we want to break out from that; there are a lot of really interesting tech companies and businesses in Bristol that we can work with, but we also aspire to be a nationally and internationally recognised company. We don’t see ourselves as limited by the UK’s national boundaries; we just want to grow the company really fast over the next two to three years.”

“We’re establishing relationships with big-system, smart-city integrators,” CEO Vassilis agreed. “The main obstacle for us is about finding the route to market, which is common for bigger corporates as well: learning how to transfer a very innovative technology to a suitable business. The problem we typically have with smart cities is that you can develop a good piece of tech, but how can you commercialise that at scale? In our case, we have to be part of a bigger integrator project: for example, a large corporate will become the system integrator providing a complete smart-city deployment, and will use our software as part of this bigger solution.

“But the technology itself is international. We have been focusing the last couple of years on smart city enterprises, and we found that an area that is increasingly important and promising for our business is private 5G networks. What we’re expecting to happen is that a lot of people in major enterprises will be looking to develop their own private 5G networks, and they will be looking for companies like ourselves to actually provide an orchestration or management solution for these networks. Very few companies can afford a whole team of IT managers to control the complete network like that. That’s where we come in: you don’t have to recruit an army of IT managers to use our software. You just need one person.”

When Vassilis spoke to Cityscape, the company was in the process of raising its next round of funding, an estimated £5m. This will allow Zeetta to scale-up operations and double its current team to over 60 professionals over two years. And if the new entrants are anything like the current employees, expect them to be young, bold, and ready to make their mark. “A lot of university culture is still alive in our company,” joked Vassilis. “Myself personally, I’m encouraging everyone to explore new avenues, new technologies, new ideas that they feel excited about. That’s how you innovate.”

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