Six years ago, an enterprising network engineer from Wagga Wagga had an idea he thought could help local farmers improve their network coverage. The idea involved filling coverage gaps with Wi-Fi and has since blossomed into Zetifi – a flourishing technology company with 30 staff that counts Telstra as one of their biggest supporters and investors.
Zetifi products are proving popular with farmers and regional workers around the country, so much so company doubled the size of its product development and engineering teams in the last year. This recent growth follows a $12 million Series A capital raise led by Telstra and GrainCorp. The next goal is to scale up operations to meet the growing demand for their solutions in Australia and beyond.
“It’s been a phenomenal ride,” says Chief Product Officer and the company’s second employee, Paul Maybon. “Like any start-up, the early days involved taking on any job that needed doing and just hoping that we knew enough to get some wins with customers willing to take a punt and let us test our ideas. The farmers we worked with were incredibly supportive, I think because they were just so happy to meet people who were trying to help with them with their connectivity.”
The core idea behind Zetifi’s products is this; with the advent of smart phones that can use Wi-Fi to make phone calls just as easily as they can use a cellular signal, it is now possible to provide a service for phone calls and data by extending any internet connection as long-range Wi-Fi.
This resulted in two main products; a ZetiCell that provides permanent Wi-Fi around sheds or homesteads, and the ZetiRover, which provides roaming Wi-Fi for vehicles and farm machinery in the paddock or on the open road.
“Early on, people saw the benefit of having a single solution you can use to make phone calls and to connect cameras or other Wi-Fi enabled devices,” Paul says. “In those days we were using a lot of 3D printed components to create what we needed at low cost. But it was slow going – sometimes we had six or seven printers running day and night.”
Nonetheless, the hands-on approach had big benefits. It enabled the team to transform their ideas into new technology that scales Wi-Fi solutions as consumer connectivity products. Telstra’s capital injection gave the team additional capacity, used to re-engineer their flagship ZetiRover product as the first ready for mass-market adoption.
“Before the capital-raise we were just keeping up with orders, whereas this year we were able to hire senior engineers who know how to scale a product like the ZetiRover and still manufacture it locally, which is very important to us,” Paul says. “We are very excited about promoting a product widely, without the concern of any late nights printing components just to keep up with orders!”
This article first appeared in the Telstra Regional Australia e-newsletter in October 2023.
Pictured: Paul Maybon, Chief Product Officer