It’s been six years and quite the journey for Zetifi since an enterprising network engineer from Wagga Wagga had an idea he thought could improve connectivity for farmers. The idea involved filling coverage gaps with Wi-Fi and has since blossomed into a flourishing technology company that will soon be launching their first mass-market products.
Zetifi’s first office was the backroom of a local computer store. Founder Dan Winson was allowed to use the unoccupied space to start piecing together the Wi-Fi solutions he thought could help farmers with their connectivity and it wasn’t long before the first prototypes started rolling out the door.
Fast forward six years and many iterations of those initial product ideas later, and the business has grown to a team of 30 that counts Telstra and GrainCorp as their main investors via a $12 million Series A capital raise. This investment was always intended to provide Zetifi with the resources required to take their products from small-scale innovative solutions through to mass-market products that are ready to meet the growing demand for their solutions in Australia and beyond. Zetifi has doubled the size of its product development and engineering teams in the last year in what has been a truly transformative period for the business.
“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 Wi-Fi coverage extension 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 in this product family; 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. The $12m capital injection from Telstra, GrainCorp and other investors gave the team additional capacity and funding required 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 excited about the many improvements coming with the new ZetiRover and being able to promote it widely without the concern of any late nights 3D printing components just to keep up with orders!”
Zetifi’s next generation ZetiRover will begin field trials in early 2024.
This story is based on an article that first appeared in the Telstra Regional Australia e-newsletter in November 2023.
Pictured: Paul Maybon, Chief Product Officer, with the new ZetiRover.