Communication is an integral part of business operations. At present, not only large businesses and enterprises but, small and medium-scale businesses (SMBs) serve from geographically-distributed regions, requiring investments in digital communication methods. To bring to them a cost-effective, user-friendly and easy-to-maintain connectivity solution, startup Crux Labs offers Crux LX.
Problems that Crux LX addresses
Rohit Gupta, founder of Singapore-based Crux Labs, noticed the lack of a scalable and cost-effective on-premise connectivity solution for SMBs. Solutions that exist were majorly analogue-based, requiring hardwiring. These were difficult to install and cumbersome to maintain. Wiring and installation required high charges for cables and service. A bigger problem came when users had to shift base, which required them to follow the whole Herculian process all over again. Digital solutions, on the other hand, are expensive.
Gupta says, “Big enterprises have perks like work-from-home or geographically-distributed and connected workforces. They have made investments in communication technologies accordingly. But, that level of investment is difficult for SMBs.”
While connecting with some businesses who belonged to their target customer category—companies with fewer than 100 employees—Gupta realised that the existing challenges were multifold. He also found that private branch exchange (PBX) vendors offer analogue-based solutions from big brands, starting at about INR 60,000 to INR 65,000 and higher for more than 50 users. When asked for IP-based digital solutions, these vendors quote about SG$ 8000 to SG$ 10,000 (INR 403,000 to INR 503,000 approximately)—price range that does not match the economies of scale for SMBs.
In addition, these solutions lack scalability and simplicity. Most cater to a limited number of users (30 to 50), which cannot be expanded further. Therefore as businesses grow, they may have to invest in whole new setups once again.
Gupta mentions that the best alternatives so far—cloud-based IP communication solutions—have their own set of challenges. He explains, “Although these solutions do not require any upfront capital, subscription rates draw an expense almost equivalent to expensive on-premise IP-based solutions. Within a span of two to three years, the cost point becomes similar, failing to serve the purpose for SMBs.” Crux Labs wanted to address all these issues at once.
Crux LX architecture
Most of today’s connectivity, especially in tier 1 cities, runs through fibre cables, eventually channelling voice-based signals over the telephone and network data over the router. Crux team wanted to create a platform that can route call data through the router and land directly to the smartphone instead—all as an on-premise solution instead of a cloud-based one.
“Our product is basically a wireless router that performs telephony and IP-PBX operations. The idea is to have a router that can utilise and analyse all data without having to wait for it to reach the cloud or depend on the Internet,” says Gupta.
Crux LX is designed based on open source resources. Software setup is Linux Apache MySQL PHP (LAMP) architecture with MQTT messaging broker and built-in support for Node.js. For hardware, it uses Raspberry Pi as the base board and Broadcom processor. Avnet and Element14 are the supply partners for Crux Labs.
The platform can be operated using any compatible open source mobile application (like Zoiper and GSWave) available in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. It features voice calls, conference bridges, voicemail and many other useful options.
One Crux LX unit can enroll up to 250 users and support 20 concurrent conversations. Users can pair multiple Crux devices, even across geographies over the Internet, to expand user support and create an internal network.
Gupta adds, “We are in contact with some of our partners who have their applications on a cloud service (like Amazon Web Services) and are exploring to bring those applications on top of Crux LX platform. This will create a full-scale on-premise appliance for them without any dependence and expenditure on cloud, or any additional setup.”
Overcoming technical barriers
Picking up pace in telecommunications science and finding a solution unaffected by today’s digital clutter were the first set of challenges Gupta had to face. Initially, the solution was planned to be manufactured in India, with the team following up some factories and gathering estimates. He says, “Cost points quoted by factories were prohibitory, costing almost ` 20 to 30 million for the production process, which had to be paid upfront.” Taking an open systems approach, the team was able to manufacture the product at a much lower cost.
Team Crux overcame most challenges with the help of Board of Advisors, which comprised family members and friends who were also experts in different fields of operation, including technology, business strategy, marketing and external communications.
The idea of Crux LX was conceived in October 2016. Towards the end of December 2016, the team had built a coverless prototype after consultation with advisors and some small businesses. March 2017 marked the start of Alpha launch, with one of the team’s clients based out of Singapore.
The following April, the first official unit of Crux LX was brought to life. The period from July 2017 to September 2017 marked the product’s Beta phase, where the solution was deployed to the first Indian client, ELICO Ltd, a Hyderabad-based analytical instruments manufacturer.
In March 2018, Crux LX was registered with Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) Singapore. It has been trading in the open market since, and has achieved authorised vendor status for Singtel, Singapore.
India connect and roadmap ahead
Crux Labs is set to open an office in Bengaluru, India in another six to eight months. With expansion plans, the company is fine-tuning its business operations by involving digital technology in areas like CRM and accounting, among others. The aim is to create a strong foothold among the Indian SMB chain.
However, Gupta foresees a couple of challenges. First, especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, lack of proper smartphone and basic resources with a large number of users may hinder the user experience. Therefore the company will start its services with tier 1 cities initially.
The second challenge lies in the lack of proper supplier and distributor chain for SMBs, like those available for big enterprises. The strategy is to deliver the products initially and slowly create a distributor chain.
In the long run, Crux Labs plans to reach out to the consumer and domestic segment as well. For that, it will scale down Crux LX into a more compact and plug-and-play form factor at cheaper cost. It will also venture out and expand into other industries to provide solutions across different verticals. For instance, the team is working on call accounting technologies to enable per user billing and call analytics, which is useful for hotels and other commercial entities. It is also looking into VSAT voice communication that can be used for maritime communication, or in remote areas.