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Strawberry Energy – bringing Bench 2.0 to a city near you!

Recently, our old friend Mila Milenkovic from Telekom Serbia introduced us to Miloš Milisavljević, CEO of Strawberry Energy, a startup based in the UK but with a subsidiary in Serbia. Mila has been working extensively to develop Telekom Serbia’s B2B partners and has come across some very interesting companies. Strawberry Energy is no exception.

We’ve had several chats and I recently met Miloš in London, where we discussed the progress his company has made. In brief, Strawberry’s focus is on providing smart assets that can be integrated into the urban environment, either as part of public smart city initiatives, or as private ventures. Specifically, Strawberry focused on benches, part of the everyday street furniture of the urban landscape.

These benches, intended as a public resource, provide local Wi-Fi hotspots, recharging points and more. They are designed to be self-contained, using solar energy where possible. Already, the company has succeeded in making a number of deployments, with a concentration in London (where solar energy is plentiful right now!). The idea is to enable people to use the amenities while they enjoy public spaces.

Any visitor to a British town will know they are full of benches, so they are an established feature of our landscapes. Bench 2.0, as we might say, represents a novel way to upgrade these facilities and deliver more benefits to citizens. However, they are also a commercial opportunity – as Miloš noted, businesses can sponsor their installation, using them as part of their commitment to their communities, for brand promotion and for CSR investments, while cities can use them to bring amenities closer to their citizens.

Now, London’s green spaces are full of benches, as are those in other cities. In Britain, we have a twist on this, as such benches are often sponsored by people to commemorate loved ones. Some parks are crowded with them, but apart from their utility as seats, they offer little else while occupying considerable amounts of space. I’m not sure how common this approach is elsewhere, but it’s not incompatible with a migration towards smarter facilities – each could easily support a plaque or memorial to a relative, for example. So, there’s potential for them to be incorporated into our urban landscapes and to blend into the city environment, offering new benefits while meeting existing needs.

And, there’s another thing that occurred to us as part of our discussions. 5G, as everyone knows by now, requires a dense footprint of small cells to deliver the coverage necessary to support the promised connectivity and capacity performance. The challenge for MNOs is that, to achieve this, the cost will be astronomic. Worse, not only must they deploy many more cell sites, they must also battle with inflexible planning regimes, as we noted in a recent post.

One way to tackle this would be to use existing assets as a base on which to deploy small cells. Street furniture clearly has a role to play in this – street signs, lights and, perhaps even benches. So, while backhaul and addition power requirements need to be addressed, it’s also possible that Strawberry Energy could see some interest from the MNO community, which can leverage (or even sponsor) deployments of Benches 2.0 to help them deliver the footprint that they need.

Consider large public spaces, such as city parks. It’s hardly conceivable that the public will accept the visible intrusion of masses of new antennae into these spaces. Small cells can be discretely positioned and where better to put them than onto or close to structures with which people are already familiar – such as, potentially, benches.

It’s an intriguing thought. We’re not sure if this is viable, but it’s certainly something to consider as MNOs wrestle with the challenge of finding sites for the thousands of small cells they must deploy. As for Strawberry Energy, they have definitely hit upon an interesting idea that is now being rolled out in practice.

The company is now actively seeking investment and is using crowd-sourcing as one vehicle to achieve this. We have no interest or involvement with Strawberry – they are not a client at the time of writing – but if you’re interested, why not have a look at their latest video, here? And, if you are really curious, here’s their Crowdcube page.

With the usual disclaimers, this does not represent any investment advice or opinion. We just think it’s pretty cool and pretty interesting! Enjoy.