‘Entrepreneurship is an emotional business’: Pravin Bhagwat of Mojo Networks talks tech and starting upSampath Putrevu
MojoNetworks, formerly called AirTight Networks, develops a unified cloud-managed WiFi network, offering robust access, security and engagement capabilities for enterprises. In an interview, Founder Pravin Bhagwat talks about how his company has combined technologies like AI, ML and NLP to bring a standout product.
“I realised that advice is what you get when you look for funding,” says Pravin Bhagwat, while recollecting the times he built the technology framework for AirTight Networks (now Mojo Networks) along with his team in 2003.
Calling entrepreneurship an emotional business, he says that his 15-year journey of making a mark in the WiFi market, has by no means been a rational business, and was one mixed with much ambiguity and doubt. “I’ve had my own share of challenges, it’s not butterflies and rainbows,” he adds.
A graduate from IIT Kanpur, Pravin was an unlikely entrepreneur. After his PhD, he began work at IBM Research and was part of a team that actually built the WiFi. It was at this time that he saw most of his peers and colleagues moving to Silicon Valley to start their businesses.
Pravin, too, felt the need to do something different, but he couldn’t move out of New York, as his wife was in medical school. However, by the time he was ready to move, the dotcom bust had happened.
Pravin contemplated setting up a technology startup in India. In an earlier conversation with YourStory, he said,
"I felt that the whole chaotic existence of India is a very fertile ground for creativity. In the Valley, everything is so smoothly running and you begin to wonder what value you’re going to add. And while there were several IT companies established in India at that time, they were more IT services based and not technology based."
So, Pravin returned to India and took up a job as a professor at IIT Kanpur. It was here that he hired his first set of employees and set up AirTight Networks, a WiFi technology company, in 2003.
Vision for low-cost internet and Mojo’s birth
Being part of the core team that built the WiFi, Pravin was aware of all of its flaws and the risks that one could face, so he decided to build a technology that actually helped secure the WiFi that one would use. His team, which he built at IIT Kanpur, went ahead and built the technology.
Talking about how he stumbled upon his interest towards technology, Pravin says it’s all in the air he grew up in, in Kanpur. He graduated from IIT-Kanpur and while he was there, he wanted to be a scientist and do meaningful work that would potentially have a significant impact on the environment and the society. He was in the pursuit of one such domain which would allow him to do so.
“I somehow got fascinated by the area of computer networking during the pre-internet Era, and during 1986-1990 when I was in IIT Kanpur. I did my PhD in Wireless and Mobile Networking, which was when I got exposed to the space. The whole experience was exciting and challenging and I realised that the concept of WiFi has a huge potential to disrupt the telecom space in the world. My idea was to build technology that would give internet access at very low costs.”
But the idea was ahead of its time. Bharat Net, the ambitious government telecommunications project, which aims to deliver broadband connectivity to gram panchayats through Optical Fibres, is now finding its place in the current era but Pravin envisioned it back in 2002. When Pravin was ready to build it, the market was not ready to accept it and fund it.
It took him 15 years and now Mojo Networks is a globally recognised company. "Life has come full circle now, when Mojo exactly fits the requirement of something like Bharat Net," he says.
Access to the internet these days has almost become a fundamental right, but the cost of enabling the next billion users with internet has to be lowered further. Since WiFi falls under the unlicensed spectrum, it is a perfect fertile ground for innovators to build something on top of it and solve real-world problems.
Pravin and team leveraged this advantage and involved emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) into the framework. He explains,
"It’s important because users are going to access essential services around WiFi and using these tech will allow us to amplify the carrier grade networks and drastically cut down on costs."
While Mojo is catering to North America and the Southeast Asian markets at present, it is now in the process of striking partnerships with organisations and places that require low-cost internet. Though it took him 15 years, he says it has been an exciting ride.
How Mojo aced the ML game
When someone is asked how their WiFi network is, they usually say, "It’s fine but sometimes it gets disconnected and becomes slow due to low bandwidth." So the general satisfaction of users on a regular WiFi speed is not really up to the mark.
"It’s a grey area where exactly AI and ML can come into picture, assess user satisfaction levels and fix the relevant issues in the technology," Pravin adds. He said,
"If you build a large-scale carrier network, you will be able to see through the analytics of data usage by the users. You don’t need any feedback forms or surveys, you will always have a rough idea of how the quality is. What AI and ML can enable is make the network far more responsive and efficient, and that is exactly what we are doing at Mojo, without requiring their involvement during every internet session."
The two faces in this technology innovation coin are about reducing the operational costs and increasing the quality of experience, which is how Mojo envisioned to proactively solve problems before they turn into monsters. He goes on to say that one cannot use Boolean Algebra to fix grey areas and there is a definite need for human interference and intelligence. Qualitative assessment is a grey area in WiFi networks and that is where ML bridges the gap and brings out tangible solutions.
You may ask the digital assistant on your smartphone to schedule a meeting or provide a weather update. What if you could have a similar assistant to ask about the overall health of the network, debug client issues or take corrective actions? A wireless network platform with such a capability can assist in day-to-day management and in finding and fixing complex issues. Combining natural language processing techniques (NLP) with the intelligence of Mojo Cognitive WiFi that continuously monitors user experience, detects potential issues and provides solutions has made this a reality.
The cognition plane in Mojo Cognitive WiFi spans across the intelligent edge access points, and the Big Data and ML platform in the cloud. Thanks to the integration of NLP in the cognitive WiFi platform, network administrators can now have a natural language interface that serves as an assistant in carrying out routine tasks or in gaining insights into complex issues.
The natural language interface can understand the intention of the IT administrator and it responds by providing relevant information, insights and root causes.
So what does all this mean for a WiFi admin? With the natural language interface, the admin does not have to search or spend time on getting his configuration details to fix any issues, which is just the navigational aspect. With the cognition plane doing much of the analysis, the administrator can get actionable information directly.
While the ideal objective is to solve real-world problems with technology, most companies fall short of this goal, but Mojo Networks has managed to make a mark. Maybe it is Pravin’s boundless enthusiasm and passion for technology that has made his company stand out.
"For me, it’s not about making money. It’s about demonstrating that global tech innovation is possible, and the possibilities are limitless," he says.
Having A/B tested his career with engineering, sales, writing, and product management, Sampath now executes a callback function for a second stint with YourStory. Loves to eat, learn, write, travel, and take photographs. Often spotted consuming lethal doses of Dosa on the main roads of Bangalore. Tweet to him at @sampathptrvu.