Skylane Optics, Walcourt
Setting up a company to revolutionise the internet, in a village in Charleroi Métropole, sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? ? Skylane Optics proves that it is possible, and the adventure shows no sign of stopping.
Using a garage as an office and a genius idea
Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon… a number of garages have been the birthplaces of legendary American success stories. But launching a revolutionary product in a garage in Thy-le-Château, a village in the region of Walcourt, is (even) less common. However, Philippe Bolle did it, in his home. 20 years ago, he decided to design a sort of transceiver radio on the internet network, that he today exports all over the world.
Two-fold question: what does this transceiver have to do with us? To put it simply, it is partly thanks to this little object, no bigger than a USB stick, that we can watch a film by streaming it over the internet in high quality. The transceiver converts the fibre optic signal into an electrical signal and therefore enables a high-speed internet connection directly from the server to the house.
High-value, high-tech parts on a farm in the middle of nowhere
Philippe Bolle’s company has gradually expanded. Skylane Optics now has 35 employees (the majority being between 30 and 40 years old) and a turnover of 13 million. A huge nature lover, this company director established his office in Fraire, just next to the village where he was born, on a small farm at the dead end of a small road. ‘Some mornings, I ride my horse to work, 8 km through the woods from my house’, he explains. This bucolic place is perfect for fans of the countryside, (even) less so for recruiting skilled staff: ‘The difficult access puts some people off. But not everyone: the lab manager travels from Ghentevery day, for example’.
It’s here that we find one of the most efficient laboratories in Europe which guarantees the quality of the products. The transceiver is tested and analysed with respect to both the hardware, the outside of the object (resistance to temperatures up to 70 degrees, for example) and the software, the programming and the coding inside the tool.
‘Some mornings, I ride my horse to work, 8 km through the woods from my home.
30% of Sweden’s telecoms are connected by a Belgian company
The keys to the success of this project? A high-quality product in a niche sector. Skylane Optics focuses on telecommunications operators who need a high-quality transceiver. Guaranteeing that the connection works and is connected to the entire network is very important: imagine your annoyance if the connection stops working whilst you are absorbed in a brilliant series on the internet… That’s the importance of having a product that guarantees that the connection will work and the connection to the entire network.
Another feature of these operators: they are investing in a high-quality, high-speed network. In Sweden, where the connection is known for its quality, 30% of the operators use Belgian transceivers.
What’s more, the market is growing which is another guarantee of success. With connected devices, VR (Virtual Reality), smartphones, etc., the demand for high-speed connections is growing every day.
A piece of the market, despite global competition
Despite the potential of this niche market, you have to be aware of the significant global competition. ‘Between the Rolls Royce of transmitters developed by large corporations and Chinese production at low cost, the telecoms operators choose something between the two: Skylane Optics. They come to us for the quality-price ratio, generally after having several less satisfactory experiences’, explains this company director.
And this strategy works. Skylane Optics is expanding year on year, mainly abroad. 99% of its products are exported to Europe, Asia and America. Success which is showing no sign of stopping: Philippe Bolle has just acquired an office in Miami. This trans-Atlantic office will enable the company to access the American market.
Attracting the Americans to its products is one of the company’s next steps
Success and pride of a high-tech start-up in the heart of Charleroi Métropole
In shorts and t-shirt, Philippe Bolle retains an essential thing of his process: ‘Products made in Wallonia, by a skilled, close-knit team, in a constantly evolving environment, that’s really what I’m proud of’. 2 years ago, Quentin Bolle, Philippe’s son, joined the company. Another argument for maintaining the company’s family spirit.
Here, we make items worth 12,000 euros in the morning and at midday, we play table tennis and eat fries in the neighbouring village. A job consisting of trade missions to Brazil or Asia, meetings in Sweden and team building in Fraire, in the farm’s courtyard, with lights and atmospheric music, everything is surrounded by family and friends.
Working in Wallonia, in a constantly evolving high-tech environment is really rewarding.
Rue du Moulin, 18