Actility, a specialist in low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) connectivity for the IoT, is a company on the move.
This year, it has announced projects in Sweden, the Middle East, Rwanda and New Zealand, among other locations. It also closed its Series D funding round, raising $75 million in the process and has revealed networking giant Cisco to be one of its backers.
To hear more about the company’s direction of travel for the rest of the year and beyond, Internet of Business spoke to Actility CEO Mike Mulica, who took the reins at the company in May last year – the next step in a career that has so far seen him serve at Phone.com, Openwave, Syncronoss and Real Networks.
Internet of Business (IoB): Mike, can you start by telling us a bit more about the funding Actility just raised; for example, what are you planning to use the funds for, how will they help the business grow and what are the key goals you are aiming to achieve?
Mike Mulica: The capital raise [that] Actility completed in March was a ‘strategic’ round. It was our D Series round and, as such, is expected to bridge the company to profitability.
From an investor perspective, we selected investors that brought strategic value, not just capital, such as Idinvest Partners and Orange Digital Ventures. Our new partners, who are global, come from industries in which they are recognized leaders and have intensive plans for the IoT:
- Bosch, based in Germany, serves the industrial world globally;
- Cisco, based in the US, serves enterprises big and small globally;
- Creadev, based in France, is the investment arm of Europe’s largest retail group;
- Foxconn, based in Taiwan, is the world’s largest [electronics] manufacturing company;
- Inmarsat, based in the UK, is the largest satellite connectivity supplier in the world.
The capital raised, in addition to our consortium of close partners, will help build our global footprint of industrial IoT solutions faster than we could have done on our own.
IoB: So can you give us some more detail about your growth and acquisition strategies?
Mulica: Our growth strategy is to provide the most reliable software-as-a-service platform to partners that serve enterprise and industrial markets. We take the ‘cradle to grave’ lifecycle of management point of view.
Our software design and our operating model are intended to facilitate massive entry into the IoT market, by existing vertical solution providers, as well as new entrants that are innovating vertical solutions in individual locations.
We are also going where our customers ask us to go. Many large-scale IoT projects are in the utility vertical. As such, we are investing heavily in our utility practice, to make sure we can be the source of the world’s best technology and serve that segment globally.
Similarly, location and tracking is a global segment that is very large and ripe for cost and service disruption. Simultaneously with our capital raise, we announced the acquisition of a location technology company Abeeway.
From a service standpoint, it’s hard to believe that there isn’t already ubiquitous tracking and sensor management on all the ships on the sea and planes in the air. Our partnership with satellite company Inmarsat will bridge that gap.
Actility is the low-cost, turnkey and accessible platform for anyone who wants to run an IoT network, build an IoT sensor or application business, or buy IoT solutions, globally.
IoB: Technologies and standards within the IoT market can be confusing for buyers. What do you see as the advantage of LPWAN over other technologies and, more specifically, the benefits of the LoRaWAN standard?
Mulica: The main advantage is that the LoRaWAN standard is very open. There are over 500 global companies collaborating on the evolution of the standard, as well as building businesses around their field of expertise. I think that number will be close to 1,000 by the end of the year. A market that allows this type of vibrant participation will innovate fast and drive costs hard.
The main advantages of the LPWAN platform are performance and cost for LPWA [low-power, wide area] solutions. The costs and manageability of low data rate IoT use cases are unmatched.
Having said this, Actility’s ThingPark software platform is radio-agnostic. While we are leaders in LPWAN deployments today, we also support LTE as a radio technology. At Mobile World Congress this year in Barcelona, we showed support for LPWAN, LTE-M and NB-IoT, all at the same time, from a single platform.
Our commitment is to provide the most cost-effective IoT platform to manage, monitor and monetize your IoT business, globally and in a radio-agnostic fashion.
IoB: Which would you say are the three IoT projects that Actility has been involved with that make you most proud?
Mulica: There are projects that make me proud every day here and that’s the fun part of the job. Some are really simple and just make basic stuff work better. Some projects have a big impact on the planet. Some are very interesting from an economic perspective.
On the simple side, the smart mouse trap that sends you a text when it catches a mouse is a small, low-cost idea that has a big impact on rodent control in cities.
Going up the importance ladder, we are connecting many thousands of Orange industrial battery back-up sites [which help keep the French telco’s network stable] to the French electric grid in a smart way. When the grid needs power, it can tap into those batteries and during low-consumption periods, the batteries are recharged. This balancing will be a very big area for IoT.
On the emotional front, we work on projects that are designed to protect endangered species around the world. I’ll avoid giving the details to protect the animals, but these are the parts of my day that make me proud to be at Actility.
IoB: And, on a more general level, what do you see as the most exciting developments in IoT at the present time?
Mulica: We are in a scale period at Actility and it’s hard to imagine being in a more global business. We are deeply engaged with some of the biggest companies in the world, making IoT happen in their respective markets. The learning that we are experiencing from our customers is incredible and I believe we are a unique source in this regard.
There are very few companies that can look across every continent simultaneously and have first-hand knowledge of how IoT services are being introduced and how they can perform. We bring that synthesized knowledge back to our customers every day. That’s exciting.
As an example, last week we announced Spark in New Zealand as a new customer. They have a tremendous portfolio of smart agriculture solutions. Recently, I was at Comcast in Philadelphia, they are also targeting the smart agriculture segment and Spark can be a source of solutions. Coincidentally, I just got off the phone with a Russian partner and the same is true there.
IoB: So as Actility CEO, Mike, what are you goals for the company for the remainder of 2017?
Mulica: Our goals for the year are quite simple: build quality products and make our customers successful. Actility is built on the notion that IoT will only be successful if the model of introducing, managing and monetizing a project is very automated and is low cost. Being turnkey and low-cost are critical factors.