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Ingenu Seeks Funding to Support Growth

Iain Morris

Internet of Things (IoT) specialist Ingenu is getting ready to hold a fundraising round to support the growth of its business, Light Reading has learned.

The US company's RPMA technology competes against a host of other connectivity options, including Sigfox, LoRa and various cellular standards, in the market for low-power, wide-area (LPWA) networks.

Such technologies are already powering a variety of machine-based services, from smart metering to vehicle telematics, and Ingenu says that soaring demand for RPMA (random phase multiple access) connectivity has prompted the funding move.

"We are getting ready to do a raise because we are growing faster than we anticipated," says John Horn, Ingenu's CEO, in a conversation with Light Reading.

The decision marks something of a U-turn for Ingenu, which in May last year ruled out the need for any fresh external funding. "We have enough cash to do what we need to do to cover the world," said Horn at the time. (See Ingenu Revs Up IoT Rhetoric.)

Since then, however, Ingenu has announced a number of big deals with international licensees, including a recent tie-up with professional services firm MEC Telematik, which plans to build an Ingenu network across several countries in the Middle East.

It can also point to some major corporations as users of its technology, including oil giant Shell and agricultural business US Sugar.

Under Ingenu's model, a licensee is charged an upfront fee that gives it the right to build and operate an Ingenu network in a particular country. Licensees put money for hardware construction into escrow and are charged annual fees for access points on towers and devices on the network once the service is up and running.

While Ingenu works through licensees outside the US, it is also playing the role of network operator in its domestic market. Horn says there are about 50 countries "in the mix right now" and that services are currently available in 29 of these markets.

Ingenu's profile in the telecom industry has been much lower than that of Sigfox and LoRa, which also use unlicensed spectrum to support services and figure in the IoT plans of cellular operators including France's Orange (NYSE: FTE), Spain's Telefónica and South Korea's SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM). (See Sigfox 'Only Option' Today, Says Telefónica, Orange Hails LoRa Breakthrough as Bouygues Ups IoT Game and SK Telecom Sees LTE-M, LoRa as Its 'Two Main IoT Pillars'.)

But that could soon change, according to Horn. "We haven't made official announcements yet about cellular operators building RPMA networks but we have some working on it," he says.

Horn is also dismissive of telco deals involving other LPWA technologies, saying they typically represent "a small subset" of the operator's business. "I'm not after the crumbs -- I'm after a major share of this business," he says.

Want to know more about the Internet of Things? Check out our dedicated IoT content channel here on Light Reading.

Despite fierce competition from other technologies, including the cellular industry's own NB-IoT standard, Horn reckons RPMA could feasibly address between 80% and 90% of the entire LPWA market.

Ingenu claims that RPMA has several advantages over other network technologies, including superior coverage capabilities and reliance on a single spectrum band -- the 2.4GHz range -- across the entire world.

"Phoenix [in Arizona] has 1,500 LTE towers and we covered the metro area with nine," says Horn. "And because we use 2.4GHz everywhere, any solution in the ecosystem can do business anywhere on the planet."

Those coverage capabilities also make RPMA a far more cost-effective technology than Sigfox, claims Horn. "They need so many more towers than us," he says. "They can say their equipment is cheaper but if you have to pay rent on 40 times more towers where is the value?"

Sigfox raised €150 million ($161 million) in a funding round last November, indicating at the time that it would use the money to expand coverage from 26 to 60 countries. But critics have accused the French company of exaggerating its coverage claims and say it will need additional funds to realize its global ambitions. (See Sigfox Defies Critics to Raise €150M in Funding.)

Horn is equally scathing about LoRa and NB-IoT, describing the former as a "campus" technology and arguing that NB-IoT -- which was included in the Release 13 standards update from the 3GPP last summer -- is still beset by intellectual property (IP) disputes between Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

"The industry seems to be coalescing around NB-IoT but everyone agrees it won't be commercially viable until 2020," says Horn. "We've had announcements that NB-IoT will be rolled out this year but how is that possible when the 3GPP still doesn't have a solid NB-IoT standard and Ericsson and Huawei are battling over IP in the standard? What version of NB-IoT are they rolling out?"

Horn's attack comes after Light Reading revealed that NB-IoT cheerleader Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) had missed targets for the deployment of the technology in some of its European markets. (See The NB-IoT Train Is Delayed and Vodafone to Miss NB-IoT Launch Targets.)

Ingenu faces its own critics, however. The LoRa Alliance that was set up to promote LoRa technology has described Ingenu's reliance on 2.4GHz spectrum as a "strategic mistake," pointing out that 2.4GHz is also used to support WiFi communications, which could make RPMA subject to congestion and interference.

Others have drawn attention to the proprietary nature of RPMA. "If you look back at the history of wireless communications there aren't any successful proprietary technologies," said William Webb, the CEO of the Weightless Special Interest Group, which has been trying to develop open LPWA standards, in a conversation with Light Reading last year.

Unsurprisingly, Horn has rejected such criticisms, insisting that the networks it operates in the most "congestion-rich environment[s]" have not encountered any problems, and that Ingenu's control of intellectual property means it can offer commitments other technology providers cannot match.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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