Actility CEO: “We’re going where our customers ask us to go.”

Actility CEO We're going where customers ask us to go

Actility, a specialist in low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) connectivity for the IoT, is a company on the move.

Mike Mulica, CEO of Actility

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.

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Actility adds Cisco to list of financial backers

Actility names Cisco as financial backer

Actility, a specialist in low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) connectivity for the IoT, has announced Cisco as a participant in its $ 75 million Series D funding round.

This most recent tranche of investment was first announced back in April, when BNP Paribas, Creadev, Orange, Inmarsat and Robert Bosch Venture Capital were named as participants. At a LoRa Alliance event in Philadelphia yesterday, Actility revealed it could add Cisco to its list of backers.

“Cisco’s strategic investment… further enhances the collaboration of two complementary IoT solution providers with big plans for the connected world,” said Actility CEO Mike Mulica.

With this funding, the company says it will be able to roll out industrial IoT solutions for key areas such as logistics and supply chain, smart buildings, and energy and utilities.

Read more: Actility raises $ 75m from investors including Bosch

Cisco’s intentions

The funding raises some questions about Cisco’s long-term intentions – is seven year-old Actility perhaps an acquisition target?

After all, Cisco is a highly acquisitive company, with healthy cash reserves and its sights firmly set on developing its IoT portfolio, as evidenced by its $ 1.4 billion purchase of Jasper Technologies, announced in February 2016.

And the two companies are already partners, with Actility joining Cisco’s IoT ecosystem programme, also in February 2016.

In a public statement, Amit Chaturvedy, head of IoT investments and acquisitions at Cisco, praised Actility’s work in developing LPWA technology.

“Cisco is focused on enabling the rapid proliferation of IoT through LPWA technologies, including LoRaWAN gateways and geolocation services,” he said.

“We invest in companies that share our passion for helping customers and are leaders in their technologies. Actility is dedicated to a great customer experience through the LPWA IoT on-boarding, operating and monetization experience.”

Read more: Actility launches LoRaWAN networks in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia

LPWA benefits

LPWA networks occupy a middle ground between wide-area cellular network technologies and more localised, short-range networks such as Bluetooth, Zigbee and WiFi variants. According to analyst Andrew Zigani at ABI Research, LPWANs and cellular-based networks are poised to steal market share from more localized technologies.

“LPWAN technologies including RPMA, SIGFOX, LoRa, LTE Cat-M1, NB-IoT, and EC-GSM-IoT comprise a very competitive and rapidly evolving IoT connectivity landscape,” he writes in a recent report. “These technologies are specifically designed for IoT and are arguably much better matches for outdoor, larger-scale IoT applications due to their abilities to target greater coverage areas, their ease of deployment, and their greater scalability.”

Read more: Actility and Blink partner on national IoT network for Sweden

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Actility and Blink partner on national IoT network for Sweden

French low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) specialist Actility has partnered with Swedish LoRaWAN company Blink to roll out a national IoT network in Sweden.

The companies will work together to provide the digital infrastructure that will underpin various smart city projects cross Sweden.

The news follows the recent closure of Actility’s Series D funding round, in which the start-up secured $ 75m from investors including German engineering and electronics giant Bosch.

Read more: Kigali IoT network provides blueprint for African smart city initiatives

Benefits for urban and rural Swedes

The network will be based on Actility’s ThingPark LPWA technology platform – already in use in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia – and will build on the work already done by Blink to create networks in Helsingborg and Landskrona, in the country’s south. 

Several other cities in Sweden are standing by, ready for installation, according to Blink, but the company needed to enlist the services of Actility in order to speed up deployment.

Once complete, the hope is that the network will benefit Sweden’s urban and rural populations alike, through projects like the installation of smart traffic solutions to reduce fuel consumption and pollution.

Blink has already achieved some success in this regard. Alongside its sister company, Blinkfyrar, a Swedish road sign supplier, the company has developed a product called Signsensor. This technology detects if a road sign is damaged and alerts an engineer to repair it, cutting out the need for regular physical inspections.

The company’s ambitions in Sweden stretch beyond traffic improvements, however, and the hope is that the new network could also support other use cases, including smart agriculture technologies to drive more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming.

There is also the opportunity to integrate IoT geolocation applications into logistics and supply chain operations across a number of sectors. Having partnered with satellite connectivity giant, Inmarsat, in February of this year, Actility has bolstered its ability to offer location tracking technology ‘anywhere on the planet’, and is targeting asset tracking in agriculture in particular.

Read more: IoT on the farm: automated cow milking and more

Connectivity for an entire nation

“We’re excited to be working with Actility to bring IoT connectivity to the whole of Sweden,” commented Matts Lilja, managing director of Blink Services.

“A digital wireless infrastructure for IoT will mean major changes and many opportunities. Technology can fundamentally change the conditions for several established business models, as we already see installed systems around the world. Through working with Actility, we will be able to utilise its experience and hands-on knowledge, and work to set the standard for how things communicate with each other, both locally and nationally.”

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Actility acquires Abeeway for greater IoT location services

Actility, an IoT and M2M solutions provider, has acquired geolocation system specialist Abeeway with the aim to provide a best in class portfolio of IoT location services to support service providers and solution vendors across a wide range of industry sectors.

Abeeway, already a market leader in tracking devices, offers on-demand geolocation, movement alerts or geofencing that use GPS signals to determine their location, but energy-efficient LoRaWAN communication to pass that location to a tracking application. Hence, in comparison with trackers using cellular networks, they offer much longer battery life.

The key innovation developed by Abeeway, providing a powerful competitive advantage to Actility location services, is an assisted GPS technology specifically optimised for LoRaWAN, which allows fewer satellites to be used for a fix and reduces the GPS lock time to a few seconds. The power required for both GPS signal acquisition and processing is reduced: this combination results in a dramatic increase in battery life, by an order of magnitude versus existing GPS location technology.

ThingPark Location services will be accessible through APIs – when combined with the bidirectional capability of the LoRaWAN link – will allow developers to manage geolocation according to the needs of their application.

Olivier Hersent, Actility founder and CTO, said: “The unique advantage of our platform is its ability to serve a huge variety of use cases by combining different location technologies including network-based TDoA location, GPS and A-GPS, Bluetooth beacons and wi-fi ‘sniffing.’”

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Actility launches LoRaWAN networks in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia

Actility has partnered with a number of companies to launch IoT networks in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

The IoT and M2M specialist has teamed up with Machinestalk in Saudi Arabia to deploy a large-scale LoRaWAN network. Machinestalk is planning to use the LoRaWAN infrastructure to facilitate the implementation of IoT solutions in industry sectors including oil and gas, smart city solutions, M2M, and industrial applications. For the oil and gas industry, the network will support services including smart metering, to improve the end-to-end supply chain.

From the smart city perspective, Machinestalk will deploy services including a smart lighting solution, environmental monitoring, smart parking systems and waste management solutions resulting in greener, more efficient and connected cities in Saudi Arabia and the MENA region.

Machinestalk managing director Nawaaf Alshalani said implementing LoRaWAN network and LPWAN technologies will give an added value to the region and enable the grow of the IoT market in the Kenvenvingdom in line with its ‘2030 Vision‘.

“Our studies and research indicate that 11 per cent of IoT connections will use LPWAN technologies that serve applications and solutions that require low-cost, multi-year battery operation, long-range connectivity, and geolocation,” he said.

Read more: Dubai police roll out ‘Robocop’ to fight crime

LoRaWAN in Tunisia

Actility has also worked with Get Wireless to develop a large-scale IoT communication network in Tunisia, based on LoRaWAN technology and powered by the ThingPark platform.

Get Wireless is expecting to see its customers deploying IoT solutions in smart grid, for metering and managing energy demand and distribution capacity, in waste management, where the location capabilities of networks powered by the ThingPark platform will enable management and optimisation of waste collection routes in real time, and in e-health.

“With the Tunisian IoT market now opened up for development by Mincom, the way is clear for our customers to begin to deploy services, which they want to do as swiftly and efficiently as possible to take advantage of this new market,” said Malek Ben Jalel, VP Presales of Get Wireless.

“We believe that Actility’s platform will allow us to quickly install and easily maintain a best in class product for our customers. Actility has the experience gained as a founding member of the LoRa Alliance and a veteran of many large-scale network rollouts worldwide, which gives us confidence in its ability to deliver the best solutions, and the value of its shared insight into successful business strategies for the IoT.”

Actility CEO Mike Mulica said that the region is “gearing up to provide smart services founded on the intelligence offered by the IoT powered by our ThingPark platform. The ability of the IoT to improve the quality of life for everyone is widely recognised throughout Africa, and the region is fast becoming one of the leading engines for IoT adoption and growth worldwide.”

Read more: Actility and Inmarsat deliver global LoRaWAN network

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