Actility eyes acquisitions and seeks to expand from LoRa base

Actility CEO says acquisitions planned to grow scope, and adds that company will not solely be a LoRa shop in future, with some LTE-M customer launches planned for 2017.

The CEO of Actility has said the company is “looking at a bunch of acquisitions right now” as the company looks to expand the scope of its activities related to the Internet of Things.

Mike Mulica, who took over at the company in April 2016, added that the company will also become less associated with LoRa technology, and will become more cross-platform in its approach.

Actility is a provider of LoRaWAN core network servers, on top of which it markets an IoT management platform called ThingPark that provisions and manages IoT devices and gateways.

Mulica said that the company is eyeing acquisitions that would enable it to “advance a number of use cases”.

“In particular we think LoRa has some gigantic advantages in location from a cost standpoint relative to anything LTE can do because of LTE synch requirements. We think a killer app for IoT will be in tracking and that LoRa is uniquely suited to provide tracking APIs and modules globally in a way that’s super disruptive. So we are looking at stuff in that area to advance our position.”

“We wouldn’t acquire a tracking company that does an application for picking up garbage or tracking shipping containers, we would be interested in acquiring technologies that enable those apps so that there is a comparative advantage on a cost basis to do that tracking. There are probably now M2M apps over cellular we think that LoRa can disrupt because of its lower cost base. We can then enable APIs to those apps to make them more competitive.”

Although his example of likely acquisition focussed on the inherent technical advantages of LoRa over cellular M2M, Mulica said that the company has become known as a key player in LoRa technology only because LoRa has been the first LPWA technology to market. In time the company will move away from being seen as solely a LoRa shop.

When there are narrowband LTE-M sensors in the market you will see us embrace that and we will be announcing some customers in that area next year as they move past the trial phase

“We provide management systems for connected objects, and our view was of a software stack capable of managing billions of things that might, in some instances, only involve one transaction a day or an hour. That’s very different from existing [cellular network] management systems.

A snip from the Actility site showing its foregrounding of LoRaWAN technology.

“LoRa happens to be something we discovered early with Semtech and IBM, and pursued as a connectivity path. But we are also supporting LTE-M as that emerges and so the story is we are all about LPWA. LoRa is first in the market with technology that connects things in a super efficient way and we think LTE-M will complement that well. In addition to that is a very easy on-ramping for app communities that support Zigbee and Bluetooth – so think of us as radio agnostic. One way to get inserted into the market is via the acceptance of LoRa and then [drive] the introduction into additional radio protocols.”

In fact, the Actility website talks little of such radio agnosticism, but a great deal about LoRa.

“The website should be talking about LPWA,” Mulica said. “There is a lot about LoRa because the current instantiation of LPWA is LoRA. When there are narrowband LTE-M sensors in the market you will see us embrace that and we will be announcing some customers in that area in 2017 as they move past the trial phase. But there are really not the sensors right now.”

“We obviously don’t build radio but have implemented an MVNE module that is specified in 3GPP, adopting the 3GPP architecture for management, that allow us to bring in LTE-M sensors, connect with them and manage them from our platform in same way we manage LORA sensors today.”

Mulica said that fits in with customer strategy to have a consolidated, horizontal management layer that interfaces with different radio technologies.

“Most of our customers have a similar strategy. It’s now clear that different use cases will be supported by different technolologies, for example LoRa has a 5-10x benefit over LTE-M in terms of battery life under certain transaction conditions. If you have to put a bigger battery in it costs 2-3x more – and you are talking about multiplying that cost by millions of sensors. So LoRa is orders of magnitude cheaper. But as you  go up to higher bandwidths, especially for video, then LTE-M comes into play. 

“Most customers will do LoRa and and LTE-M. That requires a highly efficient platform operating in an automated way, given how different this is from managing and on-boarding an iphone. Sensors are super low cost and with such thin margins you require incredible efficiency. In that LPWA sweet spot where you may have a billion unpredictable transactions, current management systems will not support that kind of environment. Our goal is to be there first, gain confidence that our software is well suited for that challenge and then grow into different device and radio environments.”

The strategy could well fit with Orange, to take one example, which has stated it will have LoRa and cellular IoT networks, but that it sees a common management and analytics platform as a must-have. For Actility to stay relevant in that environment in the longer term it must be able provide that cross-radio network compatibility.