On-Ramp Wireless Looks to Catch Coming Wave of IoT Technologies

As the Internet of Things comes of age, San Diego’s On-Ramp Wireless may be one of the prototypical companies to emerge among a wave of IoT technologies known as low-power wide-area networks.

In contrast to bandwidth-hungry wireless networks that require high power to drive video streaming and other high-volume data applications, low-power networks are intended to connect inexpensive devices that only need to occasionally “chirp” bursts of data. Think of electric and water meters, smoke alarms, parking meters, streetlights, traffic sensors, building controls, energy management systems, location tracking devices, and industrial sensor networks.

On-Ramp Wireless, founded in 2008, provides low-power, wide-area network technology for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications across thousands of square miles. The company focused initially on electric utilities that were moving to adopt new efficiency-improving power grid technologies like intelligent lighting and advanced metering infrastructure.

In 2012, On-Ramp began to expand into related markets, such as the oil and gas industry, and since then, CEO Kevin Hell has sought to extend the company’s reach even further.

The market appears wide open, largely because IoT systems operate in unlicensed radio frequencies in the so-called ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical) radio bands. These bands were initially reserved for non-communications uses of radio-frequency energy, such as microwave ovens.

Kevin Hell April 2015Hell told me recently that On-Ramp saw its technology deployed in 30 networks in 2014, twice as many as in 2013. Hell also has forged industry partnerships overseas with Italy’s MeterLinq, Ottawa, Canada-based Energate, and Singapore’s EDMI, and he’s looking to do more.

“We sell technology in the form of radios that get embedded in other devices, like smart meters,” Hell explained. “What we’re selling ultimately is connectivity, an end-to-end solution that includes radio modules, nodes, and networking equipment.”

To fund On-Ramp’s expansion, Hell said he’s begun looking to raise additional funding for On-Ramp in a Series D round. The company closed its Series C financing round at $38 million just over a year ago, and has raised a total of $77 million in venture funding, Hell said.

It’s also worth noting that Hell got some IPO experience in his previous billet as the CEO of DivX, a San Diego video technology company that went public in 2006. (On-Ramp was valued at $72 million at the end of last year, according to Pitchbook data.) Novato, CA-based Sonic Solutions acquired DivX for $326 million in 2010, and Sonic was itself acquired by Rovio a few months later for just under $1 billion

On-Ramp has clear technology advantages in terms of network scalability, network robustness, security, [and] capacity,” said Daniel Obodovski, co-author of The Silent Intelligence: The Internet of Things. Obodovski, who also works in the industry as a strategic consultant, said On-Ramp’s key competitors include SigFox, a rapidly expanding French company that recently closed a $115M financing round, and “LaRa,” Camarillo, CA-based Semtech’s long-range IoT technology platform.

On-Ramp maintains that other types of wireless networks, including cellular and mesh, lack the reach, capacity, and scalability of its patented Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) technology. According to On-Ramp, a key differentiating capability of RPMA is its ability to connect wirelessly with devices below ground from as far away as a mile.

Qualcomm co-founder Andy Viterbi, who is an On-Ramp advisory board member, says RPMA is as significant an innovation for M2M communications as Qualcomm’s CDMA (Code Division Muliple Access) was for cellular communications.

Looking ahead, Hell (like many others) sees a massive market for the Internet of Things, with devices numbering in the tens of billions by 2020. Established wireless and wireline carriers already are paying attention, and if they eventually embrace the development of alternative IoT networks at some point, that would be a significant development indeed.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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