Fierce 15 2016: Ingenu challenges carriers as 'the Machine Network'

Fierce15 2016

Editor's note: Welcome to the 2016 Fierce 15, which recognizes 15 of the most interesting startups in the wireless industry. We'll publish one profile a day for 15 days; Ingenu is the second company to be recognized this year.

Company: Ingenu
Where it's based: San Diego, California
When it was founded: 2008, underwent corporate relaunch in September 2015

Why it’s Fierce: It was just over a year ago when On-Ramp Wireless announced a corporate relaunch, changing its name to Ingenu and incorporating On-Ramp’s existing Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) technology and networks. Since then, the company, which operates in a startup environment, has launched in several U.S. markets, including Dallas and Phoenix, and has aspirations to add many more in the coming months as it rolls out a network dedicated exclusively to machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, dubbing itself the Machine Network.

Over the past 12 months, the company has been busy getting pieces of the ecosystem in place. At the same time, it won over a technology services firm in Nigeria that chose it over potential alternatives like satellite and GPRS to deploy digital oilfield capabilities for a Shell Nigeria pipeline facility. It has hooked up with partners like u-blox, which agreed to make products to support RPMA technology, and it has plans to expand to cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami, in addition to worldwide deployments.

To be sure, it’s a hyper-competitive Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) market that Ingenu is playing in. Sigfox is rolling out its IoT technology in markets throughout the world, including the U.S., and networks based on LoRa continue to get deployed. Cellular operators are leveraging their expertise in LTE to offer IoT services that will be based on standards, which should help them scale. But Ingenu points out that its equipment requires far less infrastructure space than the others – RPMA uses one access point per LoRa’s 18, cellular’s 30 and Sigfox technology’s 70. That also means it doesn’t require a lot of time getting the permits to put its gear on towers, for example, and other structures.

ABI Research analyzed several LPWAN technologies and said RPMA has the broadest appeal across diverse use cases and bridges the gap between low-cost LPWA for simple applications to what is anticipated to be high-performance LTE IoT. The research firm says RPMA technology in particular offers a carrier-grade LPWAN on par with LTE IoT, and time will tell whether LTE IoT lives up to its promises. LTE IoT is targeted to launch commercially in the first half of 2017.

RPMA uses the 2.4 GHz ISM band, which is available globally, so one radio module can serve applications throughout the world, providing scale and driving down costs. Part of its target market is users of the 2G cellular networks that will see those networks sunset as early as 2017; because Ingenu owns its IP, no one can come around and say it’s no longer going to be supported. Ingenu says it’s in it for the long haul.

Where it’s seeing significant traction is smart city applications – some municipalities have asked how they can get Ingenu to build in their cities – and the company has experience and exposure in the energy and utility spaces that it can leverage. There are also some unique consumer apps that CEO John Horn isn’t ready to reveal, but he says the ubiquity of RPMA and its ability to provide 20-year battery life make it ideal for the consumer space as well.

Going forward, Ingenu sees its main competition coming from the Narrowband IoT that cellular carriers are preparing to launch. But Horn says Ingenu’s technology will be more affordable and reliable. Narrowband IoT will run on the LTE backbone, he notes, which means if you can’t get cellular service in a congested area, “guess what, your machines can’t talk to each other, either.” If you have a mission critical app, “you can’t wait for a couple hours for the network to clear up.”

As for the people behind Ingenu, its board includes Dick Lynch, who was CTO at Verizon for many years, and former Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg, both of whom bet on LTE early on for human interaction and are now backing RPMA for machine communications. Horn himself has worked in the telecom and wireless industry for more than 20 years, including a stint at T-Mobile, where he helped develop the carrier’s M2M program.

What’s next: The company has grown from about 85 to 130 employees over the past year and expects to add significantly to the headcount over the next 12-24 months as it ramps up globally and covers multiple language sets. Perhaps its biggest challenge is being able to build out quickly enough. For the next six months to a year, it’s all about executing and getting its networks up as quickly as possible. According to Horn, it’s got the global contracts; now it’s just about building a global footprint. “It’s just wild and crazy as we need to grow to meet the demand globally,” he said. “The technology is bullet-proof, it works, everybody knows it, it’s just a matter of executing” on a global scale at a rate that hasn’t been done before. “No one’s ever done what we’re about to do.”

Read more: FierceWireless's Fierce 15 2016