Mobile + telecom
The true power of IoT: Q&A with Cavli Wireless CEO John Mathew
Judy Lin, DIGITIMES, Taipei

Connectivity has become an essential commodity that determines how people live, work and play, according to John Mathew, co-founder and CEO/CTA of Cavli Wireless, an Internet of Things (IoT) module company that works with telecom operators to provision local IoT data in LTE/LPWAN technologies like NB-IoT, LTE-M on eSIM technology.

Mathew believes connecting every object in the physical world to the Internet will solve a variety of problems and improve quality of life and human productivity - which he describes as the "true power" of IoT. In an email interview conducted by Digitimes recently, he talks about the company's innovative solutions and how he sees future trends and opportunities in IoT.

Q: Tell us about Cavli Wireless and your team. What is its current valuation and are there fundraising plans in the near future?

A: Cavli Wireless is a technology enablement company that aims to democratize the Internet of Things sector with our software-hardware product suite that includes a proprietary connectivity and device management platform, smart IoT modules, and eSIM solutions.

We directly work with telecom operators around the world to facilitate local data connectivity thereby ensuring that any IoT product maker or enterprise in any industry, be it logistics, smart agriculture, industrial IoT, smart city applications can easily launch, build and scale their IoT solutions to any geography in the world in the most seamless manner possible.

We believe that connecting every object in the physical world to the Internet will most seamlessly and efficiently solve a wide variety of problems and massively improve quality of life and human productivity.

At Cavli Wireless we are simplifying the IoT connectivity infrastructure landscape with our end-to-end suite of smart embedded modules, eSIM solutions, and connectivity cloud platform.

We are one among the first players in the industry to launch connectivity modules integrated with eSIM that are preloaded with global IoT data, which can be managed by our own platform - Cavli Hubble. Cavli Hubble gives remote backdoor access to smart modules & eSIMs, thereby giving businesses the confidence to scale seamlessly. There is a layer of intelligence and analytics for connectivity management for IoT solutions that are currently not on offer in the global cellular IoT deployment market.

Our journey began in 2017 when four industry professionals aligned on the seemingly simple straightforward idea that enabling IoT should be made seamless, scalable and accessible to any smart product maker so that the industry accelerates and human life is greatly improved and efficient. But only when the team started decluttering the current industry problems, did we realize that though the idea is straightforward, the path towards achieving this reality was a complex one. Over the years, the team at Cavli Wireless has grown to become a multicultural community of motivated and curious engineers and business professionals who are on a quest to declutter IoT and make it seamless, secure and scalable one day at a time. Our 50-member team is spread across four regions including the Americas (the US), Europe (Spain ), Middle East (Turkey and Oman), and South Asia (India). We have an R&D innovation center set up in India, with sales operations in all other regions. Together, we aim to be at the forefront of innovation and deliver the best IoT solutions for our customers.

I am afraid that I won't be able to share details regarding fundraising at this point in time, but we'd like to share that we are moving towards our Series A raise in 2021.

Q: Tell us about the growth Cavli has been witnessing and your insights into the market trends.

A: The global adoption of Low Power Wide Area Network technologies like NB-IoT and CAT-M1 and the emergence of 5G technology is certainly resulting in a massive growth in the number of connected IoT devices in the next few years. Cavli is foreseeing this transition and is on a mission to ensure our solutions are relevant to the needs of the cellular IoT industry.

Cavli's product suite is the result of the amalgamation of three different verticals - telecom technology, embedded electronics, and cloud engineering. Over the years we have worked with top industry majors spread across the globe at upstream and downstream ends to ensure our IoT CaaS solution always remains few steps ahead of the game. To emerge as the top-5 global solution providers for cellular IoT implementation, Cavli is building an aggressive global sales operation that would make strong inroads into newer markets. With a passionate team that believes in the vision and an agile R&D process built within a very scalable business model, we are very sure that we not just coexist but capture a good mindshare of the market, where product makers will consider "Cavli tech" as one among the most trusted options to get solutions "smart connected."

In the next five years, 790 million cellular IoT connections are set to surge to over four billion connections solely on cellular IoT. The market will be worth US$125 billion for IoT connectivity management alone and we are very confident that we will create a dent in the industry with our innovation in technology and business model.

Q: In view of the LPWAN cellular-IOT global market distribution, the top-10 telcos take up 85% of the LPWAN IoT connection (in which China enjoys 60%). This is a winner-take-all market, and it may take a long time for the LPWAN to get widely adopted without policy advancement. That's why it depends on government subsidies so much for the time being. Since telecom operators collect limited revenues from IoT connection services, the demand from operators is still very weak for now. How do your products and services address the pain point of the LPWAN IoT market?

A: As far as the customer is concerned there are several hurdles or pit stops which makes the journey to figure out seamless IoT connectivity an arduous one. Some of the challenges would be: Connectivity hardware - which involves evaluating multiple embedded hardware product lines based on network technology type); application software/firmware - whether to flash the software on a separate processor Vs. programming the software into the connectivity hardware; network access - eUICC (eSIM) vs single profile SIM technology. Data contract negotiations with telcos or connectivity resellers; R&D effort for the integration of network access technology and connectivity hardware; figuring out telco certifications and other device certifications; and device-cloud connectivity management integration for data subscription management

With our integrated solution and launch of Hubble99, deep technology players like us are now getting to work closely with telecom operators to bring about a holistic offering that could also push the telecom's enterprise sales efforts as well. The higher purpose of Hubble99 is to democratize IoT - the very problem which you have hinted in the question - that right now industry is dependent on telecom operators to drive large scale IoT adoption, which is not a burden that the telecoms need to carry on their own. By working hand-in-hand with preferred telecom operators in each region, we are making life easy for multitudes of IoT SMBs who would otherwise take even up to a year to hit the market with their solution. The telecoms we are partnering with for Hubble99 are already seeing the results where relatively smaller enterprises with not so huge volumes are moving to market faster. The more the number of such players, it adds up to significant revenue for our telecom partners giving them all the more reasons to ensure continued service quality for LPWAN in the deployed markets.

Q: As for the future growth potential for the unlicensed spectrum IoT market, you seem to have focused on cellular-IoT, but has not developed products such as LoRa and SigFox which applies to the unlicensed spectrum technology. However, this unlicensed spectrum market share is bigger than NB-IoT/LTE-M and may have a bigger potential to grow in the future. What is your view about it and plans to meet the demand of that market?

A: As of now, our focus is on cellular IoT which we are convinced that it would be a sizable market to prove our worth given the four billion devices that are forecast to go live on cellular networks over the next five years. We have an agile R&D team that is working towards introducing innovations in the cellular-based IoT space in the near future. In fact, we have already started working with complimentary network technology players like Sigfox to define hybrid solutions for certain smart city use cases.

The alternative unlicensed LPWAN market will surely grow, but we are confident of being able to cement our position as an IoT enabler for licensed LPWAN especially in application and use cases where security layers are going to be very high.

After all, we are in the space to make the "technology for the connected tomorrow," and I believe with the advent of 5G in the near future and with its accelerated proliferation, many unlicensed network technology-based applications could also sway its way towards cellular.

Q: What is your plan to transition to the 5G IoT module? It is probably unavoidable for a transition to a 5G NR SA network. But currently, most of the IoT modules that are based on 4G LTE (namely, NB-IoT/LTE-M) may be phased out and make all investments obsolete. What is your opinion about that trend and how do you address it?

A: We were set to launch a test network at our Innovation Center in India by Q3 2020, but have slightly delayed it to mid of 2021 owing to the shift in priorities due to the pandemic.

When realized, our 5G test network platform will enable startups and companies in the IoT segment in and outside India, prepare their products and prototypes to be ready for the latest technologies.

This test network will be available with 5G SA and NSA modes (supporting sub-6Ghz bands), alongside LTE NB-IoT and CAT-M for the LPWAN side of the IoT. Access to this test network will be totally free of cost, fast-tracking different use cases, allowing you to take your smart products globally anywhere completely pre-tested and compliant.

As 5G will bring many new test requirements and challenges by the use of SDN/NFV and cloud services, the technology can also be used for creating new test solutions. We've already partnered with two global chipset players to build 5G based modules.

OEMs and ODMs can make use of this platform to test their prototypes in real-world scenarios and to leverage their product development. We will be supporting companies with our modules which are in testing - C200-Series 5G IoT modules/modems and the C1X, C3X, C4X series modules/modems for the LPWAN networks, which are currently in production.

Q: It seems that the prices of cellular IoT modules have been falling in recent quarters. That could imply wider adoption in the future, but cost-effectiveness will be a challenge to you. What's your strategy to overcome the problem?

A: It is true that the price of cellular IoT modules has been dropping over the years. From being a specialized component, cellular modules in its standalone form are now becoming a commodity. However at Cavli, what we bring to the market is not simply hardware. Cavli modules are "intelligent modules."

In a span of three years, Cavli Wireless has managed to bring to the market a product suite that is at par or surpasses the capabilities of the incumbents in the IoT space. We recently launched Hubble99, the world's first truly subscription-based IoT offering with zero hardware cost. For an irresistible package price of US$0.99/month/device, IoT solution players get the eSIM integrated connectivity hardware of their choice of technology (on LPWAN/LTE technologies - NB IoT, LTE-M, CAT 1, CAT 4, 2G,3G), pre-loaded IoT data subscription (ranging from 5MB to 30MB), and a robust connectivity-device management cloud platform - Cavli Hubble all bundled into one single package. In 2016, Ericsson predicted a near future where the LPWAN module will be priced below US$5 in the market. With Hubble99, Cavli has brought it down to US$0.

Q: Your slogan attracted my attention: "Cellular IoT will never be the same." Tell us how you re-imagine IoT in the next 10 years.

A: IoT connectivity enablement is a multi-stakeholder ecosystem that includes connectivity providers/telecom operators, application providers & system integrators. For SMBs, OEMs and enterprises in IoT, figuring out and activating IoT connectivity has not just been the most important cog in the wheel, it has also been a very distorted one. To top it, for most sensory application products, the cost for connectivity hardware at the edge is a significant component of the total product cost, thereby bringing up the initial capital investment involved. This has in fact affected decisions for scale and has been a major reason why many IoT SMBs and benefactors of smart city projects have been cautious about scaling up. There have been projections galore, but not enough on the ground deployments to match it up. Out of the 50 billion devices that were expected to get connected on cellular by 2020, as per predictions by Ericsson, so far only nine billion seems to have found its way through.

Thus to unlock the real potential of IoT and to get the next 10 billion devices connected, the currently fragmented ecosystem needs to be re-engineered, consolidated and thus re-imagined from start to end.

The last few years have seen a tussle for prominence and dominance amongst the major connectivity technologies that have been grazing the IoT deployment landscape. While LoRaWAN has seen steady growth thanks to the low latency feature and resultant low power consumption, it has stumbled when it comes to quality of service and data packet delivery. Sigfox though it establishes security layers which are commendable with strong firewalls, when it comes to scalability, it has its limitations. WiFi over time has found its permanent seat for indoor home, personal automation and wireless access use cases, with Zigbee taking its fair share of indoor applications from WiFi. Wading through this ensemble, cellular IoT began its ascent up the curve with the definition and advent of cellular LPWAN - NB-IoT and LTE-M which have sealed whatever service gap there was for LTE 4G in terms of enabling low power, low latency, wide coverage applications.

Despite the evident advantages that cellular IoT has over its unlicensed spectrum peers like LoRaWAN, Sigfox, Zigbee, and the likes, in terms of security and quality of service, to be the preferred choice for a wide range of industrial and outdoor IoT applications, it has had its share of jinxes. Cellular IoT has had its critics go back and forth on questions around its actual scalability. Theoretically, it can be a non-steered connectivity option but the real challenge for the IoT solution players has been how they can manage the hassle of liaising with multiple telecom operators for the regions they wish to deploy their projects in. So far, from how the market has evolved, it is safe to assume that this has not been an easy ride for the countless IoT product and solution companies trying to expand beyond home turf. The other jinx that has pulled back cellular IoT has been the burden of the initial cost of associated connectivity hardware including smart modules and SIM solutions. With Cavli Wireless, cellular IoT is shedding the shackles that have held it back as it enters a new age.

Just like food and fuel, connectivity has also become an essential commodity, one that will determine how we live, work and play. At Cavli Wireless, we believe that connecting every object in the physical world to the Internet will most seamlessly and efficiently solve a wide variety of problems and massively improve quality of life and human productivity. This is the true power of the Internet of Things.

(Editor's note: Digitimes Research analyst Benson Wu contributed ideas to the making of this interview.)

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