UK-based Neul today announced a new $5 million investment from Mistui & Co. Ltd. subsidiary MGI, as well as existing investors DFJ Esprit, IQ Capital, Business Angels and founding company employees. Neul offers businesses and others a way to create a machine-to-machine (M2M) network using TV signal white space frequencies, which has the advantage of taking bandwidth-heavy, essential communication between devices away from congested frequencies like those used for Wi-Fi and GSM networks. The money will be used to help the firm expand its business, but Neul is more interested in the potential partnerships that investment from Mitsui brings along with it.
Neul actually has some existing partnerships that are pretty impressive, including Microsoft and a number of other companies in Singapore where they’ve deployed a network around the Singapore Island Country Club. Eventually, the company hopes to deploy its networks in factories, among power suppliers and other utilities, and anywhere else where there’s a need for constant communication between various specialized, radio-enabled devices. Using Weightless, the name for the wireless standard Neul hopes to convince M2M customers to adopt, devices will benefit from the added range (Neul claims up to 16MB/s over 10 km) and ability to penetrate walls of unlicensed TV white space frequencies, as well as its low power requirements for passive receivers.
Neul CFO David Smyth explained in an interview that the reason his company is a good bet to provide this kind of service is that they’ve laid the groundwork first, getting all the requisite permissions from the FCC, Ofcom and other wireless regulatory organizations so that when it comes time to actually deploy, that won’t get in the way. Neul’s plan could’ve run into considerable trouble potentially thanks to a complaint from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed back in 2009, but in May, the NAB announced that it had dropped its challenge of rules that allow unused TV whitespace spectrum to be used for other purposes.
Ultimately, what Neul is looking at is the opportunity arising in connected devices, even though other uses include rural broadband (which Neul is actually trialling as well). That focus is designed to capitalize on what Smyth says is a market with a huge amount of growth potential.
“There are all sorts of potential forecasts for M2M growth over the next 10 years or so, and the only thing they have in common is that they all see huge growth,” he said. “One, for example, suggests it’ll be a $150 billion market in the next five years. Another suggests it’ll be that size by 2020. The common theme is that it’ll be huge, probably around one-third the size of the current global mobile market.”
One study from Analysys Mason from early 2011 found that the market was likely to grow in terms of connections from 62 million devices to 2.1 billion in 2020, with a heavy focus on the utilities sector, but with strong presence also in the security and automotive industries. Smyth says that the opportunity is apparent because it’s a very fragmented market, with no clear leading tech to enable those connections. Neul is betting on its Weightless communication standard to define the entire category.
Weightless is in a good place to provide that, and Neul has asked ARM to chair the standard, which could help significantly push its adoption in terms of inclusion in hardware. The investment should help with greater expansion on the hardware front, but Mitsui’s numerous mining operations present perfect candidates for actual network deployments, meaning Neul has taken on more than just a financial partner in its quest to help underpin the growth of the internet of things.