Truphone, a mobile company based out of London that made a name for itself through low-cost international mobile voice and data plans, is taking a very big step forward in a strategy to catapult itself into the future of communications: the company has picked up a massive £255 million ($339 million), funding that it will use to retire its debt and double down on providing data connectivity for connected devices beyond mobile phones.
This investment is being done as a rights issue, an issue of shares to existing shareholders at a special price: in this case, Minden and Vollin Holdings, two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things. Prior to today’s news, the pair already owned an 83 percent stake in Truphone.
Truphone’s CEO Ralph Steffens told TechCrunch that the round values Truphone at £370 million ($491 million). This is not large premium compared to Truphone’s last reported round and is far less than the total the company has raised in its life: In 2013 Truphone raised £75 million at a £300 million valuation, and to date, it has raised just under $600 million.
A large part of today’s investment, Steffens said, was being made to pay down Truphone’s debt and go forward with a clean slate.
The company has been around since 2006 (I’m guessing it may have outlasted the statute of limitations on being called a “startup”) and in the last three to four years specifically has racked up about £239 million in debt, Steffens said, as it was expanding its business.
The rest is going towards investing back into the company and specifically into acquisitions to further its business in IoT, an area where Truphone has been laying some groundwork already. “We’re making a strategic acquisition that we may announce in a matter of days,” he said.
The rush of new, smart devices that work in part by connecting to the internet is bringing in a new group of startups to provide that connectivity. In addition to Truphone, others in the same area of business include Cubic Telecom — which works with Audi on connected vehicles and also recently raised some funding to fuel its growth.
Truphone, Steffens said, does have a deal “with a carmaker” too (although he declined to name it), but he said that its interest in IoT goes beyond that. “We were focused on the automotive industry initially, but in the last six to nine months, we have had a substantial pull from other verticals.”
Interestingly, Truphone’s basic technology is at the root both of the company’s legacy business, and the business it hopes to tap into in the future.
Truphone’s original premise of offering low-cost international voice and data plans for users was based on software that essentially patched together capacity from multiple carriers across multiple countries. That gave Truphone users the ability to buy one allowance and use it roaming in other countries for no extra charge.
The play now for providers of these services is to use that same framework of cheap voice and data and apply it to any device that might need it, be it a vehicle or your new home alarm or a machine at a factory. While it’s pretty obvious that your home alarm doesn’t need to roam, what it could mean is that a phone service can be integrated at the point of manufacture, and can then work wherever the hardware is subsequently distributed and sold.
“We have a high degree of confidence from the investor community that we are on the right track,” Steffens said of Truphone’s move deeper into IoT. “We are having increasingly very relevant conversations with tier-one and blue-chip companies to offer advanced solutions.” These, he said, could be in automotive vehicles as well as the wider range of ‘smart’ devices that are coming to market.
Meanwhile, company’s current business continues to build on its legacy services.
These include Truphone’s low-cost mobile services that are usable in some 220 countries, ongoing services for 3,500 enterprise customers (an obvious target market for roaming packages), and newer initiatives like a strategic partnership with Apple.
Truphone works as a connectivity provider for Apple’s e-Sim-based hardware, which today is only covering its iPad tablets, but could potentially extend into Truphone working on Apple’s smartwatches and phones. Steffens describes this partnership as going “full speed ahead” at the moment. Truphone is targeting to be live on Apple’s devices in 30 markets by the end of this year, and 54 by next year.
Steffens added that Truphone is “well on track to be profitable” in 2018. “It doesn’t require heroic efforts on our part, nor larger tier-one engagements, I mean just as the business stands today.”