Last month RAKwireless raised $10M in a Series A funding round led by led by Creo Capital, the venture arm of NWS Holdings Limited, followed by Shunwei, a leading venture capital firm from China. The company supplies technology to household name IoT devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
Q: What brought you to this industry?
A: I worked for over ten years at one of the leading WiFi and chip vendors globally – Qualcomm Atheros. During that time, I fell in love with the world of WiFi connectivity and the endless possibilities that IoT can bring to improve people’s lives. I saw many customers asking about connecting meters, gas lines, and other things not usually part of the WiFi network. When founding RAKwireless – I made it my mission to help these customers solve that specific problem with more creative and agile solutions than those currently existing on the market.
Q: What made you want to start your own company?
A: For me, being an entrepreneur is like looking for a light on a very dark night in a desert. It takes a lot of commitment, perseverance, and steadfast confidence that the company you are building will serve as a spark of light for others to follow. I wanted to start a company due to my passion for creating a connected world, support cities, communities, and people to improve their daily lives. Creating RAKwireless was my way to empower others to join me on this mission of making IoT easy and accessible for anyone.
In a human-centric network such as “online,” brands continue to develop high-bandwidth technology to keep up with the increased amount of communication. But in the real world, several tangible things also need to be connected, such as water meters, gas meters, oil drums, streetlights, parking spaces, trash cans, manhole covers, pipes, fire hydrants, noise detectors, smoke detectors, and many other things. Most of them are not yet connected to any network due to the limitations of the available power supply on a deployment site, as well as connection availability. Similar challenges exist in rural areas where vast farmland and pastures are waiting to be connected. Eventually, all the cities will need to deploy infrastructure to facilitate this data interchange as a mandatory requirement for growth, generating massive demand for new tech developments in this area.
Q: Tell us about your story as a founder. What inspired you to start RAKwireless?
A: A few years ago – in March of 2014 to be more specific – I had a conversation with a close friend who was also involved in the technology business, Terry Yan. At this time, IoT was a relatively new concept in the market but smart home products were developing rapidly, generating a significant interest on consumers and companies worldwide around the value of IoT and connected devices. People began to recognize why having IoT in their daily routine could bring substantial improvements to their lives. During that conversation, we thought about the future for other generations. How will IoT change the world as we get older? How will the market evolve? What are the barriers to entry?
During that time, I thought about a new reality where humans work and live day-to-day in tandem with technology, living in a connected world enabled by IoT devices mining valuable data to improve the way we live and work. Based on this scenario there would be a considerable need for many sensors to be connected to the Internet – homes, manufacturing plants, smart cities, agriculture, transportation and mobility, healthcare, among others – ultimately everything would benefit from these sensors. Things (as we called them, sensors) like water meters, gas meters, electrical and medical equipment – all of these touchpoints in society will need to be connected to a network. The need for data interchange across different communities will grow in demand as more things that were traditionally ‘off the grid’ will now need to be interconnected. Based on all of this, I found a huge market opportunity growing – as a considerable number of sensors and industrial terminals will need to be available for consumers and companies alike. I started RAKwireless to connect communities worldwide through smart technology. Starting the company was an opportunity for me to help others easily use technology to improve their lives and work, collaborate and connect with others.
Q: Why do you believe in and support Helium as a technology? How did you build that relationship, and what are your future plans?
A: When building a business, you must choose to work with strategic partners and customers that create technology you believe in. Technologies and brands that are not just passionate about what they do but do it well and take pride in constantly improving themselves. We saw that in Helium’s team, led by Amir Haleem and partners such as Shawn Fanning, of Napster fame. RAKwireless already works with many other organizations around community networks so we saw partnering with Helium as an obvious match from day one.
To provide more context, Helium is bringing in a solution for simple, secure, and scalable IoT connectivity. Their products streamline the ability to deploy and scale a long-range wireless network that connects millions of end IoT devices, giving companies a simple way to intelligently and securely deliver data from any device to the cloud and applications. They have created a decentralized public network built for the Internet of Things (IoT) using Blockchain technology, complemented with a modern reward system built around a new kind of cryptocurrency, the Helium Token (HNT). To make all this possible, they required reliable and top-class hardware capable of handling the processes and delivering the desired connectivity, something RAKwireless already had a great track record of doing.
Helium’s vision of the world is very similar to ours – we both see strength in building great products and empowering a community of enthusiasts that recognize and love our products. The “People’s Network,” is a community concept we fell in love with since the beginning, and we are proud to be part of their exponential growth from the start. A Network for the People powered by the combination of RAKwireless’s product development expertise and Helium’s revolutionary, user-friendly software to encourage network deployments and IoT businesses at scale. Helping to build this community has been a real privilege for us. We have a continuous product plan to align with the Helium strategy pipeline and focus on the years ahead to keep growing together.
Q: How has the company been able to thrive during the past year? What are some obstacles the team has overcome?
A: The past year has been one of the most challenging times for global businesses that we may never see again in our lifetime, hopefully. With record unemployment, economic upheaval, and tremendous disruption to the supply chain – maintaining equilibrium for any entrepreneur has been challenging. At RAKwireless, our saving grace has been the fact that our customers genuinely recognize the importance and value of our products. Our community saw first-hand our steadfast commitment to manufacturing and fulfilling orders even in times of crisis.
One challenge we faced was widespread supply chain disruption. What helped us during these challenging times were transparent and strong relationships with suppliers and partners – these are groups we have worked with for years, who trust us, and want to keep growing next to us. We were able to share resources and facilities with these groups to meet our goals and fulfill orders.
WisBlock, one of our most transformative technologies, is an excellent example of how we are supporting developers in bringing products to market quickly. When chips were challenging to get a hold of, we could handle deliveries and maintain a high quality of development of these items. Our mission to empower developers’ communities to create new things with ease and simplicity has guided that “North Star” during the last year.
Q: What are two trends in the industry you see right now? Where are some unexpected areas of growth?
A: 1. The growth of domain-specific network applications
Rather than relying on all-encompassing super apps, devices, or networks designed by a committee, which rarely meet real criteria that people truly need, our products bring in bespoke, application-oriented, tools and network technologies helping customers be more productive, more efficient, and truly enjoy their journey. We are helping these customers connect to established networks under different services be it Helium, Things Industries, AWS, and Loriot, or even create a private network for their application or community. Ultimately we empower customers to tailor their network and even the edge nodes – with Wisblock – to have the best fit with what their use case requires.
This example is a piece of evidence to the growing market trend of customizable network and domain requirements. At RAKwireless, we see so many developers, companies, and makers crafting their own unique IoT networks, and we’re inspired by the creativity of these groups.
2. Removing Barriers to Entry and Making IoT Accessible for All
Another key area powering our growth is our work on documentation, education, and open-source transparency to make IoT accessible for all. The IoT industry is young, and its technology is complex. The promise of IoT is only made real when companies create practical, cost-efficient, easy-to-use products, and today, the barriers are too high. Too many great ideas never see the light of day because IoT is not accessible to those looking to build life-changing technology.
Our mission is to eliminate barriers between under-networked enterprises and communities to build and deploy IoT products with its leading-edge platforms that connect hundreds of millions of things worldwide.
From a granular level, removing barriers to entry and maintaining transparency starts with two key areas: 1) open access and 2) removing silos in networks for better integrations. The “open-source” movement has expanded beyond just source and code, but we’re now seeing open “data access” and “open hardware.” These transparent capabilities have allowed new communities to form, and people come together to collaborate and create incredible things. Removing silos in networks has improved access for more seamless integration processes. On the hardware side specifically, there is a trend of making hardware work more like software. Our developer community, or as we call them RAKstars, is an excellent example of that. Our goal at RAKwireless is to act as a supplier to the growth, collaboration, and success of the transparent communities and partners we serve.
Q: What part of the IoT industry are you most excited about in the next year? Which areas (smart homes, cellular LTE, 5G, etc.) do you predict to see the most growth?
A: LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) technology is an IoT field that we are very excited about. It is a breakthrough technology that is ripening from a niche product to accessible technology and is used to change the way societies across the world develop and thrive. The technology is designed to allow ultra-low powered devices to communicate with Internet-connected applications over long-range wireless connections. This means that smaller, more affordable devices can communicate over longer distances in any part of the world greatly reducing deployment and running costs. The speed at which we see LoRaWAN solutions grow in a range of different sectors presents a fantastic opportunity for the technology in years to come.
The LoRaWAN technology is particularly well suited for building independent “Smart Communities.” These are areas where technology works in tandem with residents – acting as a vehicle to improve communication and efficiencies. It is changing the lives of consumers and making communities safer. For example, LoRaWAN IoT devices used in farming to monitor crops can help improve their ability to grow. Done at scale, better, more efficient agriculture means we can help feed more of those in need. Another example of this same technology is tracking forest fires and mitigating environmental threats for rural communities.
Ken Yu is the founder and CEO of RAKwireless. He worked for 10+ years at Qualcomm Atheros, one of the leading WiFi and chip vendors globally. During that time, Yu fell in love with the world of WiFi connectivity and the endless possibilities that IoT can improve people’s lives. He made it his mission to make IoT solutions easy. Through RAKwireless, Yu creates solutions that would take one’s IoT solution a step further ––– not just to solve existing problems but also addressing potential ones that may evolve during deployment stages. Through IoT, a connected world with connected cities, communities, and people is what Yu dreams of. He intends to extend the reach of RAKwireless through valued partnerships with companies and organizations to cater to customized needs worldwide.