Philippe Chiu, co-founder of Internet of Things (IoT) startup UnaBiz, began his professional career in information security in the early 2000s. He loves to joke that IT security was like “A desert” at the time, a complex industry that most people hadn’t heard of.
Chiu had a hard time explaining what his job or industry consisted of. “Unlike some computer engineers who only live in their own world, I have been a forerunner in the area of computer security, eager to explain and educate people on what is going on in the industry,” said Chiu said. KrASIA.
This French-born Chinese followed his passion for education while managing ONISx in France, a subsidiary of the private higher education company IONIS Education Group, which helps teachers and trainers create online courses. In 2015, he crossed paths with his high school friend, Henri Bong, who was director of business development and sales in Asia for Sigfox, an IoT company specializing in building low-power wide area networks (LPWAN) to connect batteries. powered devices such as smart meters, smart watches and other internet sensors.
Bong explained the main advantages of the so-called 0G network to Chiu – long range, low power consumption and low maintenance costs for IoT applications – compared to traditional mobile networks.
Both saw great potential in the technology. Yet, they realized they needed more than just a network to harness the burgeoning IoT industry in the Asia-Pacific region. “The problem with Sigfox is that it uses great technology, but having the network is not enough. We needed devices like sensors and a whole ecosystem of cloud platform software and services to enable the IoT industry to thrive in the region, ”Chiu said.
The solution came with UnaBiz, a company they launched in 2016 to offer low cost IoT connectivity, hardware design and production, and software development. The company has partnered with Sigfox to operate its LPWAN network in selected markets on a revenue-sharing model. “Although I cannot go into too much detail, this partnership is based on a license agreement,” Chiu explained.
Singapore-based UnaBiz focuses on IoT solutions in vertical industries such as metering, facility management, tracking and asset management. It has offices in Singapore, Tokyo and Taipei, as it sells its products in 28 countries around the world. In 2018, he lifted more than $ 10 million as part of a series A round table with investors, notably subsidiaries of the global energy conglomerate ENGIE and the Japanese telecommunications company KDDI.
Custom IoT solutions
UnaBiz has a range of clients in different industrial sectors, from gas utility companies like Nippon Gas to airlines like Singapore Airlines and educational institutions like Temasek Polytechnic.
Among its solutions, UnaBiz supports businesses and consumers in time-consuming tasks such as recording gas and water readings. The company provides custom-designed hardware and software to meet the needs of different customers. In Taiwan, for example, UnaBiz signed an agreement in September 2020 with the water measurement company Shin Kong Communications to install 2,258 smart water meters in the eastern district of Taipei as part of a larger pilot project.
Traditionally, Taiwanese residents had to check and record their water or gas meter readings on paper, then stick the slips inside building elevators or next to the building entrance. “They’ve been doing the same thing for at least 20 years. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos go to the moon, but Taiwanese always write gas values on paper, ”Chiu said.
UnaBiz’s smart water meters are expected to improve the efficiency of water supply by sending accurate information on household water consumption to utility companies through the 0G network in real time. The devices can also instantly detect water leaks to save resources, Chiu said. According to the Taiwan Department of Water Resources, on average, Taiwan wastes between 500 and 700 tons of water due to water leaks.
Another recent application of UnaBiz’s technology is in Japan. The company partnered with Nippon Gas last January to install more than one million smart gas meters in 850,000 households in the Kanto region of Japan. The device remotely reports each household’s consumption to the utility provider, virtually eliminating the need for manual readings. The smart gas meter can also remotely open or close gas valves, which is an important safety feature in emergency situations such as an earthquake, according to the company.
In addition to smart metering systems, UnaBiz also offers facility management services such as waste administration, ambient and humidity control, smart toilet management and even rodent monitoring solutions. In Singapore, the startup is working with post-secondary university Temasek Polytechnic. UnaBiz has installed smart devices on campus washrooms that can track real-time data on facility usage, allowing the campus manager to optimize the frequency of washroom cleaning and maintenance.
Hit by the crisp
Like many other tech companies, UnaBiz has also been hit hard by the chip tightening, Chiu said. Since most of its equipment is made in China, the company’s regular operations have been affected by the factory closures that hit China last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has also faced the global shortage of shipping containers which has led to inflation in shipping and container prices.
Despite the struggles, UnaBiz managed to break even in 2020, recording revenues of $ 18 million, according to Chiu. Currently, UnaBiz is on the verge of closing its Series B funding round, aiming to raise at least $ 20 million. The new funding will be used to boost operations in the Japanese market and expand into Southeast Asia and Europe. The company is also considering countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to set up new manufacturing facilities, Chiu revealed.
Chiu is confident in his company’s potential to thrive in an IoT market that is expected to grow 29% year-on-year in the Asia-Pacific region, from $ 97 billion in 2020 to $ 437 billion in 2026, according to market research by Frost & Sullivan.
“We will diversify our network technology by adding more types of cellular technology. Acquiring high-performing IoT companies can also benefit UnaBiz’s scale, which is part of our growth focus, ”added Chiu.