Taoglas is setting new standards for machine-to-machine (M2M) antenna solutions aimed at a range of markets that include automotive, tracking, navigation, telemedical and utility metering. Last month, the company broke into the fast-growing smart-meter market with its new FXP “Freedom Series” – a line of high-performing embedded antennas that will bring new efficiencies to utility companies in the US and beyond.
To support its steady growth in the US, Taoglas planted its US roots in San Diego–the center of gravity for wireless and medical device activity in the US. CEO, Dermot O’Shea, recently sat down with Enterprise Ireland Americas staff to discuss the industry’s shift from external to embedded antenna technology and how his company is taking advantage of that trend to accelerate business in the US.
EI: Can you give me a high-level description of Taoglas’ technology?
DOS: At Taoglas, we provide advanced M2M antenna solutions for automotive devices, tracking, consumer electronics, medical products and, now, utility applications. The concept of an antenna needs little introduction. They are present in all wireless devices, like cell phones, set-top boxes and laptops. Thankfully, the aerial models are out and embedded is in across the range. What we’ve done in reaction to the market is to miniaturize the technology and develop a powerful, flexible, easy to integrate, highly reliable solution that can be embedded into devices.
Our technology isn’t just enabling more efficient and reliable communications in applications like medical products, it’s even improving patient care and quality of life. For example, cardio patients now have access to medical devices featuring embedded antennas that can provide critical real-time data like heart rate and blood pressure to their doctors from the patient’s home or other remote locations. This live exchange of information improves the quality of preventive care and means that at-risk patients are continuously monitored.
EI: You recently launched a new line of smart-meter embedded antennas. Can you tell us more about this product line? How do they empower utility companies with new efficiencies?
DOS: Embedded antennas in utility meters are nothing new. But they haven’t always worked efficiently and they could not function in remote areas out of wireless reach. The way the meters are read is by driving in close proximity to the buildings that house the meters, or by pointing a receiving antenna directly at an underground water meter. The problem with this model is that it forced the readers to drive across the city to read electricity meters. Or, they’re opening manhole covers and pointing a reader down to a pit to read water meters. The market is changing as the fixed networks are being built to enable automatic meter reading, or AMR, hence decreasing costs and increasing efficiencies across the network.
I’m glad to report that interest is high as meter company executives are realizing the advantages of high-efficiency antennas with these new solutions. In fact, we’re already designing products for three of the world’s top metering companies – two of which are in the US.
EI: How long were you in business before you entered the US market?
DOS: From the outset, our goal was to market and sell globally. Obviously, the US is a major part of that and an area of early focus. We engage at a deep level with customers to ascertain exactly what the current design and future requirements are. That was our first step. So, the antennas we worked on two years ago are now being produced. Some antennas we are designing now will be in production in two months due to market demands.
EI: Being such a new entity, how did you establish early brand recognition with key customers?
DOS: Well, it certainly helps to have a unique product with real technology differentiators and a compelling value proposition. We had that but we also did things the old-fashioned way. We had a good vision of the ideal customer profile. So we went direct, selectively cold-called, exploited networks and took advantage of organizations like Enterprise Ireland which opened doors and made important introductions for us. Of course, it takes time to filter through the layers of an organization before identifying key purchasing decision makers. But once we did, we quickly connected, sent product samples and stayed close to the relationship until we made the sale. Last year, for the first time, we had a stand at CTIA Wireless in Las Vegas at the M2M section. That was a terrific experience. Aside from closing deals, strengthening partnerships and generating valuable leads, it broadened our visibility and brought discipline, structure and consistency to our PR efforts.
EI: What’s the competitive landscape like for Taoglas in the US?
DOS: Since the biggest market for antenna technology is in the US, our main competitors are located here too. They’re all excellent companies with very good products. So, with competition like this, you can imagine, we’re permanently on our toes, refining our product and services portfolio so that we can out-pace the competition. That said, we’re fortunate to have developed a pretty specialized product portfolio that has earned a strong following among our US customers. The chief difference is that our offerings are not restricted to application, material or design topology. That means we develop a huge range of cellular, GPS and ISM band antennas for wireless devices – at any frequency. As the devices integrate more wireless technology AND embed antennas, this becomes increasingly important.
EI: You use the term “design partners” to describe your relationship with some customers. At what point do you engage? Is it during customers’ early R&D initiatives or further along in their product development process?
DOS: This is an important part of our value proposition. With the antenna representing the access or gateway to any wireless device, it’s imperative that the antenna provider partners closely with the device manufacturer from the outset. For example, all hardware aspects of any product design affects antenna characteristics and performance – the screen, battery, main PCB board, microphone or a speaker. This means that the antenna material, technology and the location of the antenna is critical. But there are other design considerations that make it smart for us to team up early with customers so that we can shorten their design cycle, accelerate their prototype testing process and move them through regulatory approvals with speed and efficiency.
Some Taoglas customers are embedding wireless capabilities into their devices for the first time which means wireless is a whole new world for them. Others are migrating from external antennas to embedded products. So, not only do they look to us for our advanced technology, they’re also relying on us for our broad RF and wireless expertise. That’s why we built a highly customized service model where we have become trusted partners as well as technology enablers. We have added RF, approval management and consultancy services that help our customers over the wireless device finish line.
EI: What accounts for your success in the US?
DOS: First, it’s our niche. We have carved a very specialized spot as the M2M antenna provider. This means that for organizations looking to connect remotely with devices such as utility meters, tracking systems in cars or patient monitoring machines, our antennas provide them with the ability to get higher efficiency, reliability, lower power consumption and durability over the long term from their devices. Second, it’s our technology and the specialized materials we use to provide what we call “surface-mount” antennas. This means they can be embedded directly onto a printed circuit board. There’s no manual connection. This is quite unique for cellular antennas. Not only does it reduce costs, it also enables a much more uniform, reliable connection.
Finally, we offer an efficient and unique customer-service value proposition. As I mentioned earlier, our relationship with our customer begins at the design stage and continues through manufacturing and testing. But that’s not all. We also work closely with them on FCC and carrier approvals. Our core competency, of course, is the antenna technology while our customers’ strengths are at the device level. By working together to smooth and even accelerate the regulatory approvals processes, our customers can get to market faster.
For more information on Taoglas, please visit the company at www.taoglas.com