The big business of connected solutions: BORQS shows the potential of developing end-to-end solutions for IoT
In the third quarter of 2018, BORQS Technologies reported a net revenue of $28.3 million, including $22.3 million from its Connected Solutions business unit engaged in the design and manufacturing of IoT products. The net revenue for the first nine months of 2018 was $142.9 million, which included $121.3 million from the unit.
This speaks volumes of how critical the connected solutions business has become and its business potential. Founded in 2007, BORQS started off as a technology company offering mobile device software; it has since expanded its scope to offer end-to-end solutions for IoT, including hardware and software design and development, production management and cloud services.
Personalisation, customisation and partnership: key to growth
In a span of a little over 10 years, BORQS has quickly established itself in the software and IoT products space, providing customisable, differentiated and scalable smart-connected devices and cloud-services solutions. The company has designed products that can even meet the stringent requirements of vertical segments that include marine, oil and gas, remote operations by utility companies and outdoor expeditions.
Backed by leading investors such as Norwest Venture Partners, Intel Capital, Keystone Ventures, SK Telecom China Fund, GSR Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Accel Partners India, today BORQS is among the leaders for designing, developing and delivering enterprises and consumers with products and turnkey solutions for IoT by enabling the connectedness and enhancing the capabilities of smart phones, tablets, machines, wearables, automotive IVI, and vertical application devices (for restaurants, payments etc).
BORQS was recognised as one of the “Top 50 IoT Solution Providers for 2018” byCIO Applications Magazine. It was also listed on the “ICT Top 10” and named “The Most Influential Company in the IoT Industry” at the 2017 China ICT Elite Awards, one of the most popular information and computer technology awards in China.
Since its inception, BORQS has worked extensively in the IoT landscape, with a focus on personalisation and customisation for diverse sectors. In fact, BORQS was the first company to customise Android for the Chinese market, ensuring that the software was carrier-ready to be integrated with its services. Further, to reduce the complexities of IoT adoption for non-traditional applications while enabling innovation at the chipset level and thereby fostering vertical-specific connected devices, BORQS has worked towards establishing strategic relationships with leading chipset vendors such as Qualcomm to provide advanced capabilities in computing and connectivity.
For instance, Qualcomm and BORQS collaborated to develop reference platforms based on Snapdragon Wear 1200. The reference designs are aimed at the children, elderly, and pet tracking segments and enabling device manufacturers to commercialise new products fast. BORQS also exhibited the world’s first NB-IoT tracker based on this platform during China Mobile Global Partners Conference in 2017.
The company is also a licensee of Qualcomm in India and undertakes Android-specific upgrades across the telecommunication giant’s platform, among other things. BORQS works on implementing carrier-specific features for Qualcomm, across markets and even provides some of its own Intellectual Property.
While BORQS predominantly works with OEMs targeting the US market, they also have a fairly large business in India. BORQS had partnered with Reliance Jio to develop premium handsets, smartwatches, trackers and network interface cards.
How and why it provides one-stop solution for IoT applications
What differentiates BORQS as a connected products and solutions company is that along with technical expertise to help OEMs and businesses that come to them at the idea stage and help them productise, the company also supports them until the mass production stage and the products being made available to the customers. Joby James, Senior Director, Products at BORQS, says, “We provide end-to-end solutions. We work with customers who come to us with a product idea, we then refine the idea and translate that into an industrial design. We also work on the mechanical and electronics design aspects as well as the software needed for the product. We then work with the customer to get the product tested in various markets and with various operators. Once the product is tested and proven, we even manage the supply chain and work with our EMS partners to manufacture the product for our customers.” With BORQS streamlining the entire product development and handling the challenges of selecting and managing component vendors and service providers (i.e. EMS, certification bodies and test labs), customers are able to bring the products to market faster.
The right kind of partnership makes all the difference
They’ve been closely working with Qualcomm for a few years and also exclusively using Qualcomm chipsets for their IoT products. According to Joby, “Qualcomm technologies are critical for our products.” Explaining the advantages that Qualcomm chipsets bring in is Seshadri R, Vice President of Engineering, BORQS, “If you look at the core of most IoT solutions, it is about collecting sensor data, sending it to the cloud reliably and providing good analytics around it. The Qualcomm chipset platform is extremely robust and stable in supporting all these and this is , helping us to turn around products much quicker.”
BORQS is developing products for various IoT verticals and a initial key focus area for the company has been tracking – people tracking, vehicle tracking, pet tracking. Yet again, BORQS found the perfect partner in Qualcomm for this plan, through the Qualcomm Accelerated Design and Cellular IoT Program (ADP), a program sponsored and executed by Qualcomm Technology Licensing to enable its patent licencees fast track development and testing of their IOT and other cellular products.". A key offering of the ADP is that Qualcomm leverages its expertise of being a global enabler of Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) technologies (like Narrowband-IoT), helps the partners in designing and productising to cater to India’s needs and also market push and deployment support.
“The NBIoT trackers are very small form factor devices and the technology is very new. The challenges in developing these products arise in terms of ensuring efficient power consumption,, good RF designs, having reliable connectivity. And Qualcomm helped us address all these challenges and that helped us to stabilise designs quickly, This has also helped us to identify new market opportunities more rapidly,” says Seshadri. BORQS now plans to venture further into asset tracking and tamper detection and other verticals that are applicable to NBIoT devices.
One key strength that cuts through all challenges
The company’s 600-member-strong team is spread over its R&D centers in Beijing, China and Bengaluru, with a small team based out of US. Just 10 years after starting out in 2007, BORQS debuted as a public company on NASDAQ in 2017.
“We are constantly working on new technologies, using new chipsets, developing new products. While that is critical to our business and exciting as well, it also brings its set of challenges – both business and technical,” says Joby.
He adds, “Working on new technology and products means there is a lot of hype and expectations. Delivering on those fronts can get challenging. Like any new technology, customers will be a little apprehensive, hence you need to work with them on technology adoption, what use cases they can leverage the technology for, before it can translate into business. It’s difficult to find a customer who is ready to test and deploy a new technology solution or product. So that essentially means for a new technology, commercialisation takes a lot of time.”
The technical challenges range from finding labs to test the new product to multiple discussions and iterations with various parties (chipset vendors, network infrastructure providers, operators) to resolve issues. Also, sometimes the network infrastructure on ground is not ready, delaying the cycle time.
But given the fact that BORQS has continually expanded its scope and has continued to work on innovative technologies, it is well-versed with the challenges. So what helps BORQS navigate through the challenges, especially in the IoT landscape?
“Our long-standing relationships with leading OEMs and Operators, our understanding of technology are definitely our strengths and help us, and thereby our customers, bring products to market faster and innovate on technology. But, the biggest strength is our technical competence,” states Joby.