This Bengaluru-based tech startup ensures there are no call drops

Bengaluru-headquartered tech startup iBus Networks has been profitable since 2016 and says demand for its solutions continues to grow despite the pandemic.
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The mobile subscriber base in India now stands at over a billion and urban areas account for 641 million, as per TRAI data. As the subscriber base kept on expanding, it bought its own fair share of challenges in ensuring seamless mobile connectivity within a large office premise.

Looking to solve the perennial problem of call drops on mobile phones, three seasoned tech professionals from the software services and telecom industry decided to leave their corporate careers and start on their entrepreneurial journey.

“We solve the problem of in-building connectivity,” says Ram Sellaratnam, who co-founded iBus Networks along with Sunil Menon and Subash Vasudevan in 2013.

Ram and Subash were colleagues at Infosys while Sunil worked with Airtel. The three founders realised that the problem of call drops is only going to get more acute with increased addition to mobile subscriber base in the country. Further, there was also the challenge of ensuring seamless internet connectivity at optimum speeds on these phones.

Endpoint connectivity

iBus Networks has developed a technology platform that is a combination of software and hardware to identify the weak spots within a certain workplace premise and place their nodes to ensure there is seamless connectivity.

Ram says, “When the capacity increases, the coverage drops and if there is a concrete wall then the signals do not penetrate.”

On their part, the telecom operators provide the connectivity, but it is generally beyond their means to ensure there is 100 percent coverage, especially within a large office or workplace premise.

In 2014, iBus Networks started acquiring sites where it could deploy its plug and play solutions. “We decided that the minimum size that iBus would take up will be half-a-million square feet of space,” says Ram.

This meant the target segments for iBus include the likes of technology parks, educational campuses, large hotels, malls, hospitals, and data centres, among others.

Most importantly, iBus Networks ensures that it is a technology-neutral vendor for any of the mobile operators, despite their different telecom protocols to rule out any conflict of interest. It also tested its tech platform with all the mobile operators.

Rapid growth

According to Ram, iBus Networks started doubling its coverage area since 2015, which also meant high growth in revenues. The startup has remained profitable since 2016.

“This is a complex problem that we are addressing, and iBus has very good RF (radio frequency) engineering and software capability to address this issue,” says Ram.

The startup likens itself as a multi-dimensional digital infrastructure. The deployments done by the startup also received a lot of endorsements and it soon became a very scalable business.

The bootstrapped venture received its first round of funding in 2015 from Vallabh Bhansali, Chairman of Enam Capital, and family offices of Naresh Nagpal and Sandeep Mehta.

iBus Networks CEO and MD Ram Sellaratnam

In April 2021, iBus Networks received an investment of Rs 150 crore from Morgan Stanley India Infrastructure. It also acquired Ubico Networks from Shyam Group in a deal valued at Rs 100 crore during this period.

“Our acquisition was based on the strategy that we wanted to be the largest in this category across all the Tier I cities,” says Ram.

Today, the connectivity solutions from iBus Networks covers cellular network, Wi-Fi, IoT, and smart meters.

“We provide connectivity across bands and solve the problems across multiple protocols,” says Ram.

Being ready

The expertise of iBus Networks is that it can identify the weak spot of any location in terms of connectivity. According to the startup, many established real estate developers reach out to them before they start their projects so that the connectivity issue is resolved before even the structure becomes operational.

Given the technology changes in the telecom industry, especially with the coming in of 5G network in the country, iBus Networks is also keeping itself prepared.

“For something like 5G, we cannot put our nodes to ensure connectivity. So we have built our own software stack, which is our core,” says Ram.

The ongoing pandemic has not really impacted the business of iBus Networks as the CEO believes there are enough workplaces – like airports, large tech campuses, warehouses, and smart cities, which has to remain functional and there is no way one can provide enterprise-grade connectivity at home.

“Even during the pandemic, our revenue grew sequentially by 20 percent. Even premises which have zero footfall need to keep their nodes on,” says Ram.

iBus Network is also engaged in the space of smart electricity meters, which can ensure that the reading is done remotely.

The solutions of iBus Networks has been deployed at this commercial office space in Hyderabad

The business model of iBus Networks depends on the kind of agreement it enters into with the various entities. Many of these agreements are long term in nature.

The startup now has a coverage of 460 million square feet of space and the target is to take it to 1.5 billion sq ft. It is a 100-member strong team.

“We have got a good cash flow business with very low debt equity ratio and sustain ourselves from internal accruals,” says Ram.

This startup has competition from companies such as PCTEL, Zinwave, iBwave Solutions etc.

Expansion

iBus Networks plans to expand both within the country as well as overseas in the coming years. For the startup, many of its clients are global companies who want iBus to integrate its technology platform at their locations overseas.

The CEO of iBus Networks believes that India business will give them the element of scale in overseas markets, where average revenue per user (ARPU) is high there would bring in better margins.

“We will accelerate our growth through both organic and inorganic means,” says Ram.

This is a business where one cannot talk about having downtime as it is akin to connectivity 24x7 and 365 days.

“This is an industry which is very siloed, and our technology platform ensures that everybody talks -- whether is it human to human, device to human, or device to device,” says Ram.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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