On-Ramp Wireless, Learning From the Past, Says Its System Is Ready

3/28/12Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego’s On-Ramp Wireless was founded in 2008 to develop low-power, low data rate wireless networking technology. The idea was that such technology could be used to provide low-cost monitoring of electric power grids and similar infrastructure that extends across thousands of square miles.

Now the company is ready to roll out its technology, including a wireless application designed to monitor buried pipelines and critical underground utility infrastructure. “It’s a different flavor of the same technology,” says Joaquin Silva, On-Ramp’s founding CEO. “The core communication is identical. You still need low power. You still need to go a long way. You just need to reach below ground, even into a sealed room.”

On-Ramp has raised $37 million since it was founded, and now Silva says he’s preparing to raise between $20 million to $30 million as part of a Series C round of venture funding to help fuel On-Ramp’s next stage of expansion. The goal is no longer to just develop the technology. Now it’s also about increasing revenue and getting the business to become cash-flow positive. As Silva explained to Xconomy a couple of years ago, On-Ramp initially conceived of its technology as a wireless communications network for smart grid systems. Utilities could operate their grids more effectively by using On-Ramp’s wireless sensor capabilities to guide load management and improve their overall energy efficiencies. In South Korea, the company has been working with partners to demonstrate the capabilities of its advanced meter data collection system in what Silva calls “a challenging environment with a very dense population and [wireless] output restrictions.”

“Our claim to fame is our purpose-built wireless system for sensing and metering, based on an innovation in signal processing,” Silva says. On-Ramp’s signal processing technology is integrated into the network “access points” that collect sensor data from the field and in the  company’s semiconductor-based radios that go into sensors and smart meters. Silva says On-Ramp’s receiver can detect signals as faint as 1/10,000 those of conventional “free spectrum” radios, such as WiFi or Bluetooth, which are also short-range and subject to radio interference.

Joaquin Silva

The company also sees opportunities for its technology in helping utilities monitor grid reliability and in pinpointing and even predicting outages, using analytics software to identify the telltale signals that precede a local breakdown in the power distribution system. Silva says On-Ramp’s pervasive wide area network could have issued an early warning signal last Sept. 8 (had the system been deployed throughout Arizona and Southern California) when a widespread power outage left some 7 million people without electricity for nearly 12 hours in San Diego, Orange, and Imperial counties, as well as parts of Arizona and Baja California.

The concept applies to underground infrastructure as well. Silva says On-Ramp’s sensors could have alerted Pacific Gas & Electric to leaks in the 30-inch diameter natural gas pipeline that exploded in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno in 2010. On-Ramp has developed sensors to monitor underground pipelines for leaks and corrosion. Silva says On-Ramp’s “Ultra-Link Processing” wireless point-to-multipoint network (which is deployed above-ground) is sensitive enough to receive the underground signal, even from miles away, and can run on batteries for several years.

Silva says On-Ramp already is working with a major oil & gas company to monitor pipeline integrity, which represents a promising new market sector in addition to its utility customer base. When On-Ramp was working … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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