17 Feb Wei’s third BIG BET -IoT
You can call Wei Chuan Beng a betting man. Having launched REDtone Bhd in 1996 as a networking company, he foresaw the convergence of the IT and telco worlds, and ended up betting RM15 million in R&D to create a product that could serve the market.
That was early 2000. The convergence bet worked and allowed him to leverage on its commercial success to list REDtone in 2004, renaming it to REDtone International Bhd.
It was the first of three big bets on emerging tehcnology he has made. While the first worked, the second failed, and the third is being executed now.
“It was a convergence server ahead of its time,” Wei recalls of the product introduced in 2000 that linked data, email, fax, SMS and mobile, and acted as a phone directory.
But Wei got lucky with timing and got smart with repositioning its product. “The dotcom crash of 2000 triggered an economic slow down, and companies were looking to cut costs. And, back then, telecommunications was a major cost item for many.”
He repackaged his generically-named communications server into a ‘smart call server’ with discounted calls as a value-add.
Wei also quickly saw the potential in the migrant worker market, creating a customised server for the call shops that sprung up all over the country to server migrant workers. As a recult, REDtone enjoyed “fantastic growth” from 2000 to 2004, with revenues surging from RM12 million over that five-year period.
By 2007, Wei already had his eyes on his second big bet – aiming to transform REDtone to a data business based on WiMAX. In 2008, the company won a 25 MHz slice of the spectrum in the 2.3HGz band, in what was described as an “underdog win” by the media.
But the promise of WiMAX fizzled even though REDtone still runs its network in Sabah and Sarawak.
Today, Wei is dreaming bigger and two years ago, started putting in place the building blocks for his next big bet: The Internet of Things (IoT).
“I am sensitive to these trends happening and I do not see a more impactful trend, for consumers, for businesses, or for governments, than the IoT,” he declares, saying he has invested “millions” on this bet.
He is specifically focusing on smart cities. The ultimate goal is to offer ‘Sensing-as-a-Service.’.
Towards this, REDtone has opted to build its own IoT platform, CitySense, so that it owns the intellectual property.
A dedicated team of 20 software engineers is headed by his former professor in university, “the youngest and brightest lecturer in our engineering faculty then,” whom Wei recruited in 2015.
The reason for owning the platform? Data. “We are pioneering the business model for smart cities where customers get options for historical, real-time or batch data that they pay for,” he explains.
It is a journey that he expects will take another two three years to turn profitable, but Wei is patient. “This model will earn us revenue for up to 10 years down the road.”
The first of many apps that will sit on CitySense was launched in August 2015. Called CityAct, as the name suggests,” the is an app for action, not talking. It is for citizens to use to give feedback and suggestions to their local councils.”
Declaring the status quo as not acceptable, Wei says,” We must participate in making change happen positively.” Catching himself, he laughs. “I sound like a politician.”
Not really – just an entrepreneur aiming to seize the next big opportunity while merging a social agenda with his economic one.