Invest Ottawa startups ready for network prime time

Michel Paquet’s company needs all the mobile network coverage it can get.

After watching his 83-year-old aunt’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and noticing the difficulty she had letting her family and health care providers know what she needed, Mr. Paquet started Aetonix to address the problems experienced by his aunt and many others in similar situations. Founded in 2014, the startup develops a personal communication and emergency alert system designed for seniors and others with complex care needs.

The Aetonix system features face-to-face communication, patient monitoring and emergency alerts using secure, on-demand communication between many different devices. Users including patients and care providers rely on their system at all times, so dependable and high-performance mobile networks are crucial to building and maintaining their customers’ confidence.

Next-generation tech

“People depend on our product, so uptime is really critical,” says Mr. Paquet.

A new research facility coming to the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards will feature millions of dollars’ worth of next-generation network communications technology. For Invest Ottawa portfolio companies like Aetonix that will be working right in the thick of it, these advanced systems could offer major opportunities for growth and scalability.

The facility will be an extension of the Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks, a Kanata-based collaborative organization that looks for ways to bring new communications technologies to market more quickly.

With resources from among CENGN’s 12 members – which include Cisco, Nokia, Juniper, Fujitsu, Telus and more – and equal funding from the city and Invest Ottawa, the facility will feature up to $10 million worth of telecommunications equipment, including the latest in cloud infrastructure, high-speed Internet connectivity, optical switching and routing infrastructure.

Expected to be operational in the next three to four months, it will act as an evaluation testbed for potential products or services that startups are trying to bring to market.

With access to equipment and technology that is normally unavailable or too expensive for validation testing, companies working in fields such as 5G networks, “smart city” infrastructure and the Internet of Things will be able to conduct multi-vendor testing and certification that’s crucial to proof-of-concept projects.

“What we’re really trying to do is get something on the résumé of these small Canadian companies so that they can go sell globally,” says CENGN chief executive Ritch Dusome.

Mr. Paquet, for one, says he’s excited about the prospect of testing the scalability of Aetonix. The startup currently has close to 1,000 users at an adult care centre in Brampton and two Health Links groups in the Ottawa area. Mr. Paquet says he hopes to tap into the roughly 680,000 people served by Health Links across Ontario – a market that, as the population ages, is expected to multiply in the years ahead – by stress-testing their product’s ability to meet the demand.

“That’s a lot of people,” he says. “If you have a portion of them all doing a call at the same time, that’s a lot of data flow on the system. If we can actually test what we do on new infrastructure like this and see that yes, we can scale to this number of people no problem – or a much bigger number, like millions – that will be a very good thing for us.”

Meanwhile, another Invest Ottawa portfolio company, SweetSeat, sees major potential in mobile, on-demand purchases of products and services – whether it’s a sports fan ordering food and drinks to their seat during a game, a worker ordering lunch in advance to save time on their break or any number of other services that could be made more readily available through a mobile web application like the one the firm has been developing.

Compatible with 5G

“We’re itching to make full use of the resources here,” says Cody Spicer, the company’s chief operating officer. “Our technology is completely centred around the G networks … and it’s very compatible with the 5G networks. Our vision, especially within a smart city, is that for any business that needs people to pay for something, it can be done through a mobile device.”

Mr. Spicer sees his company’s model as the future of sales for products and services, and he says that being able to use CENGN’s resources while working out of Invest Ottawa’s headquarters at Bayview Yards will prove to be a major advantage for SweetSeat.

“The more coverage and the better access people consistently have to the Internet, the better for our business in particular,” he says.

“As they expand those coverages and lay that bandwidth pipeline, it’s going to help a lot of different companies expand.”