Cubic Telecom charts a growth path towards greater auto connectivity

The firm’s platform now connects software for more than 13 million vehicles

Cubic Telecom chief product officer Cian O’Cuinneagáin

Adrian Weckler

Ireland in 2023 is a tale of two tech sectors. One is shedding jobs, cutting perks and generally lowering ambitions. The other continues to hire and talk up its market opportunities.

To listen to Cubic Telecom’s new chief product officer, Cian O’Cuinneagáin, the Dublin-based telco-tech firm is parked firmly in the latter bucket.

Business remains good, deals are flowing and staff numbers keep rising.

The company, run by Barry Napier with over €140m in investment from Volkswagen, Qualcomm and the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, has been coming up with new ways to leverage its 190 mobile network coverage deals around the world.

It has built software services and connection technology for a bunch of different industries, from drones (Ireland’s Manna is a customer) to Microsoft systems.

But its main business is keeping cars in touch with online communications in a way that lets the vehicles themselves become smart devices. This ranges from content-streaming and app stores to full-autonomy.

In fact, because of its deals with companies like John Deere and CNH (with its New Holland, Stehr and Case IH agricultural machinery brands), Cubic is one of the few Irish companies to already have its systems engaged in companies that develop self-driving machines.

“In large agri markets, they’re actually quite far ahead when it comes to autonomous driving,” says Mr O’Cuinneagáin.

“This is because they don’t have the same regulatory constraints. So you’re able to fully deploy autonomous vehicles much, much easier than in public.”

This is mainly for tractors and combine harvesters on giant farms in countries such as the US, Australia and Brazil, where the scale of farming operations is vastly bigger than in most European countries.

The farms are sometimes so big that they cross over between mobile network coverage zones.

“We have to come up with innovative solutions there,” he says. “Brazil isn’t like Ireland. You don’t have one single operator that has 90pc coverage, they all have pockets of coverage and different strengths and different weaknesses. So the vehicle can be transitioning between those.”

Mr O’Cuinneagáin said that the agricultural sector sometimes leads the way in combining cellular with satellite, or combining public and private networks, two areas that Cubic thinks it can bring to a wider industrial audience.”

Can we expect to see Irish self-driving tractors controlled from smartphones anytime soon?

“I think it will be more likely to mature here when there’s a real combination of solutions,” he says.

The bulk of what Cubic Telecom makes in revenue is related to cars

“That might mean an ag-tech player that’s aligned to a connectivity partner and a manufacturer, with things packaged up and provided through associations. But it may be a bit more piecemeal, realistically, in an Irish context because of the lesser size and scale.”

The bulk of what Cubic Telecom makes in revenue, though (around €44m last year), is related to cars. Mr O’Cuinneagáin says that it has over 13 million vehicles connected on its platform, up from just 120,000 in 2016. The company, he says, expects that figure to double again within two years.

“It’s an inflection point,” he says. “We have a maturing connectivity orientated solution with a huge amount of untapped opportunity as to what kind of additional services, additional value you can bring to bear on top of that core solution.”

Mr O’Cuinneagáin is no stranger to Irish tech companies that last the distance. His last job was as chief product officer at Tommy Kelly’s Eshopworld, a continuous growth machine that was fully acquired in 2021 for a sum estimated to be around €1bn.

His enthusiasm in moving into a job that deals with car brands from Audi and Bentley to Harley Davidson is palpable.

But how much of a difference does he think the company can make, in the long term? Isn’t the elephant in the room that most car software technology and user interfaces are always years behind modern UX systems?

We still have well over 20 or 30 open roles at the moment

“It’s fair to say that a lot of commentary out there would agree with that,” he says.

“The user experience is something that certainly has some way to go to reach parity with the likes of the mobile phone experience. So some of the things we’re doing with our customers include things like in-car app stores. But I think it’s fair to say that there’s a journey to be done in terms of user experience. That was one of the reasons for me to join [this company]. I do think that there’s an awful lot of headroom. We’re at a very early point in the penetration and adoption curve.

And the company’s exposure to the current tech industry headwinds? So far, so good, he says. Despite adding over 100 people last year to exceed 300 people now, Cubic hasn’t had layoffs.

“We expect to add low double digits of growth. We still have well over 20 or 30 open roles at the moment. But we’re fortunate to be in a business that’s at its infancy in terms of scale. It’s growing irrespective of what the macro economic conditions are doing at the moment.”