It would be an understatement to say it's been an eventful 2016 for Sierra Wireless (NASDAQ:SWIR). First, shares of the Internet of Things (IoT) specialist plunged nearly 40% from the start of the year through mid-February, with most of those early losses coming after it warned that an uncertain macroeconomic environment was curtailing demand from certain OEM customers.
To be fair, Sierra Wireless stock more than recovered after CEO Jason Cohenour followed the company's comparatively solid report in May with a prediction that the business was poised "to gain strength over the course of the year as new customer programs move into production and we introduce new leading-edge IoT products and solutions."
Sure enough, shares most recently popped in November as that prediction was largely borne out in its report of another strong quarter. So in no particular order, let's take a closer look at some of the key moves Sierra Wireless made this year that helped drive that strength and position the company for success going forward.
Strategic Acquisitions (Blue Creation, GenX Mobile)
First, while Sierra Wireless most certainly wants to use its existing technology portfolio to drive sustained, profitable growth, it's also not afraid to pursue it through strategic acquisitions.
For example, take its modest $7.8 million ($6 million, net of cash acquired) acquisition of GenX Mobile in August. GenX Mobile is a leading provider of in-vehicle cellular devices for the fleet management, asset tracking, and transportation markets, and boasts a product portfolio that's largely complementary to Sierra Wireless' existing mobile and industrial gateways, which it offers through its enterprise solutions unit. It expects the acquisition to not only expand its telematics and location capabilities, but also to improve its strategic position as it works to capture greater market share in those areas.
Then in its most recent quarter, it made another small but important acquisition, paying $6.5 million (or $3 million, net of cash) for U.K.-based embedded wireless technology specialist Blue Creation. In doing so, Sierra Wireless both expanded its portfolio of short-range wireless capabilities, including Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, and Wi-Fi solutions, and further improved its strategic value proposition to its OEM customers.
Sierra Wireless is also making a concerted effort to strike partnerships that will position it for a central role in enabling next-gen Internet of Things solutions on a wide scale.
More specifically, in September, the company unveiled a new partnership with AT&T (NYSE:T) to pilot next-gen LTE-M (formerly known as Cat-M1) network technologies "with several technology leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area." That particular pilot kicked off last month, and will help bring the benefits of LTE-M -- a network standard that offers lower gateway module costs, longer battery life (at least 10 years for LTE-M-enabled devices), and superior LTE coverage -- to previously difficult-to-reach areas.
In its most recent conference call last month, Sierra Wireless management further confirmed that Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and other yet-to-be-named "leading OEMs" will also pilot the technology. Assuming these early tests and network deployments are successful, according to Cohenour, this move should "significantly expand the IoT opportunity and the addressable market for cellular technologies."
Finally, Sierra Wireless made strides this year to position itself to take advantage of the growing market for automotive connectivity.
Earlier this summer, for example, it struck a partnership with car software specialist Movimento Group, with the aim of providing automotive OEMs the first commercially available cloud-based platform to streamline vehicle software installation and updates. Considering IHS predicts nearly all automakers will introduce over-the-air software updates to their vehicles over the next three to five years, Sierra Wireless is wisely offering its seamless solution early to capture market share in this new opportunity.
And we already know that the acquisition of GenX Mobile should serve to bolster its strategic position and technology portfolio for in-vehicle cellular connectivity. Even before that acquisition was completed, Sierra Wireless had already secured a tangible design win this past July, announcing its AirPrime AR Series modules had been selected by Shanghai-based connected car solutions specialist PATEO to enable cellular connectivity for telematics units in the Chinese automotive market. The first shipments of these automotive-grade modules were sent to PATEO in the first quarter of this year, with the first commercial deployment in platforms destined for models made by China's Geely Automobile (NASDAQOTH: GELYF).
Then in September, Sierra Wireless found another similar home for its AirPrime modules and cloud-based AirVantage IoT platform, providing cellular connectivity and service delivery for Russia-based Itelma's emergency response ERA-GLONASS units, which it supplies to the Russian auto market.
All things considered, then, it might seem surprising that shares of Sierra Wireless have only risen 2.6% year to date as of this writing -- though that's primarily a byproduct of its post-earnings volatility in these early stages of growth. But if one thing seems sure, it's that this company is working tirelessly to lay the foundations for growth in a number of markets with enormous potential. And I think investors with the foresight to buy shares now -- before that growth materializes -- are poised to enjoy years of market-beating returns.