William Demant, corporate parent of Oticon hearing aids, has tapped the European Investment Bank (EIB) for a €110 million Euro loan ($123 million USD) to power research and development of wireless hearing aid and hearing implant technologies. It’s a vote of confidence in the Danish conglomerate, which needs new products and technology to prosper in an increasingly competitive and technology-driven global hearing health marketplace.
William Demant’s hearing aid brands must compete with others who have leaped ahead with wireless technologies, especially systems that stream audio directly from smartphones into hearing aids. And in the hearing implant business, Demant’s Oticon Medical is racing to establish a competitive presence in global markets, especially with its new cochlear implant business acquired in 2013 from Neurelec.
The EIB is the European Union’s investment bank and makes loans at favorable rates to companies that support EU policy goals. Niels Jacobsen, President and CEO of William Demant, said in the EIB news release that the company will use the funds for “basic as well as applied research in our endeavor to create cutting-edge solutions within the R&D-intensive and highly specialized hearing healthcare industry – an industry still dominated by European players.” The EIB also noted that the investment should result in better hearing instruments enabling people with hearing loss “to participate more fully in social and business life” and to “make their life easier by enabling smartphones to control hearing devices.”
Oticon’s recent technology investments have focused on its new Inium Sense sound processing platform, which is 30 percent more powerful than its previous platform. But its established Connectline wireless technology still requires a separate streamer rather than transmitting audio and directly into Oticon hearing aids, and it doesn’t yet offer direct smartphone control of its hearing aids. William Demant’s other hearing aid brands, Bernafon and Sonic, have followed a similar product development strategies. Developing low-power radio technologies that enable direct control of the hearing aids by smartphones without an intermediate streamer will help William Demant brands to compete more effectively with GN ReSound, Starkey and other leaders who already offer those capabilities.
While Oticon Medical’s Ponto bone-anchored hearing implants have done well in a small market segment serving people with single-sided deafness, it is currently making a big investment in its new Neuro cochlear implant (CI) platform. Following the 2013 acquisition of Neurelec, which had limited distribution in Europe, Oticon Medical began investing in next-generation CI processor technology and reaching out to other markets. William Demant said in its 2014 annual report that it plans to launch the new Neuro CI platform in the second half of 2015, and to start the process of gaining FDA approval in the U.S. market, the world’s largest for cochlear implants.