A Dutch start-up is to fire several nano-satellites into space this week in a move which will revolutionize global internet access. Hiber, which was co-founded in 2016 by five serial entrepreneurs including Laurens Groenendijk (who also co-founded JustEat and TreatWell) is the latest Internet of Things (IoT) business that could change the world.
The Great Internet Divide
It is fair to say that the world is enjoying increasing internet penetration, with more and more areas of our planet becoming connected. As of June 2018, 55.1% of the world’s population has access to the internet, with aquarter of a billion new users added since 2017. Despite this rapid expansion, usage still greatly favors urban areas and wealthier countries as the traditional satellites that provide widespread coverage are both expensive to maintain and require a considerable amount of power.
In Africa, for example, only 21.8% of the population is estimated to have access to the internet, with less than 10% of the inhabitants of counties including Mozambique, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congoestimated to be online. The discrepancy between internet access is best demonstrated in Asia, however. While 43.9% of the continent’s population is online, connectivity varies dramatically from one country to the next and from urban to rural areas. For example, while 76.4% of Kazakhstan’s population is online, only 17.9% of neighboring Turkmenistan has access to the internet.
China, notwithstanding possessing the second largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, has one of the lowest internet penetrations among G20 countries, at 55.8% — far behind regional rivals Japan and South Korea, who both have over 90% of their populations connected. The China Internet Network Information Center discovered that while the internet is readily available and affordable for the residents of big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, rural areas have been left behind as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) couldn’t afford to expand into remote regions like Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang due to a lack of infrastructure, purchasing power and low population densities. The government is now rapidly trying to fill the gap through the twin Internet Plus Health Care plan announced in 2017 and the Digital China 2020 plan.
According to a study by McKinsey, access to the internet can boost a countries GDP by 3.4%, thanks to increased private investment, public investment and expenditure. The same study estimated that by 2009 alone the internet had contributed $1,672 billion to our global economy.
“The reason that we started this company is that we feel this technology can make a real difference. We can change the lives and livelihoods of people by giving them access to better insights,” explains Ernst-Peter Hovinga, the CEO of Hiber. “If you can extract data from everywhere, always, it makes analysis possible that wasn’t possible before. People realize that with our technology they can deploy sensors in remote farmlands in Africa, for example, or they can help eradicate disease in New Zealand by using Hiber to track the movement of eight million cows.”
Hiber is launching its first nano-satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base — incidentally making the company the first commercial Dutch satellite operator — this week. A second launch is planned from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. Hiber estimate they will end up launching dozens of nano-satellites over the upcoming year to cope with further demand.
Once fully operational in early 2019, the nano-satellites will fly over the earth’s poles 16 times a day and the equator twice a day. Customers will be able to purchase and install a Hiberband modem, which is thought to be up to 20 times cheaper than relying on local internet providers and which contains enough battery power to run for ten years. The modem then transfers data directly to the nano-satellites as they travel overhead, which in turn relay information by data packet to the earth via two existing satellite stations in Spitsbergen in Norway and Delft in the Netherlands.
Hiber’s first nano-satellite will be fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this week and will circle the earth dailyHIBER
Change The World
Hiber’s system can facilitate access to the internet in even the remotest areas of the planet making the organization very excited about the positive impact their coverage could have on specific industries, from fishing and agriculture to climate science.
For example, the Indonesian government passed a law in July 2017 requiring every fishing boat in the country with a capacity equal to or exceeding 30 gross tonnes to install a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) so as to reveal its location and activity. The archipelago nation has an estimated 1.3 million fishing vessels, of which an incredible 90% are thought to operate illegally. While its government understands that many of the fishermen are simply trying to feed their families, it hopes that by tracking their activity it can better restrict fishing in Marine Protected Areas and protect dwindling fishing stocks. As an incentive for fishermen to sign up, the Indonesian government is providing free insurance and a vessel identification number to fishermen with a VMS — both legal requirements for fishing in Indonesia’s waters. Furthermore, families of fishermen with a VMS will also receive food and healthcare when their relative is away working at sea.
However, it would be logistically and financially impossible for the Indonesian government to install traditional routers on each of its 1.3 million fishing boats. With its decade-long battery life, ease of installment and no maintenance, the Hiber modem provides the perfect technology for the VMS rollout. The Hiber modem can send daily information to the nano-satellites on where a fisherman has operated and even what type and amount of fish they have caught.
Ernst-Peter Hovinga, the CEO at Hiber, believes that their nano-satellites can deliver internet to the 90% of the world’s populationHIBER
Another example of Hiber’s impact can be seen in its use by EduClima, a non-profit project run by the Dutch company DCS Commercio. The organization plans to introduce 50,000 climate stations into remote schools in Peru, Tanzania and Sri Lanka over the next four years. DCS Commercio has designed the Cruquius Climate Station which monitors climate data by using solar energy. However, the organization could not afford to connect these remote schools to a national grid. This is where Hiber comes in, with its nano-satellites able to share the data globally through their low power, low-cost nano-satellites. DCS Commercio hopes that the programme will not only provide power to remote schools but also allow for monitoring of the effects of climate change on communities most vulnerable to temperature fluctuations.
“We love Hiberband because we can use it anywhere on earth and it is cheap, plain and simple,” said Henk Smeenk, Manager at EduClima. “If it would cost us ten times as much it would still be worth it. This is a blue ocean opportunity for us! With Hiberband connectivity we gain access to new markets where no competitors exist. If you know where to look the applications are endless.”
Dutch technology company Blik Sensing is using Hiber’s nano-satellites in a similar method to measure the unseen levels of water below the ground and its temperature by drilling a small bore well and attaching a sensor node. The node can then relay information from remote areas of Ethiopia, for example, to Hiber’s nano-satellites.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is yet another company which has committed to using Hiber’s network. The BAS currently relies on using an airplane, once a year, to visit remote measurement stations in order to collect data and carry out on-going maintenance. By using Hiber, the BAS can gather information daily from across the continent as the nano-satellites can constantly relay information back from the stations while having less impact on the environment.
“This is also a huge cost saver,” said a spokesperson from the BAS, “which means more money is available to dedicate to other research projects.”
Hiber’s transformative idea has, not surprisingly, attracted excitement from across the globe and the company was named, this week, as the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Commercial Startup Launch of 2018. The firm was selected from a huge pool of 6,000 other start-ups with the award being made in front of 50,000 attendees from the technology world. As a result, Amazon will provide tools and advice to help the company scale.
“One of the biggest challenges [affecting the IoT environment today] is the provision of ubiquitous, low power and affordable connectivity,” said Hovinga. “AWS is excited about Hiber as Hiberband [our nano-satellites] in partnership with AWS can tackle some of the world’s biggest issues. Importantly, most projects will find their analysis will become more meaningful if it is based on more data. Hiber can get this data from anywhere and then integrate it into the full suits of AWS IoT analytics tools.”
“At Hiber,” he continues, “we are excited because this collaboration means that new things, which were previously unimaginable, are now possible!”
Nano Satellites Will Deliver Internet Access To All By 2019