Junjun Fetizanan is a certified aviator and a programming enthusiast. As a flier, he understands the close linkage between safety and communication. Pilots, for safety reasons, ideally should be in touch with ground controllers during all periods from take off to touch down.
A robust communication system becomes ever more critical in island nations like the Philippines. Response time to emergencies on the sea is often longer than on land. Help has to be routed from land stations. An effective response requires a robust communication system. For that movement of planes, boats, ships, and other craft should be constantly monitored.
Junjun Fetizanan, the Founder of a Philippines-based startup, Fame, sketched the scale of the communication challenges faced by aviation and maritime logistics in the Philippines. Only 10 of the 85 airports in the Philippines have radar capability. There are 429 fishing and 821 commercial ports, of which only two have a Vessel Traffic Management System. The situation is said to be similar across the region.
Today ships, boats, and planes primarily communicate only by radio. Integration of weather, spatial data, two way messaging with the ground cannot be done over the radio. The need for better, comprehensive, simple, and affordable communication technology is urgent.
Junjun started working on this problem in 2015. FAME is the outcome of these efforts. The IoT innovation uses LORA technology. LORA is a Long Range Network WAN (Wide Area Network) with a range of over 21 miles. It is a low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technology.
LORA WAN network architecture allows the transmission of messages and data between devices. These can be relayed across a geographical area with the help of gateways. The data is aggregated and processed from a central network server.
Gateways are connected to the network server using standard IP connections. End devices use single-hop wireless communication to one or many gateways. End-point communications are bi-directional. This enables automatic network-wide uploading of software upgrades, messages, and other data.
LoRAWAN data rates range from 0.3kbps to 50 kbps. I believe that in time these data ranges will improve. Data is transmitted across the network in an encrypted format. Devices, chips, and other hardware manufacturers used over the web have incorporated security features. The communication over the network is secure.
The network is battery-operated, and power consumption is low. This enables network deployment even in remote locations. LoRA is an Internet of Things (IoT) technology. It is this capability that Junjun is leveraging for his innovation.
He is using sensors that conform to LORA standards. These sensors are placed in transponders that are located in a vehicle, ships, and aircraft. Junjun is now in the process of building the ground network across the Philippines. Twenty-one gateways are being installed, each at the cost of $1000. He expects the work to be completed in the coming months.
Hardware for the FAME network, transponders, and other devices will be built locally by one of the leading manufacturers in the country. The manufacturer with whom a tie-up is finalized also has a strong nationwide marketing network.
The application for the FAME system has been built by an internal team of developers. FAME Proof of Concept and network is already in operation. Transponders have been installed in twenty craft. Flying schools, shipping, and ferry operators are the first customers. The system is said to be working well.
Junjun is already thinking of expanding the FAME business to Indonesia. He is in the process of identifying local partners in that country. He is patenting the technology and has applied for a regional patent with the concerned regulator.
Junjun’s venture appears to have taken the fast lane. It was just in November 2015 that he made a demonstration the Proof of Concept in a local startup competition organized by www.ideaspace.org – a not-for-profit venture. A hundred startups participated, and FAME was amongst the ten selected startups. He received a grant of 500000 Philippines pesos.
Ideaspace conducts an annual competition for Philippine-based startups. The competitors go through various hoops of competition. The final ten startups are put through a three-month course in business conducted by the Asian Institute of Management.
This is an excellent initiative that helps build innovation. It is worth emulation by other countries. Great minds are everywhere – encouragement and training go a long way to turning dreams into realities.
I was particularly impressed by the vision of the Founder. His choice of technology is particularly smart. LORA is becoming popular across the technology world. A not-for-profit alliance called the LORA Alliance is in place. Some marquee names like IBM, Cisco, ZTE, and many others have already signed on to the Alliance.
The Alliance has built a set of standards and protocols everyone agrees to. Already chip makers, sensor manufacturers, application providers, telecom companies, and others are creating innovations that conform to LoRA standards.
With the explosion of IoT devices worldwide, many startups are building their innovation on platforms and devices made by members of the Alliance. FAME is using the IBM application platform for their system. The future of this innovation looks bright.