How did one Irish start-up get to be recognised as a technology pioneer? With a little bit of help from the European Space Agency (ESA) and a lot of its own innovation.
Altobridge was set up in 2002 to develop a cost-effective system to allow people to use their mobile phones on planes. Up until then, such technology was very costly.
“Satellite links are extremely expensive, so we developed a software product that sits between the satellite and the base station on the aircraft, which reduces the amount of satellite bandwidth you need,” says Richard Lord, chief technology officer at Altobridge.
The company then started to look at what other sectors they could sell the technology to, repackaging and deploying it on ships, to enable crew to use their standard GSM phones. This concept was then rolled out in regions of Africa and south east Asia, bringing mobile phone coverage via satellite out to remote communities where it was too costly to lay down cables.
“We developed this system whereby we have a base station which would typically handle up to about 1000 users, and covers a radius of 5-10 km,” says Lord.
Then, in around 2007, Altobridge was approached by Enterprise Ireland to consider applying for a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA). With ESA’s help, Altobridge has added new features, including local switching of calls and intelligent handover to other nodes in the public mobile network.
“It's a well-known fact that bringing telecommunications out to these remote communities helps them develop,” notes Lord. The base stations are already being used by local communities in Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and, more recently, throughout northern Iraq.
Altobridge is now on its third contract, which will look at the migration of voice and messaging services to data services.
“In the past we focused on bringing voice and text messaging services, but now the demand is for broadband data. Because satellite communications are quite expensive, we are developing a suite of products that optimise broadband”.
This project is still in development phase, but according to Lord, Altobridge will look to commercialise it next year.
The company efforts gained recognition in June of this year when they joined the likes of Google and Twitter by being recognised by the World Economic Forum as a 2012 technology pioneer. The annual awards acknowledge companies whose technology has the “promise of significantly impacting the way business and society operate”.
Click here to read the World Economic Forum's report on Altobridge