Technical University of Denmark : Small antennas with great potential
WingNet is a new Danish start-up that has the ambitious goal of making the Internet accessible to the many people on the planet who cannot afford their own broadband connection.
Often the full capacity of a normal Internet connection is not utilized, so why not make it possible for several people to share the same connection? This was the idea of Kasper Svendsen, who has worked and travelled in many developing countries and seen how many people live without Internet, and thus without the opportunity to participate in modern life.
“The Internet affects almost every aspect of society and acts as a powerful economic engine. But many people do not benefit from this growth because they lack Internet access. This impacts both the economy and quality of life in a broader sense. Digital solutions in areas like education and health can expand people’s opportunities,” he explains.
Kasper Svendsen decided to do something about the problem, and develop a technology that allows several people to hook up to the same Internet connection. And this is where his younger brother, Emil Svendsen, came into the picture. Kasper studied at Copenhagen Business School. His brother is currently studying electrical engineering at DTU, and has had an ardent interest in wireless communication, wi-fi technology, and open networks for a number of years.
The antenna distributes the signal
The brothers explored various options and found the solution in ‘mesh technology’, where instead of having a main router, several wireless devices communicate freely with each other.
“The mesh algorithms find the shortest and quickest path, no matter where in the network you are connected,” Kasper explains.
With advice, financial support, and help to test the technology from DTU, Emil Svendsen built a prototype based on an existing mesh antenna. The components already existed and were not too expensive, so costs could be kept down. The antenna is flexible and mobile, and is about ten centimetres in diameter and five centimetres tall.
The antenna allows anyone with a broadband connection to create a wireless network and share their Internet with neighbours or others within a certain range. An app records how much traffic each person uses, for billing purposes. End-users only pay for the amount of Internet they use.
Pilot projects in Thailand
Once the technology was in place, the two brothers brought four other people into WingNet. Kasper Svendsen is CEO, while Emil Svendsen is Technical Manager at the company, and has made contact with a company that can produce the antennas. Kasper Svendsen has moved to Thailand, where he has entered into a strategic partnership with a Thai company to help WingNet get established in the local market.
Two pilot projects are under way in cooperation with local NGOs. One is being set up in hall of residence and will primarily re-test and confirm that the technology works. The second is being set up in Thailand’s largest slum, Khlong Toei, with approx. 100,000 inhabitants. This will be a more crucial proof of concept, amongst the intended target group.
WingNet also has promising contacts in Cambodia and Indonesia, but the corona pandemic is currently preventing all travel. Paradoxically, the corona situation also seems to be helping to advance the company’s plans. As in other countries, residents of Thailand have been sent home from their workplaces, schools, and educational institutions. This is making more people dependent on Internet access.
“The Government of Thailand has an official goal of providing Internet access for as many as possible of the estimated 16.5 million residents without it. They have announced that it is time to meet this goal, and we see our product as a great way of achieving this,” says Kasper Svendsen.
Since DTU went into corona lockdown, Emil Svendsen has been working to improve the antenna from his small home office. He completed his engineering studies in February 2021, and can now devote himself to WingNet full-time.
“We probably need to get a large investor with some financial muscle on board. It’s not just a matter of refining the antenna and platform, but also getting onto the market. But I have no doubt about the viability of our product, and that the major ISPs will also be able to see the benefit in terms of savings on cable excavation work and improved range. It will be cheaper for them, while also being a huge step forward for the millions of people who live without Internet access,” he says.