Military bodies, power-plants, the countless of ships sailing the seas, all of them are examples of institutions that require reliable and secured long-range communications in order to effectively operate the demanding, sometimes dangerous tasks they’re responsible for.
Normal smartphone connections, even if equipped with custom built amplifiers, are out of the question: when distances are measured in thousands of kilometres and the data going through is of extreme importance, usual communication tools drop out due to their low quality transmission rates, or simply due to their unreliability.
The first solution to pop into the mind of a non-expert would be satellite communication, which is by no means far-fetched. However, there exist other, in some cases better technologies that can be used for similar purposes. In this case, that technology would originate from the Oulu-based startup Kyynel which we first wrote about last week when they announced a €2 million funding round.
Kyynel is a company worthy of our interest for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, however, the Finnish startup should be acknowledged for spearheading the development and production of a Cognitive Networked High Frequency (CNHF) radio system, which is a new kind of wireless telecommunication that can have more than significant impact on existing maritime, and other long-range communication dependent industries.
The Kyynel CNHF radio system provides similar connectivity as a satellite communication. However, the basis of function is quite different.
The concept of the Cognitive Radio, upon which Kyynel has based its softwares, was envisioned in 1998 by Joseph Mitola III. The Cognitive Radio is designed in such a way, that it is capable of detecting the most optimal wireless channels available. Or in other words, it analyses the state of the wireless spectrum in its vicinity and changes the parameters of its transmission and reception accordingly. This is done in order to receive larger quantities of simultaneous connections in a given spectrum band at one location.
Think of it as a traffic police officer standing in the middle of a gigantic intersection. He needs to get a convoy of messengers through the intersection as fast as possible, without causing any collisions. The catch is that he only has control over two sets of traffic lights: the lights on the convoy’s end, and the ones on the other side of the intersection. By carefully observing the lanes (and their respective traffic lights) the officer can detect lanes that are empty enough to fit parts of the convoy, after which he regulates the traffic lights in a way that the convoy cars can go through without the need to slow down, nor risk any collision with other cars. The CNHF radio system works in a similar way, except much, much faster.
But the beauty isn't just the capacity to control the transmission flow. The CNHF radio system monitors its own performance continuously in order to deliver a specifically determined quality of communication, subject to an appropriate combination of user requirements, operational limitations, and regulatory constraints.
Applications and usage
When set up on a ship, the CNHF radio system can act as a terminal or a base station, depending on the status and location of the ship. When a ship is at sea, the radio operates as a terminal and provides services to the ship itself. While in vicinity of the coast, the radio switches to base station mode and offers communication to other ships as well, still maintaining terminal role for the ship though.
There is, however, the so called HQ: Kyynel operates the networks and allocates resources to users for obtaining the best possible capacity and quality of service. Network control is manned 24/7 and all the operations take place in Oulu, Finland, including the help desk.
One way naval ships can benefit from a system like the Kyynel CNHF, for example, is by maintaining a reliable flow of real-time data that can help them optimize their routes when necessary. In this particular case, the benefits would manifest as fuel savings.
By the way, you should know that the word “radio” might be a bit misleading. Though having the word radio in it, the CNHF radio system transmits data, that is, any form of digital information. So instead of just being able to listen to their favourite radio broadcasts, ships using the CNHF system will be able to send and receive emails, transfer files, use chat messaging and built-in location tracking while at high sea. Should large number of users be available, VoIP, internet browsing and SMS would also become possible.
The theoretical maximum amount of data is up to 48GB per ship per month. Data rate for end user is up to 150kbit/s. Since data transmission always establishes a dedicated link for the end user, the data rate is not divided per users as it is in Satellite communication. This enables good quality of service and all applications except video streaming.
Toni Linden, CEO at Kyynel, tells us there are plenty of applications out there for a technology like theirs, but he points out that they will be focusing on the naval industry for now:
“It’s the first system that is secure (Kyynel data is encrypted), global, reliable and is always on. There are plenty of different options available, but we’re now concentrating on maritime industry in the Arctic area. Hypothetically, the transceiver would have official governmental uses and we've played around with the idea of machine to machine communication for industrial users, such as power plants.”
Linden, who has professional history with the Finnish military, goes on to tell us how the business-model, the company as well as the technology development itself all came together hand in hand.
“Matti Raustia and Teemu Vanninen (founders), both worked in telecom while working as phd students in the Oulu University, doing research in that field. We all ended up working together in the Uni for three years, doing the background work to figure out the market potential. Then, we spinned-off, but still didn't have any solution at hand, but we knew we could do it. After we found out we could make it work, we wanted to find a partner to develop and licence the technology out. Hence we had to build a prototype, but then we figured if we can make a prototype, we could also make a product, and then just decided to do everything all the way.”
As a finishing touch, I wanted to mention that the company name is loaded with historical tension I've frankly never encountered in my entire life. Kyynel, or “Tear”, was a lightweight portable long-range patrol radio designed and used by Finns during the second world war. Probably the best patrol radio available in the world during the WW2, the Kyynel radio’s communication could be maintained at ranges from 60 km up to 600km.
The name of the transmitter has two explanations: A typical operating position of the unit was somewhere in the deep forest under big trees -which, in peacetime Finland, would have been an ideal place for an illegal booze factory (in Finnish: “korpikuusen kyynel”). Another, perhaps more technical translation, was that when the radio was turned on, it made a chirpy noise that sounded as if the radio was weeping – which was highly annoying to the chief designer and engineer Ragnar Lautkari. Luckily the new Kyynel, however, doesn't have this problem.