Over the last year WIRED and Nokia have continued the #MakeTechHuman campaign, studying the impact that technology will have on our future and the possibility of channelling it in a virtuous direction, that can improve the life of all human beings on Earth. At the end of the project, 17 influencers worldwide were awarded the title of Agents of Change – true engines of change, who have had a real impact in matters of global importance with their innovations, such as artificial intelligence, privacy, health and security.
There is also an Italian among the 17 Agents of Change: his name is Karim El Malki, CEO and founder of the startup Athonet, dedicated to developing mobile networks.
El Malki is a 42-year old engineer of Egyptian origin, with many years experience behind him: after being a researcher and lecturer in Mobile Communications in England at the University of Sheffield, he worked for the telecommunications multinational Ericsson in Sweden, where he held high-level positions in the research sector. There he met his colleague Gianluca Verin, with whom he decided to return to Italy and found their own startup. The decision to return home after so many years abroad was above a gamble. The two men set out on a difficult path, renouncing possible tangible investments outside of Italy, and looking at a long, difficult road ahead, but their hard work was soon rewarded.
El Malki and Verin created Athonet together, a company specialised in mobile network infrastructures that has created a low-cost, easily transportable solution that allows autonomous cellular networks to be created that can cover large areas such as hospitals, university campuses or airports, allowing users to connect to it. But it is especially in rural areas, subject to the digital divide or in areas that are facing damage from natural catastrophes that PriMo – this is the name of the solution designed by Athonet – makes the difference.
The first real test occurred in Italy. In fact, when the 2012 earthquake in Emilia affected communications, cutting off the homeless – but especially the emergency and rescue services – from any type of connection, Athonet intervened, creating a wireless network that could restore cellular coverage. This intervention, which supported the Civil Protection’s work in such a decisive manner, brought the Athonet team a medal from President Napolitano, who recognized the importance of an instrument such as PriMo in the event of emergencies.
The kit created by the startup exploits UMTS/HSPA and LTE technology and is easy to transport in a briefcase. It is also an inexpensive instrument: while a traditional network can require an investment of tens of millions of Euro, PriMo is much cheaper. Also experimented in critical areas, considered to be the periphery of the technological world where large companies do not invest their money – also due to frequents thefts of copper cables – it has been found to be a success. Athonet has also taken its network to Malawi and other areas of Africa, showing its commitment to diffusion and access to telecommunications in areas that have otherwise been ignored.
It is therefore no surprise that Karim El Malki is considered to be one of the 17 influencers who will change the world and its inhabitants’ lives for the better: he has proven, with his team, that there are no areas that can remain cut off from communications. The most critical areas, the areas on the edge, are a challenge that only real innovators will take up, something that Athonet has proven worldwide.