Area Science Park
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For creating PRIMO, a mobile broadband connection used in the earthquake-affected zone of Emilia Romagna 

Athonet receives medal from the Italian President

25.06.2012 -

This afternoon, Karim El Malki and Gianluca Verin, the founders of Athonet, received medals from the President of the Republic for their services to sustainable digital networks. The award for the "New Businesses" section was presented on Nuvolaverde Day, an event created by Enzo Argante and held at the offices of Il Sole 24 Ore in Milan, with the collaboration of IIT Genoa, Expo 2015 and Nova 24.



The event, dedicated to the potential and value of sustainable digital technologies, proved to be a showcase for Italian ingenuity in this field, with a whole host of ideas and solutions created in the name of "virtuous" innovation. The day was a kind of scientific theatre performance, during which the inventors explained their designs with the aid of a screen, telling the stories behind businesses, entrepreneurs, professionals, intellectuals and researchers who have managed to combine vision with concrete achievements.



Athonet, a young company based at the AREA Science Park of Trieste and specialised in the development of advanced mobile telecommunications systems, received an award for having designed "PRIMO" (PRIvate MObile), a compact, portable mobile UMTS/HSPA/LTE connection, used by the rescue services of Friuli Venezia Giulia after the recent earthquake in Emilia. It is the first example anywhere in the world of an LTE network being used for post-earthquake emergency rescue.



The LTE system, which uses a BTS from Nokia Siemens Networks, was installed on the roof of a school in Mirandola, and provided the field rescue management team with internet connections and landline numbers. LTE - WiFi routers also provided the local inhabitants with Internet access, allowing them to communicate with the outside world even at a time of such difficulty and upheaval.



The panel of judges also gave a special mention to Francesca Macrì for her "tataTU" application, compatible with smart phones, tablets and web platforms. The app is intended as a kind of personal organiser for women, helping them to plan their day, share advice, ideas and objects, create personal women-only networks, and interact with the wider public, businesses and their local area.



PRIMO is a solution which has essentially perfected the broadband cellular system of the third and fourth generations. It has revolutionised the concept of the local mobile network, and overcome the limitations of Wi-Fi, by enabling the cellular network to be used as an extension of a company's intranet and covering hotspots such as heavy-traffic zones and areas with weak connections. The solution can offer additional coverage in areas of specific interest, without burdening the operators' traditional mobile networks.



This resolves the issues of network congestion caused by mass use of mobile phones, smart phones and data sticks which require constant access to the Internet. The solution can also offer a privileged service and broadband radio access within buildings, or in any other place where such access may be required. This makes PRIMO ideal for businesses, airports, hospitals, university campuses, high-automation industrial zones, oil rigs and drilling platforms, ships, aircraft, hotspots and even entire regions affected by the digital divide. Extremely easy to install, portable and with minimal energy consumption, it is also an ideal choice for public security operations and can provide reliable coverage in disaster zones, where a UMTS/HSPA/LTE network can now be set up in just a few minutes.

The story of Athonet

The story of Athonet and its founders takes us to Italy, Sweden and even England. The company's two engineers, Karim and Gianluca met in Stockholm, where they worked for Ericsson, in 1999. Karim El Malki, born to an Egyptian father and Venetian mother, was the first person to invent the mobility gateway solution that led to the birth of PRIMO in Rome. At university in England, he collaborated with Ericsson while working on his Ph.D. The collaboration led to a patent aimed at eliminating background noise from telephone calls, a technology which has subsequently been adopted by many telecommunications companies. Karim was also an associate professor in Sheffield, where he founded a Mobile IP research group. Gianluca Verin, born in Bassano del Grappa, studied telecommunications engineering at Padua University.



When he left for England on an Erasmus scholarship in 1994, it seemed that he would be following the "path of no return", like so many of his generation. While in England, he also completed a Master's degree before returning to Italy to work for Ericsson. In 1999 he moved to the company's headquarters in Sweden, to work on the issues caused by the explosion in the volume of data traffic linked to the diffusion of the Internet.


In 2005, Karim and Gianluca decided to leave Ericsson and follow their dreams by founding Athonet. They had a hunch that there would be an exponential growth in mobile data transfer, and that the efficiency of the existing mobile networks would need to increase significantly, along with improved performance and simplified network architectures. The venture began as a low-cost garage business, as the partners worked non-stop even during the night and on public holidays, a type of enterprise which apparently has more in common with the pioneering stories of America's Silicon Valley, where the venture capital system works and nobody is afraid of taking a risk. Italy was a different matter.



But in Karim and  Gianluca believed in their dream and took the bold decision to remain in their native country, because after many years' experience abroad, they wanted to demonstrate that some things are possible, even in Italy. After all, this is the birthplace of Guglielmo Marconi, who knew something about radio broadcasting, the predecessor of cellular communications. They worked assiduously, until at last the finished innovation saw the light. After years of sacrifice, Karim and Gianluca have now done it: the new "All IP" cellular system, the only one of its kind in the world, is at last on the market.