Monday, March 20, 2017

Helios Wire is a Canadian Space Based Internet of Things Startup

          By Brian Orlotti

Scott Larson. Photo c/o BC Business.
Vancouver-based Helios Wire, a startup founded by former Urthecast CEO  and co-founder Scott Larson, has announced plans to design and build a space-based Internet of Things (IoT) network using a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites.

Total cost for the constellation is estimated by Helios as being less than $100Mln CDN.

As outlined on the Helios website:
Helios is building a fully disruptive, global, and vertically integrated satellite-enabled monitoring and messaging service that will track and provide communication with up to 5 billion transmitters.   
It will be a space and terrestrial-based Internet of Things and Machine to Machine service specifically designed for ultra-high volume market applications requiring low bandwidth and low service costs."
But while the company promises the system will reduce the cost of IoT enough to make it affordable to small and medium sized businesses, IoT’s inherent security issues may prove a roadblock to their plans.

As outlined in the March 10th, 2017 Helios Wire press release, "The Internet of Things is Ripe for Democratization," the IoT is "primed for democratization, and promises to go beyond the evolution of modern-day conveniences, including refrigerators that can order groceries and have them delivered to your door. Already, big businesses like Virgin Atlantic, Farmers Insurance, and UPS harness IoT data to optimize their business operations. And soon, small and mid-size organizations will be in a better place to reap some of those same rewards." Helios hopes to take advantage of that pent up demand from small and medium sized businesses. Graphic c/o Helios Wire

Currently one of the tech sector’s biggest buzzwords, the IoT refers to the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items with embedded electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity enabling them to collect and exchange data.

The IoT is a means of directly integrating the physical world with computers, allowing objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure (i.e. the internet). IoT also encompasses other technologies such as smart grids, smart homes, intelligent transportation and smart cities. IoT advocates argue that such physical/computer integration will result in greater efficiency, accuracy and economic benefits while reducing the need for human intervention.

Helios’ plan calls for a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites to be launched over three years beginning in 2018.

UrtheCast image over company co-founders Wade Larson (now UrtheCast CEO), Scott Larson (now CEO of Helios Wire) and George Tyr (now UrtheCast CTO). The February 10th, 2016 BC Business post, "UrtheCast's Scott Larson proves a B.C. startup can make it in space," quotes the new Helios CEO as stating that he was “a start-up guy and I am proud to say that UrtheCast is no longer a start-up,” although he remains a shareholder. UrtheCast focuses on a variety of high bandwidth Earth imaging technologies while Helios focuses primarily on the transmission of low-bandwidth data collected by others. Photos c/o UrtheCast, Twitter & Linked-In.

The 30 satellite Helios constellation will use 30 MHz of S-band spectrum to enable its satellites to receive low-bandwidth data from billions of embedded sensors on Earth and then relay the data back to the surface, bypassing terrestrial internet availability, latency and cost issues.

The system’s first two satellites will only be able to receive and relay data three times daily, so applications requiring more timely data (such as transportation logistics) will come later.

When the full constellation is deployed, data packets will be received every five minutes as successive satellites pass over sensor locations on Earth. Helios envisions its system monitoring and controlling fixed and mobile assets in a wide range of sectors, including transportation, consumer products, logistics, security/public safety, energy, mining, manufacturing, wildlife management, and agriculture.

But the enthusiasm surrounding IoT is dampened by serious concerns over security and privacy.


In October 2016, a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks caused a massive disruption of major internet services including Twitter, Netflix, PayPal, Pinterest and the PlayStation Network.

The perpetrators did this by compromising thousands of endpoint IoT devices, most notoriously, as outlined in the October 24th, 2016 PC World post, "Chinese firm recalls camera products linked to massive DDOS attack," the compromised devices included a series of internet cameras manufactured by Chinese firm Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology.

The attackers used the ‘Mirai’ malware to transform the compromised devices into a botnet which then flooded traffic to DNS hosting provider Dyn (a cloud-based internet services provider recently acquired by Oracle Corp).

The attacks were staggering by internet standards, at one time measuring nearly one Terabit per second, according to the October 24th, 2016 WeLiveSecurity post, "10 things to know about the October 21 IoT DDoS attacks."

Here's hoping that, by hopping aboard the IoT bandwagon, Helios Wire won't end up having a bumpy ride.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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