27 Aug 2019
IoT pioneer plugs into Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a competitive edge over other centres for technology innovation development, and the progress of Synap Technologies (Synap) underlines this. Developed under the Incu-Tech programme organised by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks (HKSTP), Synap is a good example of the Hong Kong advantage, in terms of the city’s sizeable pool of talent, proximity to the assembly lines in Mainland China and its global vision. Established less than a year ago, Synap joined a programme organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and HKSTP to take part in the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. The company has also formed a partnership with a network hardware manufacturer, Cambridge Industries Group (CIG), to develop new-generation internet of things (IoT) solutions. The first batch, designed to explore the European market, is expected to be ready in late 2019.
Hong Kong talent + global network + mainland production
Thomas Kwan (main picture, left), Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Synap, established the company in late 2018. Having emigrated to Canada when young, he studied computer science at university and returned to Hong Kong in 1994. He worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs for six years before setting up a business venture of his own, focusing on the development of network security systems. Mr Kwan met fellow Hongkonger Frank Tsui (main picture right) three years ago, along with Andreas Gaarder from Sweden. They discussed developing smart-grid communication technologies and discovered their ideas matched seamlessly. Having heard that HKSTP offered a three-year Incu-Tech programme, they successfully applied for the scheme, which brought them rent-free office space, funding and support on marketing initiatives.
Mr Tsui is now CEO at Synap and Dr Gaarder Vice President of Product Management.
Mr Kwan said Synap focuses on developing smart-grid IoT technology which uses low-frequency data transmission to reach power-metering terminals, providing the last-mile connectivity that is essential for viable smart grids.
Mr Kwan specialises in sales and marketing while Dr Gaarder’s expertise is in industrial design, particularly finished-product design. Mr Kwan and his Hong Kong team is responsible for technology development and software design.
User-friendly advanced technology
Mr Kwan said many power companies still read meters manually. Smart grid is an advanced IoT technology but its core principles are simple and the meters are easy to install. “The meter and gateway can be connected by simply installing a modem; meter readings can then be transmitted to cloud servers for storage through a private network.” He said meter manufacturers generally produced device hardware and power companies had to seek other vendors for data-reading technology, software development, network transmission and system integration. Synap has a competitive advantage as it can offer customised, one-stop IoT solutions.
Mr Kwan said the metering market is immense since each country or city has utility services; power and water meters have to be read regularly. “It is undeniable that public utility service companies have stringent requirements on installations and network configuration. Vendors usually take a long time to secure a tender contract.”
Because of this demanding environment, Synap promotes IoT systems and installations for commercial applications simultaneously. For example, it collects metrics of a building from different perspectives, such as pedestrian flow in a shopping mall at various times, and transmits the data to IoT systems for analysis.
Showcasing patented IoT technology
Synap joined the more than 20 Hong Kong technology and start-up companies at the Hong Kong Technology Pavilion organised by the HKTDC and HKSTP at MWC 2019. The exhibition allowed Synap to showcase and demonstrate its smart IoT technology and meters produced in collaboration with United States manufacturing giant Honeywell.
Mr Kwan was impressed with the MWC, one of the largest industry trade shows. “As a start-up company, we have truly broadened our horizon, especially through visits organised by HKTDC to booths of some well-established exhibitors (including Huawei and Ericsson), and demonstrations of the technologies and services on offer. I hardly think any ordinary visitors can gain such a unique experience at a trade show.” He added Dr Gaarder is familiar with the European market and aspires to start his venture there. He takes a proactive approach to industry trade shows, including the 2019 Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition) organised by HKTDC in October and a business mission to MWC 2020 led by the HKTDC and HKSTP.