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Philippines at the forefront of biodiversity conservation using IoT

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Technology optimists say the Internet of Things can help save the world,  yet skeptics take it as something that feeds greed and idleness. Even Albert Einstein was somewhat fearful of the great leaps in technology that human beings were able to achieve, sensing that it will soon overlap people’s humanity. Indeed, when everything is said and done, humanity is the only thing the world can truly hold on to.

This is why having humane ideals and purpose in the use of IoT should be lauded, replicated and scaled up – all the time and in all conditions. Just as it is useful for business, economy and in our day-to-day lives, IoT is now edging its way to the noblest purpose of all – conserving life on Earth and saving what is left of it.

Poor Countries Take Lead

Effects of climate change

The alarm has been sounded many years ago: the planet is on the brink of death. This is claimed by 97% of the world’s scientists. Sadly, governments in advanced countries like the United States, the biggest emitter of poisonous carbon dioxide, seem to be making a step backwards in conservation efforts. This forced scientists of the world to march for the first time in history during the March for Science last April 22 amid threats by the administration of Donald Trump to make huge cuts on the budget for environmental research.

Ironically, the poor countries are the ones consistently rising up to the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change, leading eco-friendly lifestyles and achieving sustainable development. In the Ministerial Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) held on April 27, 2017 in Manila, environmental conservation was high on the agenda. It is something to be proud of when the people who are least bestowed with wealth and comfort are the ones exerting all efforts to use technology for the most humane purpose – to save another species.

The Philippines is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and yet it is also among the list of countries that contribute to carbon emissions the least at .3 %. Still, it has taken major leaps in environmental conservation. Initiatives have been made, and are fairly successful, in using technology to protect wildlife and conserve what is left of the country’s rich biodiversity. For example, the LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System, a project between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the USAID, uses IoT platforms to track endangered flora and fauna in the forests of Sierra Madre range. According to its implementers, LAWIN “allows for the visualization of the spatial distribution of observation records…and show the effectiveness of intervention” thus allowing enforcers to improve their forest conservation strategies.

LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity protection system of DENR uses IoT to monitor status of Philippine forests.

Protecting Marine Biodiversity

Biodiversity conservation should be a shared responsibility that transcends all divides – social class, belief, ethnicity, gender. The reason, of course, is obvious: all of us are innately connected to every living form, because all of nature is interconnected. Biodiversity is what you may call the natural internet of things.

In the Philippines, the work of protecting marine biodiversity is shared among scientists, environmental advocates and fisherfolk. Teams of Bantay Dagat (sea guards) are deployed to seas to monitor illegal fishing activities and make sure marine protected areas and marine sanctuaries are not encroached.

One laudable project in which the IoT is being fully used is the “citizen science” conservation project of the Smart Earth Network (SEN) and Community Centered Conservation (C3). Under the project, local fisher folk use Android apps to monitor the “dugong” or the sea cow, a rare marine mammal found in certain parts of the Pacific ocean. The dugong that are often sighted in Philippine waters are a highly protected species, having been listed as vulnerable to extinction and protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Dugong (Sea Cow)

With the help of Kii as IoT cloud provider and Cherry Mobile, a local cellphone company that donated smart phones, the fisher folk learned how to use the phone to take a photo of the Dugong once they are sighted and then tag the location via GPS. This allows C3 to determine the population of the sea animal within a certain area and share this data to conservationists around the world.

Digital experts agree that IoT platforms have been very useful and efficient in collecting, transmitting, storing and sharing data about everything in the world. The challenge, however, is how to collect data. In the case of collecting information about the Dugong, the fisherman was the key. The role of the fisher folk in tracking the presence and mobility of the Dugong are crucial since they’ve become the eyes and ears of scientists out in the sea while they do their daily livelihood. Tapping them to help also lowered the cost of tracking the Dugong which before, had been very expensive because scientists needed to monitor from the air using satellite images and drones.

Collaboration

What SEN and C3 proved in this project is that collaboration for conservation truly works. In the case of the protecting the remaining Dugongs in the Philippine seas, it is imperative to involve local communities. Information of sightings and even behavioral patterns are inputted and transmitted to scientists who are then able to analyze the location and direction of the Dugong and map out their movement pattern. These are important data that will allow enforcers, such as the Bantay Dagat, to make sure the areas where the Dugongs frequent are conserved and protected.

Conservationists believe that IoT technology will allow them accomplish a lot in protecting endangered species but that this effort should be extended to the locals, the people who are out there in the wild on a daily basis. Teaching the fisher men to use IoT technology and involving them in the actual implementation of the project, and finally, letting them appreciate the results, are expected to lead to remarkable achievement in protecting the remaining Dugongs of the Philippines.

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Optimism is High for IoT in Business (and everything else) in the Philippines

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Better late than never, so goes the saying. Even if the Philippines warmed up on the dotcom revolution 30 years behind Silicon Valley, with millennials and elder IT gurus working their way through the digital potholes of Philippine internet — and coming out triumphant only in 2012 — IoT is now truly here in the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

Manila Valley Founder and CEO Chris Peralta has always believed in the potential of IoT to motor the Philippine economy and drive business. This is why he has dedicated his professional life to help raise consciousness and skills in IoT adoption, giving specific focus to mentoring tech startups. In a rare event where a panel of IT experts discussed developments in IoT, Peralta noted that 58 per cent of IoT revenues come from Asia and that there is a shift of innovation in Asia, something that companies in the Philippines need to chart and get hold of as a great opportunity.

From Hype to So-What

Peralta’s optimism is shared by other tech CEOs, big and small. Jean-Marc Mommessin of Cisco says IoT today sees a lot of innovation and influx of disruptive technology from big companies as well as from start-ups. Over the past five years, he says, people have gone beyond connecting just to connect, and are now utilizing IoT for business where consumers and customers are the ones needing and wanting to connect. According to Mommessin, about 20 billion devices in the world are in the IoT. That opens enough opportunities and wide space for start-ups in the Philippines to move around.

credits: The Street

Today, IoT is no longer just hype. People are asking the coveted question ‘so-what’? and are seeking for answers. This is specially so both for young entrepreneurs and their eager customers. Jun Lozada, founder and CEO of security app Galileo has found a niche in backhauling IoT payloads coming to the market. His company developed Galileo as a kill switch against cyber thieves, an innovative way to guarantee the safety of all devices in the IoT.

Other local tech start-ups have also found their niche in the IoT space, such as Jason Josol, CEO of JuiceBox, an app that allows the user to connect to Apple apps and FitBit and provides information on making juice for diabetics and for fitness enthusiasts. Another is the Clear Skies company founded by Vince Villena which provides drone services to whoever needs it.

Launchgarage Community

To nurture their innovative trait and advance their purpose, tech startups in the country join Launchgarage which, according to its founder, Vince Ching, is a community of “bright-minded people with a shared passion for ambitious ideas that can change the world.” Almost like Steve Job’s garage with a wild twist, Launchgarage was born out of the start-up revolution and aims to wriggle its way out of the grip of big IT conglomerates such as Ayala. It’s an online hub where founders, disruptors, hackers, makers, designers, investors and change makers belong.

Launchgarage is a silver lining to an otherwise bleak horizon of conglomerates and business giants dominating the IT industry in the Philippines. Start-ups would like to swim into opportunities but funding is hard to come by. According to Peralta, angel funding in the Philippines are coming from rich families, a stark contrast from Silicon Valley where the number of venture capitalists that provide angel funding has reached 38,000.  What Launchgarage is doing is to allow start-ups a wide, open area to play without prohibition, where each idea feeds into the community and forms a life of its own.

Slowly but surely, start-ups are beginning to change the landscape of the IT industry in the Philippines. Faced by challenges, including a snail’s pace Internet, tech companies find other ways to develop IoT platforms, such as the single-sideband modulation in radio communication, SMS or texting, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Surging IoT Business

The analyst firm Frost & Sullivan puts IoT among the most promising areas of business in the Philippines. Based on its estimates, IoT spending in the country will surge from a modest US$55.1 million in 2014 to a whopping US$766.8 million in 2020.

This data will surely attract a mass of players but as recent as 2016, in a report cited during the Philippine Cloud Summit, local enterprises need more convincing about the value of IoT. A primary concern is security, with high-profile hacking incidents deterring major players into dipping their feet in IoT.

Still, what’s outstanding, according to Peralta, is that Filipinos are very open to change.  Obviously, there’s this Duterte-ist mindset dominating the people’s consciousness, driving them to try new things, new products, new discoveries.

Even if you fail, says Peralta, the people are welcoming.  That should be a good enough assurance for start-ups in their race to succeed in the potentially multi-billion peso IoT industry.

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A Standard for IoT in the Philippines

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Netizens in the Philippines received some good news this week as the government announced the commencement of the national broadband project. The project is expected to improve broadband services and infrastructure, and thus increase internet speed all over the country. The Philippines has one of the slowest internet in the world, which is ironic, given that the country also has among the highest social media users in the world.

credits: Life Hacker

According to the UK-based research firm OpenSignal, the Philippines ranks among the countries with the slowest LTE download speeds at an average of 6 mbps. The average LTE download speed globally is 13 mbps. Coverage is also a problem, with only 43% of the country having access to the internet.

So that’s the reason many Pinoys are jumping up and down with the new development on broadband connectivity which is said to cost the government billions. Many are hoping that by addressing coverage and speed, the country could now begin the much delayed task of integrating IoT into every aspect of the economy, governance, and practically everything else. The Philippines needs this to catch up with its counterparts in Asia.

credits: OpenGovAsia

The next big question is how to begin. The government is in a good position as far as learning from other country’s best practices and lessons in applying IoT solutions to industries. Application of IoT technology in the Philippines is, after all, at the nascent stage where IoT can be set up in a such a way that it can be far more advanced and robust than older technologies. To begin with, the technology needs to be firmly set on a standard that will form the ecosystem for IoT.  Experts says the most acceptable technology today to set an IoT standard is the LTE or the Long Term Evolution.

In an article posted by Andrew Nash on IoT Central,  it was noted that the world is facing a real problem about having “no central IoT standards or real oversight over development”, with nearly five billion smart devices spread across an array of standards and protocols.  It said – and we fully agree – that it’s a daunting task to apply a single standard to a device, and yes, much less the integration of the IoT ecosystem as whole.

The solution being proposed in the article is the use of LTE. It is said to provide the most practical approach with the lowest barriers and fastest time to market. According to studies, LTE offers the most resiliency and efficiency for IoT, as proven by Apple for its many IoT devices. In the United States, LTE has the widest coverage, and specific bands can be built within its system to improve its IoT services. The LTE technology has the capability and flexibility to accommodate IoT devices of any type and for any industry.

credits: Sahal

The report also added: “IoT devices also benefit from reduced device and network complexity, increased coverage for hard-to-reach IoT devices, multi-year battery life, efficient signaling and higher node density. Other notable benefits of LTE as the new standard for IoT are global scalability, increased quality of service and end-to-end security and authentication.

The national broadband infrastructure could pave the way for real progress for the Philippines through the use of IoT. But each step needs to be thought through very carefully. Having LTE as a standard could be a good start.

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