Startups spring into action to secure apex access


This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.

Image credit: torsakarin / 123RF

It was in 2015 that the city of Gotemba led by young Mayor Yohei Wakabayashi availed climbers scaling Mt. Fuji from the Shizuoka side with sturdy lavatory structures able to double as emergency shelters in the event of natural disasters (now, the sheds could be equipped with alarm-sensors to turn them into better sanctuaries…). But since April this year there has been a major push in Gotemba to harness technology emanating from a Japanese startup ー albeit via major telecommunications carrier KDDI, which has just announced the buyout of said startup.

Soracom, established in 2014 by former Amazon Web Services (AWS) evangelist Ken Tamagawa, has been offering Internet of Things (IoT) service over circuits leased from the giant NTT group ー formerly the Japanese phone monopoly. The startup last year decided to help KDDI, which has a mobile telephony service called au, build its own IoT network. It is upon this technology that Mt. Fuji entryway Gotemba decided to collaborate in realizing a system to keep track of climbers using the pathway leading up to the mountaintop.

Screenshot of the website

Beginning on August 10, 2017 (a day before the newly-instituted Japanese Mountain Day holiday) an IoT-based tracking experiment is being conducted. IoT sensors have been placed along the hiking route, enabling a more accurate count by the municipal authorities as to those trekking up the Mt. Fuji pathway… search & rescue helicopters in particular being faced with hazards when flying near Japan’s highest mountain.

With technical support from KDDI’s research institute, a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network being run on the KDDI LoRa PoC Kit ー underpinned by Soracom tech prowess utilized to develop said kitー will be tried out until the end of this mountain-climbing season.

It is said KDDI had been eyeing a sizable corporate buyout within the information-communication sector after being beat to the punch by SoftBank in the attempt to acquire mobile carrier eAccess some years ago. Interestingly, KDDI until recently has been working with another startup Colopl, which is strong in games but in past few years have pushed drone use, aiming to utilize IoT and VR/AR for promotion of rural communities in Japan. Furthermore, KDDI has been working with another startup, Fukuoka-based SkyDisc, regarding tropical fruit cultivation as well. It remains to be seen how startups will handle their relations with KDDI.

Conceptual diagram