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CORPORATE RESEARCH

Continuous Innovation

Neger, which has become a benchmark in rural telecommunication, now invests in spectral intelligence

The search for new business opportunities has led Neger Telecom to take a path of constant innovation. Founded in Campinas, São Paulo, in 1987 as a manufacturer of poultry incubators, the company became a benchmark in rural telecommunications in the 1990s. During the 2000s Neger developed internet access solutions for remote regions. During the present decade it has created technology that blocks cell phones and drones in prisons, without interfering with signals from neighboring devices, and developed a satellite tracking system for agricultural machinery and equipment.

Today, Neger is preparing to take a new technological leap forward. The inauguration of the Spectral Intelligence Laboratory at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (FEEC) at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) is scheduled for the end of February. The laboratory is part of an agreement signed in 2015 between Neger and the university. The company is renovating the facility and will be funding research grants. Eduardo Neger, an electrical engineer and one of the company’s partners, plans to invest R$1 million in the laboratory over the next five years. The agreement provides that any intellectual property arising as a result of the lab’s research will be shared equally between the company and the university. The lab at UNICAMP will be aimed toward technologies that could result in innovative products for Neger, while research at the company is incremental and associated with already existing products.

Neger The installation of one of the towers and its equipment in the same prisonNeger

Spectral intelligence is the analysis and application of the radio frequency spectrum in wireless communication systems. The lab will be dedicated to developing security solutions for these systems. The goal is to detect potential fraud practiced through interference with telecommunications signals and through the improper use of cell phones, drones, wireless access points, and the internet. “Spectral intelligence is a new branch of research with a big future,” says electrical engineer Leandro Manera, an FEEC professor, and the new lab’s coordinator. According to Manera, security software such as antivirus programs is dedicated to protecting equipment and applications, but the security of the wireless connections of devices that use radio frequency, such as Wi-Fi, has not been the subject of much attention. “There is a great deal of vulnerability in these connections, and intentional—or unintentional—interference on equipments would compromise the operation of devices and systems connected to the Internet of Things or to any mobile communication system,” he explains.

The idea for ​​the laboratory came about when electrical engineer Maurício Donatti proposed an unprecedented technology for the capture of civilian drones through the analysis of radio frequency spectra. Donatti was a researcher at Neger under the Human Resources in Strategic Areas Training Program (RHAE) of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), and a master’s degree student under Manera’s guidance at FEEC. His system uses spoofing, a technique for masking the actual transmitter of command signals, which enables taking over control of a drone from those who put it in flight.

Company
Neger
R&D Centers
Campinas, São Paulo
Number of researchers
8
Main product
Telecommunications systems
Current defense mechanisms only interfere with flight control, blocking access to restricted areas, but the original drone pilots easily regain control of the drone. The technology designed by Donatti allows for not only taking control of the device but also the sequestration of the equipment, opening the possibility of investigating the drone’s origin and its purpose for being in the air. “It will be a product geared toward public safety applications, and will need certification from ANATEL (the National Telecommunications Agency), which would determine who could buy the equipment,” he explains. The new system was named Drone Control. A national patent application was filed jointly at the Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) by Neger and UNICAMP, and the control method was the subject of Donatti’s master’s thesis, presented in October under a confidentiality agreement entered into by the members of the academic panel.

The technology, according to Neger, has the potential to be used in the capture of civilian drones that fly over controlled airspace, such as prisons and airports. It can also be used to monitor events that bring together large crowds, and in corporate security, preventing attacks on industrial facilities that work with flammable products, such as refineries and petrochemical plants. The first task of the new lab will be to adapt the capture technology so it will be effective at controlling the more than forty drone models approved by ANATEL.

Neger Boat used as an ambulance in the port of the city of Carauari, in the Amazon; it is tracked by satellitesNeger

“In a year and a half, Drone Control could be a commercial product,” the businessman says. Even before the lab goes into operation, spectral intelligence has already resulted in a new business opportunity for Neger. At the end of 2017, the company launched its Expectra service to identify the misuse of mobile phones within predefined areas. A pilot operation was conducted during the entrance exams at UNICAMP. Radio frequency monitoring was used to detect possible irregularities in the use of cell phones between candidates during the test. The test results are treated as confidential by the university. Eduardo Neger clarifies that the service does not interfere with the signal and doesn’t violate communications privacy. “We only identify if there are cell phones connected and if they are in use,” he says.

Neger Telecom has a staff of forty employees distributed in two units in Campinas, and employs remote technicians in ten other cities throughout the country. Eight professionals work in the area of ​​research and development (R&D), all educated with university degrees and technical courses, and two also have postgraduate degrees. In 2016 Neger achieved revenues of R$15 million and in 2017 it reached approximately R$16 million. Eighty percent of revenue comes from products and services developed over the last five years. Investments in R&D in 2017 totaled R$800,000.

The cell phone blocking system is offered as a service to government agencies that administer prisons

Porta da Esperança (The door of Hope)
The company originated with a small carpentry shop created by Neger’s grandfather, Oswaldo Neger, who handcrafted equipment such as incubators and nurseries for the region’s poultry farms. It was up to his son, Antonio Neger, to formalize the business in 1987 and implement electronic temperature and humidity control systems in the incubators, instruments that until then were only offered in large-scale equipment. The Neger company pioneered the installation of electronic systems for small and medium-sized poultry farms in Brazil.

In 1991, Antonio Neger’s appearance on a highly popular TV show of the time, Porta da Esperança (The Door of Hope), during which he donated equipment to a bird breeder, brought the company to national attention. “The telephone kept ringing and we tripled sales,” recalls Eduardo Neger. “Since our name and telephone number haven’t changed, we still receive calls for incubators and brooders, even though we haven’t worked with them for more than 20 years.”

Eduardo Cesar Sensor for data exchange by satellite, which can be installed in terrestrial and aquatic vehiclesEduardo Cesar

Rural customers showed Neger a promising new opportunity, the telecom business. In 1993, TELESP, the former telephone company in São Paulo, implemented its Ruralcel program to install permanent cellular stations in the rural interior of the state of São Paulo. Eduardo Neger, who had graduated from the electronics program at the Technical High School of Campinas (COTUCA) associated with UNICAMP, saw an opportunity in the Ruralcel program. “We knew the telecommunications demands of our customers,” he says.

Eduardo went on to develop projects for permanent rural cellular stations, following the guidelines of the program, and got the company accredited as a TELESP supplier. More than 2,000 stations were installed by the Neger company in Brazil. The following years were focused on developing technologies for the digitalization of rural telephony.

Eduardo Cesar Verification test by Expectra, which identifies the misuse of cell phones within predetermined areas, such as in university buildings during college entrance examsEduardo Cesar

One of the projects was the development of solutions for blocking cell phones within security areas, such as prisons. The technology developed by Neger doesn’t interfere with neighboring telecommunications signals, and has won open-bid competitions to be installed in 23 penitentiaries within the state of São Paulo, and in 12 other prisons in several states around the country. Government agencies are not required to buy the equipment, as Neger provides its cell phone and drone-blocking technology as continuing services. Today, 60% of the company’s revenue comes from the telecommunications side and the remaining 40% from the security side.

The perception of a market gap led Neger to invest in the development of new technology for tracking machinery and equipment in areas not covered by cellular networks, including vehicles that must travel to remote areas, such as boats that navigate Amazonian rivers. “There is a big need for tracking in isolated places, especially on the part of rural producers, who are usually ignored by the market,” says Neger. In the state of São Paulo, more than 4,500 agricultural vehicles (tractors, trailers, and other equipment) were stolen between August 2016 and August 2017. The survey was conducted by Tracker, the vehicle tracking company, in partnership with the Álvares Penteado Foundation Business School (FECAP) using data from the Department of Public Safety, and published in Globo Rural magazine.

Neger’s solution was brought to market in May 2017 under the name Metrosat. It is a technology that uses a satellite communication system. Conventional trackers receive their signal through the Global Positioning System (GPS) and relay it through cellular networks. Where there is no signal from a cell phone operator, they don’t work. The Metrosat system receives the GPS signal, but the transmission is entirely by satellite. This type of communication, however, comes with a high cost, which is determined by the amount of data transmitted. Elder Oliveira, Neger’s radio systems coordinator, says the solution found for reducing service costs was to communicate with the satellite only when the vehicle is moving. Another concern was to miniaturize the equipment, which fits in the palm of the hand, and uses four lithium batteries that allow two months of autonomous operation.

Metrosat has already had a positive impact on the company’s trajectory. In 2017, UNICAMP named Neger Telecom as the year’s most innovative “daughter company” (companies which were business incubator participants or have alumni of the university among their owners) because of its new tracking system, and Eduardo Neger, who graduated from the university, was elected entrepreneur of the year at the UNICAMP Ventures 2017 Conference.

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