The Startup Bringing Internet to the World: An Interview with Noah Freedman
This article was originally published by Francisco Javier Hernandez Jr. at ST FRANCIS X.
PortableCloud is a startup founded by Noah Freedman dedicated to global equality in education. A local cloud solution, it acts like a portal bringing the internet down to earth in places that have little to no bandwidth access.
Only 42% of the world has access to the Internet. For the other 58%, poor-quality connectivity limits many of the benefits of ‘the cloud’ that better-networked regions take for granted. A local cloud solution is the best, newest, most innovative way to bring the full potential of the Information Age to those who need it most.
The following is an interview with Noah. I spoke to him while he was traveling in India. The team is currently in Zimbabwe.
What is PortableCloud?
PortableCloud is a company that is dedicated to connecting the world with all the education resources that are available online.
What are some of the obstacles for universal internet access?
Cost is one of the biggest ones. Geography is another; your access to the internet is basically determined by where you are in the world. Our solutions are designed to pull essential content and applications, a slice of the internet, and run them in a self-contained local network. This is designed to overcome a lot of the different challenges that people face.
The first challenge is no access, nothing available where they are. A second challenge is slow connections. That could mean not having enough bandwidth to watch a video. Or having high latency, which is the response time. Lastly there is cost. In some countries the average cost of a month’s bandwidth exceeds up to five times the average monthly income. A lot of the schools and medical facilities that we work with have trouble affording the amount of bandwidth that they need.
What is a local cloud? What is the advantage of running a local server?
When you connect to a PortableCloud using Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable you get a portal to the all of the content and the applications that are pre-loaded. Instead of accessing a server that could be 3,000 miles away you’re served locally from a server that is also an access point. What that means is that were serving a curated set of web content as opposed to providing a connection to the full Internet. The primary advantage is the content loads fast and is accessible in places where Internet access is limited.
What’s another way of explaining what a local cloud solution is?
TiVo for internet. In the sense that there is a bunch of content out there, but it can be difficult to store as opposed to accessed online. This is a way you can bring it somewhere and store it on your device locally where it can be accessed anywhere. TiVo changed that by bringing TV down to a level where it can be accessed easily and all the time. Schools want online learning videos for students to access, they want learning platforms, learning apps, but if you don’t have enough internet connectivity you’re not going to access it. This technology also enables you to bring it down, store it on your own device with built-in local storage, take full control over it, and access it at your whim.
Another analogy is an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for the internet. You can charge content when connectivity is available, but when it is not, mission critical content and applications are still available on the local network.
When you install a learning platform with little to no connectivity you’re essentially providing the car but without the gas. We’re providing the gas to make the car actually run.
What are the advantages of PortableCloud in a place with low connectivity?
The average internet user will look at content based on their taste. When you’re at a school the content you look at is based around a curriculum that a teacher sets for you. Since the same content is served over and over again the needs of educator are more easily served by a local cloud solution. Once you’ve downloaded the content you need it can be accessed immediately and without interruption. Teachers and students all want the best learning experience possible. Often that means using multimedia including videos and audio which are heavy bandwidth requirement. Content can be updated periodically using a small amount to bandwidth, while consumption of content doesn’t require any Internet connectivity.
What advantages does it have for places with high connectivity?
One example is a prison. A local cloud solution works for places where there is a mandate to limit what kind of internet experiences a user can have. In a school if you don’t want students to access adult content or spend time on social networks and non-learning games you can restrict access to them. It’s essentially a private network where you can control what kind of content is available on it.
What Is the PortableCloud Cube? What kind of capabilities does it have?
The PortableCloud Cube is our first line of micro servers. It essentially has the capabilities of a medium web server that might typically be hosted on an online platform such as Amazon Web Services. It has high memory, fast processors, large storage, a built in Wi-Fi access point, and a connectivity option to compatible with a larger set of Wi-Fi extenders, routers, or even a fixed line network. We also have a PortableCloud online platform where we host all our apps and web resources. Our marketplace makes them available offline solutions to download and use right there on the cube.
How does this app storage work?
Our apps are available online. If you have a slow connection you can download them over time and if you don’t have a connection you can get them pre-loaded. Once those apps are loaded they can be fully offline for students to access without additional bandwidth. Everything happens locally.
What do you see as the future for local cloud solutions?
I see the expansion of e-learning everywhere, even in places where connectivity makes it difficult. I see local cloud solutions proliferating because of this. Hopefully, one day, we’ll come up with a solution where we can supply the whole world with enough bandwidth to run every learning institutions. But there are a lot of infrastructural challenges with the current technology. PortableCloud solutions are meant to address that problem. For now we’re trying to ensure consistent access to learning resources where there are connectivity challenges. Even if we get universal connectivity we may still see people preferring a ‘walled-garden’ internet experience and using local clouds for that purpose.
Education will determine how the next generation is able globally to solve all the big problems: resource depletion, climate change, etc. Everything is based on whether or not we can empower people to create the kinds of tools necessary to survive the next couple centuries. We’re at critical point, one that will determine much of our future.