Internet of Things On Earth and in Space, One Connection to Rule Them All

In around three short years, 30 billion electronic and digital devices in our homes will be connected. One ambitious German start-up is well on the way to linking them all.
Quelle: dpa
Team Viewer connects online, across borders and even into outer space, the start-up is a phenomenal success.
(Source: dpa)

Doctors in Paris are treating patients in space. The astronauts on the International Space Station are conducting the examinations themselves, in a way, and the results will be analyzed by doctors in Paris.

“We can operate ultrasound equipment on the space station from Earth and the medical information gets sent back to us – it’s quite simple,” said Philippe Arbeille, professor for biophysics at Tours University. The astronauts just have to point the wand at the right organ.

This out-of-this-world checkup is made possible with TeamViewer, software developed in Germany that allows the remote control of all sorts of computers. As computers are increasingly found in everyday items from cars to washing machines, this software is increasingly in demand to power the Internet of Things (IoT). IDC, an IT analysis firm, predicts that networked devices, which numbered 12.1 billion in 2015, will more than double by 2020 to 30.3 billion. IoT promises better performance and a boost of efficiency, as well as a boon for economic growth.

Of the billions of IoT devices, 37 million from 200 countries are simultaneously logged into TeamViewer’s network. From the hills of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, TeamViewer CEO Andreas König has a rosy outlook. “We’re just one mid-sized company among many,” he said humbly, despite the fact that his software is being used in space. With its clever software, Mr. König’s company has achieved what many venture capitalists and young entrepreneurs dream of. TeamViewer is what tech circles call a unicorn – a start up with a valuation higher than $1 billion. TeamViewer passed the mark more than two years ago when Permira invested €870 million, or $1 billion, into the company. In Germany, there are only a handful of these mystical startups, including the online retailer Zalando.

The more connected things are, the more possibilities there are for hackers to gain access to private lives and corporate information.

IoT’s promise to boost prosperity can only be met if someone can connect all the pieces seamlessly and securely. Currently, TeamViewer is already considered the best option for those like the Space Station medical team. Communication between the linked devices is encrypted and runs on the firm’s own global network of 900 servers. “This provides us with highly secure infrastructure,” Mr. König said.

Security is important in the realm of the IoT. Connected cars may end up with doors mysteriously locked, or unlocked. Baby monitors could be controlled and watched from an outside network. The more connected things are, the more possibilities there are for hackers to gain access to private lives and corporate information.

TeamViewer offers businesses more experience than most in the connected economy. The software started as a remote maintenance tool and most IT departments use it to access distant computers. “TeamViewer is ahead in number of customers, image and functionality – and it’s the company of choice for many IT users,” said Axel Opperman, chief of the German IT analyst Avispador.

TeamViewer lore says that founder Tilo Rossmanith started the company in 2005 because he was sick of traveling between customers to maintain his own software. He took his software one step further, allowing it to run over the internet, years before the world was abuzz with cloud computing.

Beyond the screens, the software made in the small city of Göppingen already operates snow cannons in the Alps, monitors the water temperature of fish farms in Africa and operates solar cells in South Korea.

But the process until now has been clunky. Customers have had to roll up their sleeves and manually attach facilities to the network. In September, TeamViewer will introduce new software that will automate connectivity. “Whoever uses TeamViewer should have to install the software only once and require no further instructions,” said Mr. König.

The founder, Mr. Rossmanith, who has since moved on, always admired the kind of simplicity ushered in by tech giants Apple and Google.  Mr. König continues to work on those ideals, including thriftiness. “When an Internet of Things project costs €100,000 or more, it becomes unattractive to small and mid-sized businesses.”

Growth is on the right path. TeamViewer has been downloaded and installed on devices more than 1.4 billion times. “On average, each day brings another million, so that in August we should reach one-and-a-half billion,” says Mr. König. According to the commercial register, TeamViewer had sales of €153 million in 2015, a gain of 18 percent over 2014. Before taxes and depreciation, there were profits of $97 million: The company is a veritable money machine.

If it proves possible to extend its leading worldwide competency to the maintenance of the Internet of Things, both operational business and company value will rise vastly. But increasing simultaneously is the risk factor, because TeamViewer is now competing with IT giants like IBM and Microsoft that also intend to conquer the world of IoT – and they possess huge marketing machines.

Nonetheless, TeamViewer counts as one of the most promising candidates for a big public launch in the German technological sector. Mr. König waves off the prospect: “There is no specific scenario. My motto is: Build a solid company with all possible exits.” Which is, one might say, rather down-to-earth of him.


This article originally appeared in WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author: [email protected]