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“... a life under full sail”
by Emil Abirascid
Printed by Sagraf Castelferretti (Ancona) Photo by Benedetto Trani Graphics and Lay out by Studio Pixel Ancona Photographic sources from the Viezzoli family’s personal archive Reserved reproduction Printed in May 2008
For my parents
Preface The right route Pirano, Istria Padua - Algeria - Padua Turin Milan Ancona Elisabetta, the family Giorgio, Marco, Elena, Giulia and Laura Sailing and technology Aethra Videocommunication and its applications Liberalization and Internationalization The future Appendices
pag., pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag. pag.
7 9 13 27 35 41 51 57 69 83 103 117 127 139 153
Innovators have a twinkle in their eyes. Those who have an idea and want to convert it into a business, who illustrate, recommend and support that idea persuasively and enthusiastically. Innovators do exist, coming out from universities, company research laboratories. They take their first steps as businessmen in places such as technological districts, tech-incubators, and science parks, summoning up all their energies to bring their ideas and companies to success. Only a few succeed. Giulio Viezzoli is one of these, an innovator who started to trace out his path in a period when nobody was thinking of “start-up” or “spin-off ” nor of “venture capital” or “early stage”. Giulio is an innovator who looked around and chose the right direction, letting himself be guided by his experience and a far-sighted view of the future. 15 years working in the Research and Development sector of a North American telecommunication company enabled him to achieve the maximum responsibility in group management. It was then that Giulio decided to go where “the sea, the wind and sailing” were. So he went to the coast, he created a family, blessed with 5 children, and in order not to leave the sea again, he was compelled to become an entrepreneur. And so Aethra was born. Today Giulio has handed over the reins of the company to his children, but he still looks to the future, busying himself with technical and engineering issues. He hasn’t lost his passion for finding new roads to develop, of facing new challenges. Nowadays his eyes twinkle more than ever.
The right route
Giulio Viezzoli at the helm
The wind never blows in the right direction for those who do not know where to go Seneca The sea is life’s origin and the wind is its development Giulio
pril 1st 1966 was an important day in the life of Giulio Viezzoli. The prow of his sail boat, a nine meter cruiser, whose name Gis meant a lot to him, was heading towards the port of Ancona where a new professional challenge was awaiting him. Having piloted sail boats since he was a young boy, Giulio had learned to think in advance, to foresee the sudden changes in the winds and the sea, and to choose the right direction to sail. He knew the right moment to sail close to the wind, to bear up, or when to change the sails, judging the strength and the direction of the wind.
The Adriatic coast was coming closer. Giulio had probably just made the most important choice of his life: he had just turned down an interesting offer that would have taken him to live on the Cote d’Azur. Instead he chose to stay in Italy, on the Adriatic Sea; the sea that had been his companion since childhood and throughout his youth, even though back then he was familiar with the Slovenian part of the coast. He was conscious that his new future would begin as soon as the moorings had anchored his ship onto the pier of the port of Ancona. He faced a future laden with uncertainties but full of expectations that charged him with enthusiasm. History was to be on his side.
Pirano D’Istria – Giulio when he was three years old (2nd from the right in the first row) with Corinna (the first from the right), grandparents and cousins
Life can be understood only looking back, but life can only be lived looking forward Soren Kierkegaard
iulio Viezzoli was born on August 2, 1925 in Pirano, Istria. Although today Istria is Slovenian, at that time the city belonged to Italy. Indeed, since 1200 in Istria the Venetian dialect, Giulio’s real native language, was spoken.
The world in which he grew up was a simple one, a society in which only a handful could really say that they received a scholastic education worthy of the name.The youth enjoyed spending their time together, singing and breathing sealife which, for the locals of coastal towns not only represented a source of living, but also a horizon to reach out towards. Giulio’s intense relationship with the sea began very early and his love for sail boats bloomed just as early. “The sail boat is a school of life, it teaches you to look towards the future, to foresee what will happen and make decisions” he loves to repeat to others, but most of all to himself, “and then”, he adds, “you also need the right amount of favorable wind”. Favorable wind for a boat is compared to the right dose of good fortune that helps the events of everyday life. Giulio learned to recognize and appreciate good fortune, which, although alone isn’t enough, helps the concepts of knowledge.
Pirano D’Istria 1915 – Corazzata Radetzky, Giorgio Viezzoli, Giulio’s father, is in the second row
His first piece of good luck was to be born and raised within a solid and harmonious family, which, although not rich, was comfortable. His father Giorgio worked in the City Hall of Pirano, Istria, a small coastal town 12 nautical miles from Trieste. “When I was little” Giulio recalls “my mother would tell me about my father’s experiences during the First World War; he was stationed on the battleship Radezky which belonged to the Austrian fleet. At 5 O’ clock in the morning on May 24, 1915 the Radezky was lined up along the coast between Ravenna and Pescara. The stretch of coastline opposite Loreto was assigned to the battleship Radezky. My father’s ship began to bombard the coast. “What a good morning greeting we gave those poor people” he would say to me. After so many years, almost wanting to compensate for the troubles that interlaced with the story of my family and national and international events, I live exactly on the coast my father’s ship had bombarded, and I married a local girl, true to the legend that history will have its revenge”. Giulio’s mother totally devoted herself to her home and three children. Giulio had two older siblings, Mario who was eleven years older than him, and Corinna
who is three years older. Mario had a passion for sports and taught physical education. He received a diploma at the Faculty of Teaching in Trieste and attended a course at the Farnesina (Italian Foreign Affairs Office) in Rome for two years, qualifying him to teach in middle school. During the war he spent six years in the services training cadet paratroopers. In his most glorious moment of competitive sports, Mario also became part of the national Italian athletics team thanks to his excellent results in javelin throwing. Corinna, who received a diploma at the Faculty of Teaching, initially taught in Pirano, then in 1952 became a teacher in an elementary school in Trieste. It was in the same year that the Italian tricolor flag stopped flying over the small city; after 9 centuries the musicality of the Venetian dialect, an Italian language, could no longer be heard there. Corinna recalls: “Up until 1940, our family life proceeded smoothly; there was mom,
Pirano D’Istria, 1931 – Giuio and his sister Summer 1931 – Giulio with his father Girogio Corinna, with their parents Giorgio and Elena on the sailing boat called Pan
dad, Mario (1914), me (Corinna 1922), and Giulio. Giulio and I were the youngest of the three, and since we were so close in age we always played together during our childhood. For us, Mario, being 8 years older than me and 11 years older than Giulio, seemed to be an adult already. But then the hard years came when everything became part of a new dimension: war had broken out. Mario had already completed his studies in Rome (P.E. teacher); I had almost finished my teachers’ training school in Parenzo (Istria); Giulio went to scientific high school in Pisino (Istria). During my last year in school in Parenzo, the steamship no longer sailed to Pirano and Trieste, and when we returned home for vacation we met up together at Caroiba, a town in the center of Istria, by “bus-coach” (an unusual means of transportation for us). Giulio came from Pisino, and I from Parenzo. The war also affected us: Mario, an officer in the “bersagliere” regiment of the army, set off for Albania from where he came home partly on foot and partly by whatever means he could find. Giulio was taken prisoner in Algiers. His return was to be long and hard; he managed to keep in touch with some difficulty and his concern always lay with his education and books. In the meantime Mario, who by the end of the war
Pirano D’Istria, 1931 – The Officers of Pirano. Practise on the Foibe. Giorgio Viezzoli is the first from the left in the second row
Summer 1932 – Giulio on his boat in Portorose Summer 1933 – Giulio on his boat with his in the Gulf of Pirano with some relatives father Giorgio, between Grado and Pirano
had become an instructor of cadet paratroopers, was assigned the position of physical education teacher at Codogno (Milan), where he met his wife and raised a beautiful and numerous family (four girls, Mirella, Giuseppina, Elena and Tiziana). He moved to Milan but unfortunately, he left us very soon. After getting married I moved to Trieste, where I had a daughter and taught with great dedication and responsibility for almost forty years. Giulio, after his return in June of 1946, studied intensively and got his degree from Padua University and began working in Milan. But his passion for boats was calling him back, first on Lake Garda, then in Tuscany and later he circumnavigated Italy to reach Trieste. He left Milan because of the 4 hour car journey necessary to reach the sea and so came to Ancona, where sea and work were compatible. He married Elisabetta, created a large family (five children: Giorgio, Marco, Elena, Giulia and Laura) and started a high technology company, which even up until this day he has always followed with his motto “do more and do better”, a motto he adopted as a child. We are a long way from our beloved homeland, but we still feel a bond with it and we are surrounded by the affection of dear ones. I must say that, during those years and up until now, the example of our parents and
Summer 1934 – Giulio at Portorose on Pan
our mother’s sensible advice are still valid and relevant and they make me feel that I lived in an ideal, privileged atmosphere. For example, after a hard and laborious task, she would exclaim in her Venetian dialect “Lord I thank You, I’ve managed to do this as well!”, so demonstrating her fatigue but also the satisfaction for having completed the job. These are the memories that I am sure make Giulio relive moments that are certainly part of his childhood and that made it serene and instructive for his future. The school was our home. In 1929 we gathered snow from our kitchen windowsill. We played our games in the school playground, chasing each other and jumping over the iron gate; running around the town from Carareta area to Salatina area, running up the steps to the “Sagrà dei Frati” and then climbing down the corner of the wall between the last sphere of white stone and the front of the Church, then going back to Carareta. And then there was the chasing. But there were also the games we played sitting on the steps of the Church of the “Madonna of the Snow”, or on the school steps. Our street, Calle Antonio Spangaro, was our meeting point. In the lobby of the school Giulio and I played together at: “Patron Campanaro”, “patria”, “S’cinche”, with marbles, or colored or clay rocks. Then there were the processions of Holy Friday, of “Corpus Domini” or Saint George, the patron saint of
Pirano D’Istria, 1939 – Class photo of the last year of Junior School. Giulio is the 8th from the right, in the fourth row
Pirano.We also played at the “Scala dei Ponti” and the “Grotta Scalin” and swam and dived in the sea. Corinna continues: “After his first year at elementary school, when Giulio left his classroom, handing his report card to his mum, he said to her: “Have a look at this! It is always the same!”. I was there with our mother and saw how the teacher congratulated the other students, saying “Well done, you have improved”. But she never said anything to Giulio. His report card always had the same grade: Excellent (back then the grades were: excellent, good, sufficient, insufficient).This push to always do his best and even better was confirmed in high school when his German teacher declared “to learn the strong verbs, that is, the irregular verbs, is not a merit, but not to learn them is an important demerit” (to do one’s duty is not a merit, not to do one’s duty is a great demerit). This has always guided him in every challenge of his life and helped him to achieve important accomplishments without ever pulling the oars out of the water.” However, life was not easy and soon an impact with the cruelty of history struck. Between 1947 and 1952, some of Giulio’s school friends and companions disappeared in the foibe.
Pirano D’Istria, 1941 – Giuklio, the first from the right, with the basketball team of Pisino
The name “Foibe” comes from Latin “Fovea” , meaning the surface of a rocky ground where over time, in some areas rainfall creates deep wells that can even reach depths of hundreds of meters.They also can have diameters of 5-8 meters with cylindrical surfaces from which large spears of rock protrude. This is extremely dangerous for a human body that might accidentally fall into one or be pushed into one. “I was lowered into one of these holes myself ” Giulio remembers, “when I was six years-old serving as a human “guinea pig” for a fire department training-drill which was simulating the rescue of a child. It was an experience I will never forget.” Today Giulio is the President of the Association Giuliano-Dalmatian A.N.V.G.D., The National Association Venice-Giulia and Dalmatia that has its headquarters in the province of Ancona. It includes around 100 people, and is a fervent advocate of the importance of the Memorial Day for the victims of the foibe and of the ethnic cleansing that was carried out against the Italians during those years. “The annual Memorial Day is February 10th. This day has the important role of not letting our memory fade but to resist so that similar acts can never
happen again in any place and for any reason”, Giulio declares. In order to survive Giulio and his family had to escape from Istria, and they found shelter in Trieste. In their pockets they were carrying what could give them the chance of joining relatives who had not hesitated to abandon a tormented land to rebuild a life on the other side of the planet in Australia, and in doing so completely changing the course of their lives. But destiny had reserved different paths for them. Giulio’s character was strengthened greatly by the experiences of this period. In spite of the hardships, he became an incurable optimist, and still remains so today. “I believe today that humanity is finally emerging from its prehistoric period. My generation, I am told, uses a small percentage of its mental capacities, while earlier with my children and later with my grandchildren I’ve experienced a greater acceleration of intellectual evolution. They have a much livelier, sharper and more open mind.The problem now is for the teachers who have to keep up with our young people. A few years ago in agreement with the mayor of a small town at the foot of Gran Sasso,Torricella Sicura, we decided to donate desks with built-in computers created especially for students at the elementary and middle school. The main problem was the impact this technology had on the teachers who weren’t prepared to use it. It revealed to be a very enlightening experience that brought us to the understanding that the best way was to equip the schools with one computer laboratory used by students following a timetable and managed by specialized staff.” Another episode that has been greatly significant for Giulio is when Aethra perfected a system of video communication in order to allow a boy hospitalized for long periods to keep in contact with his classmates and his teachers. “The most beautiful and impressing thing was the reaction of the children, who did all they could to help their less fortunate classmate”. Giulio’s life unfolded in a whirlpool of significant changes within the events of the years during the war and post-war; he was witness to a Europe of great conflicts; he saw the birth of the united Europe of today, the Europe of the common market and trade,“an important Europe”, considers Giulio,“because it succeeds in bestowing a common identity and at the same time in maintaining vivid local treasures, fruit of the value of individual traditions.” From his childhood and upbringing in Pisano and Pirano, Giulio preserves strong
Pirano D’Istria, 1941 – Giulio with his basketball team mates
Istrian roots based on honesty, duty and respect for others. He has found these same qualities among the inhabitants of the Marche region. Giulio uses his double roots as a great resource that allows him to overcome many barriers and difficulties and this plunges him forwards. For Giulio Viezzoli the future is definitely positive, better than today. It will be a future where all the people united by common values in ever growing groups shall one day become one true united world, where everyone lives in peace. These are beliefs that Giulio shares with great enthusiasm free of rhetoric and rich in significance and hope. “During this process”, underlines Giulio while illustrating his view, “the evolution of technology and knowledge that help tear down cultural, geographical, historical and social barriers is fundamental”. Giulio continues “Maybe in some remote corner, hidden and solitary, some tears still fall remembering a stolen youth, whose roots had been cut. Up there on the hills of Mogoron, I look around and ask myself ‘is this my homeland, is this my sea?’”.
Pirano D’Istria, 1942 – Giulio, at the center, with his basketball team mates from Pirano
Padova, 1943 – Giulio, third from the right, with the basketball team from Padova
An imperfect force is the force of those who without any preparation, but only for merit of a gift of nature, achieve something Seneca
hen Giulio was growing up in Pirano, there was only one public telephone. In order to use it, it was necessary to go to the post office. It was the only instrument available for locals wanting to communicate with the rest of the world, and it was the only technological device of the beginning of the century.
Besides his passion for the sea and sail boats, Giulio was animated by an emerging strong passion for technology, so much so that in 1943, he moved to Padua to enroll in the University, in the Department of Electro-technical Engineering that included also two courses on “weak currents” used in telecommunications. For the young Giulio the only existing telephone in Pirano represented a small window open to the world. Even then he imagined a richer and more dynamic future in this world, where men could interact with increasing frequency and facility. During these years, the seed that would bring him to become an innovator started to bloom. Giulio was aware of the fact that true innovation exists only when technological progress, together with cultural and social progress, reaches everyone and brings advantages to everyone. The idea of innovation was crucial to Giulio. He was immediately captivated by the fascination of research and development on which he was to devote all of
Padova, 1940 – Giulio, in the center, during a sports demonstration
his professional career. He was an innovator ahead of the knowledge that fantasy and imagination are just as important as knowledge. This knowledge must be expanded, shared, studied in depth and, as the evolving of his life would demonstrate, put to work, transformed into an activity capable of running a business without weakening the attention towards research and development. The latter must be both constant and a source for new and continuing challenges. After his first year at University, the bloody 2nd World War directly affected Giulio’s life and the choices he would make. Istria was on the front line fought over by Slavs and Germans, but still Italian. Giulio’s decision to enrol in the Italian army was an important one for him. It was a decision that he still remembers as one of the most difficult moments of his life. It was not at all easy during that turbulent time for a young man to decide which side was the right side to support, but being Istrian he had every reason to do his part to keep Istria Italian. He spent just over two years in the services. Giulio was assigned to the Decima Mas division. He fought in operations behind enemy lines earning a silver medal for military valor. Halfway through 1944 he was taken prisoner by the British army and taken to a Prisoner Of War camp in Algeria where he stayed for two years. “ My two years in prison were very hard, but the English always behaved
well”, he recalls. “From that experience I picked up some English, fundamental today in international relations. Added to the fact that in Istria we only spoke the Venetian dialect and that at school we were only taught German, today I know three languages besides Italian.” When he was in the hands of the British, Giulio was only 19 years old. The period of his imprisonment remains one of the most difficult times of his life. He was not only deprived of his freedom but he was also oblivious to events that where changing the world, events that he learned about only after his liberation and return to his homeland. His return, in the end, was thanks to the British forces, given the blindness of the Italian government at that time. This explained why he stayed in the Prisoner of War camp for an extra year after the war ended. Once freed, he returned to Padua where he continued his studies. He graduated with a degree in Electro-technical Engineering in 1951 when he was twenty six years old. After this Giulio faced another important decision. He was considering the possibility of emigrating to Australia as an Istrian exile. But again destiny wanted him to stay in Italy and he decided to attend a course in advanced studies, a “master” as it would be called today, in telecommunications at the Polytechnic in Turin. The University of Padua, selected by Giulio for his studies, is a campus with a long history, important and full of honors.The University, where Giulio lived the most intense years of his education, has always focused much of its attention on scientific and technological subjects. It was founded in 1222 due to a massive transfer of both students and departments from Bologna, and in a short time it became one of the most important centers of knowledge in Europe. Initially, juridical subjects were studied and then others were added to these such as astronomy, dialectics, philosophy, grammar, medicine and rhetoric. Between the XV and the XVIII century important progress in the field of medicine and science was made at the University of Padua.There was also progress made in the areas of astronomy and philosophy thanks to the open, multicultural and cosmopolitan environment assured by the farsighted politics of the Republic of Venice. Between 1592 and 1610, Galileo Galilei was in Padua. Galileo’s research boosted the university’s reputation tremendously, and on June 25 1678 this campus was the first in history to grant a degree to a woman, Elena Lucrezia Corsaro Piscopia, who became Doctor in Philosophy. The historical summary of Padua University’s website, reads: “The University
padova, 1949 – Giulio, in the second row, with his team mates
became an important benchmark even for the daily history of the city, during the insurrectionary revolts of February 1848 , and the Italian unification in 1861, when both students and professors directly participated. Later it earned a predominant role during world conflicts. The Chancellor Concetto Marchesi in 1943 publicly invited the students to fight against Fascism, a plea that forced him to flee to Switzerland.The University of Padua was the only University in Italy to be decorated with the gold medal of military honor rewarded for its activities in favor of liberation from the Nazi – Fascist rule. Starting from the second postwar, the University incremented its own contribution to the development and collaboration with scientific organizations on an international level, to which during the 90’s it added a remarkable expansion on a regional level, with the creation of new detached branches that offer numerous degree courses.” After the war, Italy experienced a great economic boom. The country was in a phase of development never experienced before in its history. All of its resources were concentrated towards that goal and so obviously specialized engineers in emerging sectors like electro-technics were a precious asset for the country’s economy. If Giulio had departed for Australia he would have become a victim of the phenomena that today we define as “the fleeing of brains.” This represents a problem that shouldn’t be underestimated considering that Italy has very high profile capacities. Often however these capacities lack the possibility to be fulfilled due to the fact that the research and development are still very
weak since they receive too little attention both from the institutional world and the economic and entrepreneurial class, even though important steps ahead have been made in recent years.What is needed now is exactly what happened during the years of the economic boom, that is a new season of development built around the central points of research and innovation. Something has begun to move in that direction, generating and rising from the bottom, from the desire of young researchers who transform themselves into businessmen, from the most farsighted Universities that understand the importance of transferring technology away from local institutions. But there is still a lot to be done. In this context examples of success that combine vision and entrepreneurial ability are very important, just like the one about to be told: the story of Giulio and Aethra.
Padova, 1941 – Giulio on the day of his degree in Electronic Engineering at the University of Padova
A mutual love between the teacher and the pupil is the most important step towards knowledge Erasmus of Rotterdam
t was not easy to decide to move to Turin because, at that time, refugees from Dalmatia and Giulia were looked upon badly by the Italian Left Wing movements, who thought they had abandoned an area which was already part of the communist Yugoslavia and this had seemed like a sort of exodus of fascist groups. Istrian refugees (approximately 350,000 people) traveled on livestock-wagons in search of a new destination and, in several towns, were not even allowed to leave the train they were on. For these reasons,Australia seemed like a hospitable and safe destination, a place where a new future could begin. I had relatives there who were waiting for me but the desire to remain in Italy was strong”
His master’s degree in Turin was supposed to make it easier for him to get a position in a company whose main business was the development of telecommunication devices. So it was, and Giulio moved once more, this time to Milan. During the eight months spent in Turin, Giulio dedicated almost all of his leisure time to practicing sports. “Every Saturday night I would play with the amateur basketball team, on Sunday morning I would play volley-ball in the second
Turin, Fiat headquarters
division and on Sunday evening soccer in the first division.” His passion for sport is still strong and in fact he’s the current President of the Organization of Physical Education Stamura in Ancona. The main focus of this structure is to attract young people to sport. Every time he managed to get some time off work he would go back to Trieste to spend time with his family, especially with his brother and his sister. His brother also moved several times, first to Udine, then to Codogno, near Milan, where he married Lina and had four daughters, Mirella, Giuseppina, Elena and Tiziana. At the time, Turin was going through a period of dynamic economic growth, thanks primarily to Fiat who had started to deal in telecommunications. Turin was the heart of the economic boom at a moment when Italy was trying to regain a leading position in the world. Its industries attracted workers from the whole country, and its automobile industry rapidly became the symbol of the rebirth of the Italian economy. Now after 50 years Turin has overcome many industrial crises and is once more a dynamic city that has found a new drive,
counting on research and innovation, mainly in the telecommunications area. Turin, in fact, hosts many Research Centers, both state-owned and private, such as the Polytechnic and the Mario Boella Institute, residence of Torino Wireless, one of the most active technology centers, and the Polo del Venture Capital, which uses both Italian and foreign funds and that has therefore brought back the attention of venture capital investors to Italy. Giulio was being trained for his masters at Sip (now Telecom Italia) and so it seemed that his career would naturally develop within the most important national telephone company. However, Giulio was offered a job by a very small company in Milan that produced fairly innovative electrical devices. This was an opportunity, a challenge immensely more motivating and exciting than staying at Sip until his retirement. And Giulio went for it.
Turin, Piazza Castello
What you may think is the top is actually just a step Seneca
aving signed his contract with Elit in 1952 Giulio moved to Milan. His experience with this company was very brief, considering that in 1953 he had already left for GTE, a company which was then called Automatic Electric, known today, especially in the USA, by the name Verizon. He was employed as an engineer of relevance in the Department of Research and Development.This is exactly what Engineer Guilio Viezzoli wanted to do and so he devoted himself totally to the job, concentrating on research in the sector of high frequency transmission apparatus, which was at that time considered the frontier for development in the field of telecommunications.
At the beginning of the 1950’s, Milan was a city no less dynamic than Turin. Also here there was an economic boom in full expansion, and the city experienced growth in both the industrial and tertiary sectors. The financial giants planted their roots here, and sectors such as fashion and publicity found their ideal headquarters in Milan. People were talking about research and development but also of marketing and internationalization. The majority of multinational companies deciding to open a branch in Italy chose the area around Milan. In Milan Giulio’s life revolved around his work, but he continued enjoying his passions. Among these was his love for the theater. Years before, he had tried
his hand as an amateur prose actor. This experience left him with a taste for experimental performances, such as those put on stage in the Piccolo Teatro and Dario Fo’s first appearances. But he also had an interest for other theaters and he often attended the Scala. Once a week he played in a Bridge tournament and every now and again went skiing, where in 1965 due to a fall he fractured a leg. Fortunately this injury healed perfectly and didn’t prevent him from practicing various sports in the following years. During the first years spent in Research and Development laboratories, Giulio decided to enrich his professional experience, accepting to teach electronics to the student electronic experts attending the last two years at the Institute Beltrami of Milan. “I was really interested in this opportunity because it permitted me to deepen my knowledge, which was limited to my degree in Electro-technical Engineering and widened by a masters in six months. For me it was an opportunity to develop my education with the continuity of a teaching that required a real in depth study of the field I was working in in the company. I saw this as a fundamental experience that I faced with enthusiasm and commitment. I will always remember those two years not only for what I have already said, but also for my relationships with my students. These students attended their lessons after having worked all day. Lessons were from 6 pm to 11pm every day, and a half day on Sundays. I set up the course in various trimesters, explaining and discussing the program for two and a half months, and then examining in the last 15 days of the trimester, beginning with the best students so that the others could continue to prepare themselves for the exams. The first five in alphabetical order were Paolo Antoniazzi, Fabio Friundi, Carlo Mazzali, Aldo Montifiori, and Bruno Terreni. Fabio Friundi, speaking also for his other four companions, reflects on his time spent at Aurelio Beltrami Radiotechnical Institute. “My memories of the institute date back to 1953, the year that my working career began in telecommunications. I was only 15 years old. Listening to the advice of my superiors at work I enrolled in a radio engineering course.The only professional school available in Milan (and maybe in Italy) that every evening gathered young workers in the radio and television engineering area was “Aurelio Beltrami”, a private Institute located in via Circo 4 in the center of Milan. The course Director was Engineer A. Beltrami, the founder of the institute, who dedicated his very life and self to educating the youth in modern technologies from 1925 to 1967. For two years I attended the professional radio engineering course, where the subjects studied were electronics,
radio engineering, vacuum technology and relative laboratories. The course kept me busy every evening with five hours of lessons. It was the period of the crystal set, valve radio, the first television sets, and first germanium diodes, whose circuits were studied and experimented during the interesting hours of laboratory. We studied books chosen by the institute, written by our teachers themselves. In 1955, Engineer Beltrami succeeded in establishing a course for a diploma of an officially recognized school. It lasted five years and was the first course for a diploma in electronics in Italy. The course had two sessions, a day session and an evening session, both made up of thirty-five hours of lessons a week.The evening session, in which I enrolled, was very demanding because it consisted of five hours every evening, five hours Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.The hours needed to study were “stolen” from early morning sleep, from Sunday afternoons fun time, from the hours of a break at work and, when possible, from work with the help of understanding bosses. I must say that this activity never particularly tired me. The classes really interested me and my school friends had substituted my old friends, since when I was not working I spent most of my time in the Institute. The ambitious program of studies was very stimulating, even if very challenging. Besides the normal literary and technical subjects of a diploma course, it also included a wide range of technical subjects which were advanced for the times, such as radio engineering, telephony, television and various applications of electronics which included industrial electronics, medical electronics, nuclear electronics, analogical and digital calculators, and radar. The teaching body was made up of, at least for the evening session, expert executives of important companies in the electronic sector, such as C.G.E., Innocenti, Autelco, Siemens, etc., so that each area of study could be taught with maximum competence. For many subjects the level of education was similar to that of a university. Among the many professors that I had during the five years of the course, I recall with particular affection and gratitude: Dr. Miceli, the Italian teacher for my first three years for his capability of involving us and his great humanity; Engineer De Marchi, Mechanical technology teacher, who followed us for all of the five years teaching us telecommunications and mechanics, for his strictness that made me “sweat so much” but taught me so much; Engineer Viezzoli, teacher of electronics for the last two years, who, with patience and understanding helped us discover the emerging world of transistors, and taught us how to design new components. This last was an education, as far as I was concerned, that continued for another four years after my diploma, in the GTE laboratories. Making an irreverent comparison, I like to think that for me (or should I say for us considering that also my old school mates recognize the importance of that period
for our working and non-working lives) Via Circo was “our Via Panisperna”. Giulio adds, “In order to complete the picture I feel it is necessary to reflect on what Paolo Antoniazzi remembers concerning a period that certainly represents one of the fundamental moments in the beginning of the technological evolution that influenced telecommunications, that had remained stagnant for a century in telephonic transmissions and telegraph”. Paolo remembers “I began working in July 1955 at Siemens OCE in Crescenzago (MI). Before that, after middle school I had attended three years in the Siemens professional school that produced expert workers. With time, I realized that my work experience was very useful. I was one of six children at home and I had chosen to get a job to help reduce family expenses, with the idea of attending a night school in the future. I worked in a test room where everyday we tested transformers and high power motors, especially for electrical plants. I can still remember well that an important client back then was called SIP (Società Idroelettrica Piemontese - Hydroelectric Company of Piedmont) which later became the SIP telephone company. I liked the work and I could directly experiment aspects that were in line with my great interest for electronics (together with a young electro-technical engineer, I built a four inch oscilloscope to measure waveforms at 50 Hz). In the same year (1955) I enrolled in the first night course established in Italy. It lasted five years and was for Electronic Experts, held at the Beltrami Institute of Radio Engineering. We must
Milan, 1953 – Students from the Aurelio Beltrami Radio-Technical Institute
1962, Holiday in the snow with friends from Milan. Giulio is the1st from the left
remember that up until the beginning of the 1960’s institutes giving Degrees in Electronics did not exist in Italy. It was not easy to work until 5pm and then go to school every evening from 6pm to 11pm (plus Saturday and Sunday mornings).There was little time left to sleep and to study. Often on Sunday afternoons three of us would get together to do homework and talk electronics. Since I was 14 years old I had been reading Radio Electronics regularly, one of the few specific magazines that reached Italy. After all, an interest for electronics and a certain vision for the future helped us a lot in overcoming the difficulties. I remember my professors well, also because they, like us, expressed a great passion for electronics and technology.Almost all of them came from important companies in the field of radio-electronics and so had great competence. One particular memory is of Engineer Viezzoli, an electronics teacher during the last years of the course, not only for his teaching relative to designing new components during the moment of transition from the valve to the transistor, but for being a friend to us and maybe also a bit of a father during this important phase of our life (we were only 20-25 years old). I also, just like Fabio Friundo, had the advantage and the privilege of working for some years in a sector where Engineer Viezzoli was in charge, in the Telecom laboratories of GTE.” “After two years of teaching”, recalls Giulio, “I was still invited to be part of the board of examiners for the exams to receive the diploma. So I attended the meetings to define the assignment of the term’s marks. In the October session one of the students had to repeat two exams. One of the school’s professors on the board wanted to fail the boy, who had attended the night school for five years, because he did not know the prosthaphaeresis formulas of trigonometry.
The whole commission agreed with me on the explanation of the prosthaphaeresis formulas which I have never had the occasion to utilize in all of my experience. So they considered it acceptable to promote a boy who for five years had proven to be dedicated and focused and whose maturity we had been called to evaluate. In the end, the commission approved his promotion and that was the end of my participation in teaching. It had definitely been a formative experience for me”. During his years in Milan Giulio devoted every week-end to sailing Gis, a small boat of nine meters, purchased on Lake Como and whose previous owner was a high prelate. Giulio decided to put it to sea, making La Spezia his base.“ Sailing teaches you to concentrate on the near and distant future, to be farsighted. Many of the things that you learn on a sailboat are also useful for governing an industry, the fundamental strategic choices that are made during a sailing regatta and the strong competition find parallelism with the acceleration of technological development and with the markets that demand constant attention, exactly like the attention you need when you are at the helm during a long regatta.” Giulio sailed around Italy to move Gis from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic Sea. He set sail with two others who disembarked along the way. By the time he reached Reggio Calabria he was alone on board and alone he sailed all the way up to Trieste. It was 1964. This voyage let Giulio move the boat from La Spezia to Trieste so that he could combine his passion for sailing with his visits to his family who lived in the capital of the Friulian province. Furthermore, considering the condition of roads at the time, it was easier and quicker for him
Trieste, 1964 – Giulio on his boat Gis with his sister Corinna and niece Bruna
to get to Trieste than to La Spezia, even simply to spend a week-end sailing. Giulio worked for GTE until March 31, 1966. He was continuously being promoted to higher and higher positions, until he became manager of research and development for the high frequency transmission systems. Working for an America multinational company proved to be fundamental for Giulio’s training as a manager. He had daily contacts with research laboratories in the United States, where he often traveled: “Once I was in a restaurant in California and the waiter serving me discovered I was from Italy. He told me that he was going to prepare a surprise at the end of my meal. It certainly was a surprise when he arrived with a mug full to the brim of espresso. It had taken him ten minutes to fill it! He explained that the restaurant had got an espresso machine from Italy just the day before. It was a kind of mega espresso, that if I had drunk would have kept me awake for days. I showed the waiter how to make espresso with the machine, maybe one of the first of its kind to arrive in the USA.This was in the mid 50’s.” But the sea was calling him back: “During my time at GTE I developed many talents and I learnt to manage employees. I had already managed to be promoted to the highest position I could have been given in the context, so that’s why I was lacking motivation to remain at GTE in Milan.Therefore I began to consider the next step I should take and I began to look for a way to go back to the sea”. The sea, for Giulio, mainly meant sailboats, and the sailboat of his dreams was a 14 meter named Aethra, like Theseus’ mother in the myth. In 1966 he was offered two positions: one with IBM, who wanted him in its research laboratory located in Cote d’Azur, and another with La Farfisa, a company that built musical instruments in the Province of Ancona. Both companies were in coastal cities, albeit in different countries. Yet again Giulio chose Italy.This decision gave him the possibility to return to live on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, his sea, the one he had known since he was a child, and the one on which he sailed with great joy and devotion. “ My father Giorgio taught me all about the sea and its winds. While sailing, he conveyed to me what he knew of the sea and above all of the Wind Rose.The winds are, beginning from the North: the Tramontana (the north wind), the Bora (north-north-east wind of the Adriatic Sea), the Levanter (east wind), the Scirocco (south-east Mediterranean humid wind), the Auster (south wind), the Libeccio (south-west wind), the Ponente (west wind), the Mistral (north-west wind). Every wind has its own characteristics and influences the right direction to choose.That’s why I landed happily in Ancona alone.”
Ancona, 1st April 1966 – Giulio arrives in Ancona on Gis
Everything that someone can imagine, others can transform into reality Jules Verne
n the first of April 1966, Giulio moored his sail boat at Ancona port and prepared for his new adventure. “ When I docked on the pier of Ancona, at the Circolo Velico of SEF Stamura, I met Lamberto Giampieri. He was in charge of the organization of sport sailing and from that day he became my reference for all my sailing activities.
“Ancona reminded me of my relatives because when they returned from that city, sailing across the Adriatic on their “trabacolo” (a sailboat with two masts typical of Istria) they bought home with them a pot of shellfish called “crocette,” I have never forgotten these episodes and it might have been because of them that I preferred to choose Ancona over the Cote d’Azur. In Ancona, I was impressed by the people’s cordiality, probably because I was accustomed to large cities where everything moves so much more quickly.” Giulio immediately fell in love with the capital city of the Marche region and immediately started to look for a house. After spending only two months in a hotel in Camerano he managed to find one that he liked a lot. Farfisa, the company that employed him, was very important in the area and very well known on the market. More than 1,500 people worked for the company, about 20 of whom concentrated exclusively on designing. Giulio was
immediately faced with the target of developing its Research Department, and soon the number of people involved in this increased up to 100. Among these there were also three engineers that had left Milan to follow Giulio: Giovanni Paolini, Carlo Lucarelli, Marco Bergamini. Once in Ancona Giulio not only brought Gis to port, but after six months also sailed full wind into marriage with Elisabetta.This was a very short period of time considering that during his 15 years spent in Milan no other girl had managed to convince him to pull in the sails. “Our task was, on one hand, to develop electronic devices for musical instruments and, on the other, to evaluate the process of diversification towards the telecommunications market.” It was an innovative idea and certainly a challenging project, but Farfisa’s decline was just around the corner due to Japanese competition. It was the beginning of the 1970’s and the Italian market of electronical musical instruments was starting to become a territory to be conquered by producers from the land of the rising sun. Farfisa suffered a blow and, instead of accelerating its specialization towards telecommunications, decided to downsize, laying off 150 people, 70 of whom were working in Giulio’s Research and Development Department. It was an unwise move. The company should, on the contrary, have increased its investments to speed up development in the telecommunications sector, as had been anticipated in the plan. It seemed absurd to Giulio, however, with his usual optimism he felt that it was time for him to change direction again. Giulio had many innovative ideas and there were so many projects that he longed to develop. And so it was the moment for him to end a professional high tech career pursued in companies. Once more destiny confronted him with a difficult decision. He had no doubt. It was time to set off on his journey as an entrepreneur, and he plunged forward with the full support of his wife Elisabetta. He knew the dynamics and productive capacity of the Marche. He knew that he could count on this to achieve his innovative projects. So he made an addition to his family, and to his sailing. Although this hadn’t been expected, Giulio realized it was necessary, and so was born a new company - ‘Aethra’. This was not only a mythological Greek name but also the name of a magnificent sail boat anchored in the Laguna in Venice.
Elisabetta, the Family
Trieste, 28th December 1966 – Giulio and Elisabetta on the day of their wedding in the cathedral in Trieste, San Giusto
“Without a wife at his side man cannot perfect his valor” Ludovico Ariosto
nce in Ancona, having returned to live by the sea, and more specifically the Adriatic Sea, Giulio didn’t seem to be thinking it was time to start a family. His life was filled by the gratification he received from his work and the respect and friendship of his collaborators and the “boat”. The planning dept. of Farfisa had to grow. It had to become an important core and he had to launch the company forcefully into the field of telecommunications. Back in 1966, Farfisa was an important company and the Chief Executive had a secretarial staff composed of young and efficient women who spoke foreign languages and had strong personalities. Among these women was Elisabetta, who at the time was twenty-five. She immediately sensed that between her and the new director of Research and Development there was a special attraction, not only physical, but also made of trust, respect and admiration for Giulio’s vast knowledge. She felt protected but above all felt an attraction that has been very important ever since the beginning. “It is wonderful to find a companion who you can always be yourself with and never have to pretend”. Elisabetta understood that Giulio was the man she wanted to build a life with. At dinner, one evening in September, only five months after Giulio’s arrival in Ancona, Elisabetta asked Giulio to marry her. Giulio accepted and they set the date of the wedding for the end of December in Trieste. Only nine months had gone by since Giulio’s arrival
Trieste, 1966 – Giulio and Elisabetta signing the wedding register
in Ancona, but Giulio’s life had been completely transformed. They decided on Trieste for the wedding because Giulio’s mother was elderly and also because it would have been very difficult to organize a wedding in Ancona at such short notice. Elisabetta wanted a small private wedding.Thinking back, she now believes that the wedding day should be celebrated with friends and the people that are dear: not with pomp but to share the joy with others. “We got married in the Cathedral of San Giusto in Trieste on December 28,1966”, Elisabetta recalls. “There were only a few of us, about 40 between friends and relatives.That afternoon we left to go on honeymoon to Portorose, just a short distance from Pirano, to relive the places dear to Giulio, the places he had been forced to abandon. We only stayed a week because Giulio could not stay away from work any longer. With his usual optimism he thought we could have made up for it at a later time.This wasn’t possible, even though, over the years we have done a lot of traveling. What isn’t done at any particular moment, for any particular reason, can’t be redone later on.The atmosphere is not the same, it is a different moment of your life so it is not the same thing. These are things you learn with experience, and from these experiences we obtain the wisdom we try to transmit to the younger generation.” Elisabetta stopped working fifteen days before the wedding for two reasons. In the sixties, if a husband could support his family financially, a woman generally
stayed at home to run the household and raise the children, if you had the good fortune to have them. Furthermore, in Elisabetta’s case it would have been inconvenient for her to stay on the director’s secretarial staff with Giulio in the position of Director. It would have been a clash of interests. “When we got back from our honeymoon, I had to come to terms with the everyday reality of the work of a housewife. I knew nothing about this type of work. I had never cooked, never cleaned, never ironed before. It was a bit of a challenge and it was also exciting to learn so many small and important new jobs, like discovering where to start when ironing a shirt, cooking a sauce or Istrian dishes.The days flew by, already expecting our first little Viezzoli, born September 24,1967, exactly nine months after our wedding. If he had been born at seven months, no one would have believed us and would have though that ours was a shotgun wedding.Things were so much more different than they are today.” Marco was born September 11, 1968.The two babies were born at an interval of only eleven and a half months, “but it was beautiful having them so close. It was a bit tiring, but the difference between having one small baby and two didn’t double the work. Nonetheless I had to be at home. As a mother you have to respect the schedules, you have to think first of the family and then if you have a little time for yourself.” Giulio continued to be very busy at work and Elisabetta still allowed him to continue his sailing, even though there were two small children. “It would have
Ancona, 1969 – Elisabetta and Giorgio at SEF Stamura
Ancona, 1970 – Elisabetta with Giorgio and Marco on the boat at Stamura
been silly for both of us to stay at home! They were still too small to take on the boat.” 1969 was the year to launch the new boat, a 12 meter, built in a shipyard in Trieste and named Pan II after his father’s boat, the one he had grown up on and where he had become a sailor. In 1970 Farfisa abruptly changed its management and strategy and, once sold to an American company, cut off investment in telecommunication. Giulio’s office was dismembered and he started wondering if it made sense to remain working there without any sort of future expectation, if not just for the vicinity of the sea. Meanwhile, the family was growing, and in March 1971 Elena was born. “At the time there was no way of knowing what the baby’s sex was before birth, since ultrasound scans did not exist. Although Giulio claimed not to care whether the child would be a third boy, he later admitted that it really wasn’t so. Finally a beautiful baby girl was born and, notoriously, fathers have a particular feeling for girls. Anyhow, I still remember the night Elena was born. Giulio was outside the delivery room, in this private clinic, talking about boats with the gynecologist. Luckily the obstetrician was very good. She had helped me with my other two children.When Elena was born she weighed only 2.6 kilograms. The day after delivery, without consulting the doctor or the clinic itself, I asked Giulio to take me home because I had found a cockroach in my room. So we left without telling anyone, which of course wasn’t allowed. But my little baby-girl needed to be in a sterile environment, or, at least, in a clean one.”
With three children and a job that was no longer what it was supposed to be, Giulio had an important decision to make: to move back to Milan or to stay and start his own company. The only financial thing that they could count on was Giulio’s severance pay, but Elisabetta did not hesitate to start the adventure as an entrepreneur. The company was called Aethra, after Theseus’ mother, and also the name of the magnificent sailboat that Giulio would have liked to have but could not then afford.This name was so unusual that there was no need to search the market to verify that there were no other Aethras operating in the same field. Moreover, it was a name of good omen because even today in Greek nautical bulletins Aethra forecasts “favorable winds for navigation”. Elisabetta is aware that Giulio is an extraordinary and reliable man. “There have never been problems between us, we have always made important decisions together. It was always my duty to manage the everyday family life. Nowadays in modern families, even the smallest decisions are made by both parents together, instead we were organized differently. I stopped working to be with my family everyday. It was a challenging, rewarding and joyful duty, since our first three children were born in a lapse of three and a half years.
Ancona 1974 – Giulio, Elisabetta, Marco, Giorgio and the crew of Histria Rossa during an award ceremony
Giulio was only involved in important decisions. He provided for the family with his work and was not absorbed by the daily routine. After we had decided to become entrepreneurs I helped Giulio, even though the children were still little, but we were always prepared and ready to deal with whatever life threw at us”. The building blocks of the rising company were those of the value of human resources and the ability of giving life to the concept of a network business. Here Giulio proved once again to be a pioneer, relocating the production and making agreements with companies in the area. The structure had to be flexible, considering that there could be no control over a continuity of orders, and that it was a fairly new kind of company, in spite of Giulio Viezzoli being rather well known in the telecommunication business and the help this could give. “During this phase, my role as a mother was always my priority. Giulio likes to say that I am a lioness, always energetic and ready to defend my children. However, I was able to participate in the life of the company, facilitated by the fact that our home has always been situated above the company headquarters. I managed the Administration of Aethra, with the help of consultants, also since characteristically I am very precise and very good at finding errors- perhaps too good! On the contrary, I have no preparation in finding solutions. I studied Languages and not Business. We therefore decided to launch our Start-up in the world of telecommunications, aware of the fact that if we failed we would have to return to a large city far from the sea”. “We started with a small nucleus, and in 1972, with the funds that we received after
Ancona 1976 – Elena at the helm of Histria Rossa
the earthquake, built the first 5,000 meters of the current office”. Elisabetta would work in the mornings when the children were at school. She managed both her roles well. She used to take the children to school and then work until they came home. And then there was sport, homework, friends. It was a hectic, full of engagements, but yet a serene life in a close-knit family. Elisabetta also recalls with pleasure the birth of the twin girls. “In September 1978, when Giulio was at a regatta in Sardinia, I took a test and discovered I was pregnant again. I told Giorgio, Marco and Elena, who at the time were between the ages of 11 and 8, that there would soon be a new baby. They blackmailed me and asked for a puppy in exchange for their cooperation. We bought a Dalmatian, the first in a long series; we have had up to 5 dogs at the same time. The children heard the news before Giulio.When he called home that evening, Elena answered the phone and told him and he celebrated with the crew on the boat. I only discovered I was expecting twins 5 months into the pregnancy. Returning home from the ultrasound check, I held up two fingers – my middle and index fingers – to tell Giulio I was actually pregnant with twins. However, from a distance Giulio interpreted the sign as a victory for his sailing. It was a marvelous surprise and also an advantage since the new baby, being so far apart in age from the other children, would have felt like an only child.” At this time, Giulio was taking part in many regattas, including the regattas of Bocche in Sardinia. For these occasions the whole family would follow him.
Ancona, 1982 – Laura and Giulia, aged three, at a family wedding
Roma, 1997 – Elisabetta and Giulio on the day Giulio was awarded with a Knighthood of Labor
“Only once did I leave the children home alone with Giulio” says Elisabetta, “and when I returned home I found Giulio napping on the couch and the children had done everything they possibly could. Without being watched over they had made a complete mess of the living room. We have been very lucky in our life. All of our children have grown up well and have given us reasons to be proud. They have all completed their education, and all have university degrees: Giorgio in Engineering, Marco in Business, Elena with an Arts degree, Giulia in Social Studies, Laura in the Department of Art, Music and Entertainment. They have also been intensely involved in sports and I believe this is an important factor in the shaping of a youth’s personality. In this area, Giulio was their first sponsor and always accompanied the children to their games. Elena reached a very high level in tennis and became a member of the junior national team. She had to choose what to do with her life, to play tennis and put everything else in second place or abandon competitive sports and go back to school. She made her decision and continued playing just for pleasure. The ‘little ones’ (we still call the twins that way in our family), have also done various sports, from swimming to tennis. But they decided to dedicate their free time after completing their studies to the Scouts.They are both Head Scouts. Giulia also did a year of volunteer work then went on to studying mosaic in Ravenna and now she has started her own business in this field. Laura instead is occupied in the world of movie-making, in directing and editing. It has been wonderful having such a large family, even if we are often far apart and in different parts of the world. Even so, for years we have spent Christmas together
and occasionally, whenever possible, Easter too, going on a trip where we were all together with our children and their children.We have so many marvelous memories and photograph albums”. As the years went by, Elisabetta became more and more absorbed in her work at Aethra, and not only worked mornings but the whole day, also because she has had the fortune to have help at home. “We’ve had the same house keeper Belen, from the Philippines, for exactly 25 years”. Elisabetta wonders how difficult a woman’s life is today, working, trying to raise and educate the children and manage a home. “Sooner or later, once we women have demonstrated that we are capable, and these capabilities have been acknowledged, we must step back because someone needs to be near the children. Do not leave them with others the whole time, enjoy raising them and helping them when they need advice from us parents. It is not to be taken for granted that it’s us women who stay home, but someone must be available.” Now Giulio and Elisabetta have reached the age where their children are adults, and they spend their time with their grandchildren and dedicate time to social activities. It is possible to stop working without getting bored by dedicating lots of time to people who are all alone. “Ours has been a very beautiful life because Giulio is a wonderful husband. Above all, we must always remember that in the union of two people, each should give without expecting anything in return, because this is love“.
Ancona, 27th February 2004 – Elisabetta and Giulio on Elisabetta’s birthday
Giorgio, Marco, Elena,
Giulia and Laura
Love for your parents is the foundation of all virtues Cicero
iulio and Elisabetta’s three oldest children grew breathing the life of the company everyday. For them it was as clear as day that once adults they would become part of the business management of the family company. Over the years Aethra had expanded from national to international dimensions. The first son Giorgio is an Electronic Engineer with a masters in Telecommunications like his father, and he is the only one who lives away from Ancona, forced by his work . After his master’s degree, Giorgio moved to Miami in the United States where he founded Aethra Inc. for the development of the Nor th and South American markets with videocommunication and telecommunication products. As well as this activity, Giorgio is engaged in the research and acquisition of complex components with the right characteristics for systems and devices that are designed in Ancona. Giorgio is married to Jessica and they have two children called Paola and Nicolò. Giorgio says, “I have been very lucky to have a father with such a great passion for boats, and to live in a seaside city. Almost every weekend for ten/fifteen years we used to take part in regattas on the Adriatic Sea, from Venice to Bari, in Yugoslavia and sometimes the Mediterranean (definitely more challenging, but also much further away). Apart from being a great helmsman with great experience, my father managed to have very competitive boats, one of which was almost invincible: The Histria
Ancona Univeristy, Engineering Department – Giorgio receiving his degree
Almagores, bought from a ship owner in Naples. I remember that on that boat, for 3 or 4 years, we won wherever we went. We were really strong and winning had almost become boring. My passion for the sea and for sailing has definitely been a fixed thing all my life, thanks to my father.This explains my decision to escape from Milan (smog and cement), after suffering there for a whole year to obtain my masters. I was lucky that Miami turned out to be the best place to start sales distribution of Aethra’s products in the Americas. Still today, with Jessica and the children, we are looking for a city that is on the coast, where we can settle down permanently. If there’s no sea, there’s just no way that we would move. My degree in Engineering and my experience in the market have allowed me to appreciate the real value of Aethra, to design and develop competitive solutions that are placed on the market in a very short time, more quickly than the competitors, and with an excellent capacity to correct production.
It is quite obvious that these advantages derive from the highly skilled personnel in the Research & Development Department and from their technological “know-how”. If the company did not have these it would be a mere distribution outlet. I believe that all this has been possible thanks to my father’s experience in Research & Development before he started Aethra. In fact, this has helped the company become internationally renowned for the quality of its products.” Marco, who is eleven months younger than Giorgio, became the Chief Executive Officer of Aethra in March 2005. He graduated in Business Studies from the University of Ancona and, having completed his education with a master’s in Business Management in London, he began working for the company, putting all his efforts in gaining more responsibilities year after year. He was initially in charge of the Financial area, but after one year he became Director of the Human Resources Department. In 1998 he became Manager of the Sales Department and later on was nominated Director of Industrial Production. In this area, he held a fundamental role of responsibility and coordination between the logistics, production and purchase departments, during a crucial moment in the company’s history. It was
Ancona University, Economics Department . Marco on his graduation day surrounded by friends
Ancona, 1977 – Marco during tennis training
in fact during those years that Aethra started aggressively tackling the international market, beginning a process that would lead it to be present in over sixty-five countries over all the world. In 2003, precisely because of the consistent worldwide growth of the company, Marco became the manager of the international marketing sector. In January 2004, he became part of the company’s Top Management and then in March 2005 he took on the role of Chief Executive. “Dad’s happy that I chose to graduate in Business Studies”, says Marco with a smile, “because this way he can continue dedicating himself to what he loves most, everything related to research, development and engineering.” Marco married Daniela in 1997 and they have two boys.The first, Luca, was born in 2001 and the second, Lorenzo, in 2004. Marco says “I have fantastic childhood memories. My big and very close family has been facilitated by tranquillity and love for life. I’ve always had one passion which still today affects my adult life, and that’s sport. Since I was six I have been mad about soccer, Juventus, and sports in general. I always liked a healthy competition, numbers,
classifications, the Gazzetta dello Sport (Italian sports newspaper), the sun and wanting to have fun! I got all this passion for sports from my dad. He taught me the real values of sports, values that are connected to friendship, to fun, and to joy to be shared in victories and defeats. I was a good tennis player and got to play in the second division, but I also enjoyed playing for the local soccer team. Tennis and soccer are two very different sports but yet have been very important in my training. Soccer is mainly about having fun, sharing and friendship, whereas playing tennis professionally taught me a lot. It taught me how to concentrate and achieve isolation in crucial moments, it taught me that you cannot rely on anyone else but yourself, and it taught me to accept defeats respecting the opposition, and to feel joy for victories. During all those years, my father followed me silently, therefore avoiding becoming an intrusive parental figure that often ruins all the fun for the adolescent. Playing sports is supposed to be, above all, fun. I have only one regret, and that is that I have never been able to share my father’s infinite passion for boats and sailing. It would have been fantastic... though I tried really hard. I took part in numerous competitions, but the fact that I would easily get sea-sick has drawn me farther and farther from sharing such a beautiful and authentic passion that is the sea! My parents always left me to make my decisions freely, nevertheless they gave me precious advice that I only managed to understand too late, as is often the case... and this is the same thing I’m trying to do with my two fantastic sons, Luca and Lorenzo. Among all the advice and teachings, the one I’ll always have in my mind is “per aspera ad astra”, which translated from Latin means “through difficulties you will reach the stars”.This is an absolute truth that will always stay with me, together with another thing my father used to tell me when I was a teenager: “you are unlucky because you are too lucky”.This saying of his always gave me the right push to make an effort, initially in sports, but also later at university, work, and in everyday life” concludes Marco. Instead, Elena started her own company in 2006, which she named Almagores after the sailboat with which Giulio won several regattas. Almagores was born as a spin-off of Aethra and is concerned with direct and indirect sales both of Aethra’s products as well as other electronic components. The company has other business partners besides Aethra. Elena has a degree in History from the University of Bologna and almost a second degree in Languages. She is the globetrotter of the family, having traveled a lot and having studied abroad for long periods. She made her definitive return to Ancona in 2004 and in the company she manages marketing, human resources, information technology, and
communication. She is also a member of the Board of Directors. “I have always been going back and forth from Ancona, but the Company has always been part of my life. As a child I only had to walk down the stairs to be enveloped by this world.” Elena, like Marco, is a lover of sports. But neither Elena has inherited her father’s passion for sailing. Elena achieved an important level in tennis. Elena says “Despite having numerous commitments, my father was always with me when I had a match, no matter where it was. He would support and comfort me energetically. Whether I won or lost the game, he’d never put pressure on me. When the result was negative he would take it as an excuse to talk about it, in order to find solutions to do better in other games. Dad always gave me the possibility to have the best trainers, the last being Leslie Hunt, an Australian women’s Champion, who was among the top ten women’s tennis players for a long time. He also made it possible for me to attend the most renowned tennis academies (Bollettieri Tennis Academy) and to study in Bologna so that I could do my training in the best school in Italy. He was happy to be able to offer me the best.Those were the most intense and formative years of my life. Being a real sportsman, my father always understood what a big sacrifice I was making and the amount of pressure I was putting on myself, whether I was playing single, doubles, or a team-tournament.Therefore he was always comforting when I felt disappointed or whenever I had difficulties, and was very respectful of the choices I made that were always influencing my life. He was very proud to see me win, he would clap and cheer standing in the front row. He was close to me and his presence was important because it made me feel safe. I think that in return I gave him great satisfaction when I won important tournaments such as the Italian Championships, and when I became part of the national team and represented Italy around the world.That’s why I felt his pain when I had to decide whether to move to Australia to become a professional player, moving away from my family, my friends, and giving up my studies, or to leave tennis aside and focus on my studies. With great grief, I opted for the second possibility, a decision shared by mom and dad. I still remember the words he said then…they were so important, so true: “God gave each one of us certain rare talents. One of yours is definitely this, don’t let it go to waste…”. Sometimes I still think of what he said and try to imagine how my life would have been, had I taken his advice. But I am convinced that God has been very generous with me and has given me more than one talent and today my father can be proud of what I chose that day so far back in time. One of the most important lessons I have learnt from him is to always follow your passions, not only with words
but also with your actions. Thank you, dad. You are an extraordinary man, an unlimited source of advice and teaching, a model of life which is impossible to emulate. All that I am today, I owe it to you and to mom!”. Giulia showed she was attracted to nature from an early age, and she also desired to make herself useful. When she was eight she joined the Scouts, and through them she brought herself closer to nature and learnt the value of service and willingness and of human relations. She decided to go to Venezuela
University of Bologna, Arts and Philiosophy Faculty . Elena during celebrations on her graduation day
Laura and Giulia on a scouts excursion
during her fourth year of high school thanks to one of the exchange programs promoted and managed by Intercultura. Apart from learning a new language fluently, Giulia discovered a whole different world from the one she had always lived in. Back from South America she enrolled at the University of Bologna and before she had completed her academic career she decided to dedicate a year to social services in her home town.This experience allowed her to see Ancona as she had never seen it, and to get in touch with people, realities and situations that otherwise would have remained unknown and distant from her. Her work in the shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence was the main focus of her dissertation in Social Studies. Having completed her education, she went on studying in the field of Arts, and so becoming a professional mosaicist in the School of Ravenna . Just like her twin sister Giulia, Laura has been part of the Scouts since the age of eight. From the scouts she has learnt a lot both on a personal level as regards knowledge. She has always been keen on tennis, “the family sport”, dedicating a lot of time and energy to it. Her other great passion has always been the movie business and this led her to enroll in the Department of Art, Music and Entertainment at the University of Bologna. She continued her education in Milan at the Scuola del Documentario (Documentary School).This was a unique opportunity to focus on a type of production that is still not sufficiently known and very seldom studied in Italy. Since then creative documentary has become
Laura’s creative mania. She has already produced two and the third is in the post-production phase. After her schooling Laura decided to remain in Milan where she currently works with two college mates with whom she founded the Art Group, “Laphalda.” Giulia and Laura say: “Dad is a man with great dreams and adventures. Ever since we were children, we’ve been immersed in his stories full of history and emotion: his beloved Istria, beautiful Pirano, his carefree college years in Padua, the war and then the exile, his sailing and his sea. When dad speaks of the sea his eyes light up, and whoever listens to his stories feels as if they were right there, on his boat, with the sails up and the wind that never stops. Our most intense memories we share with him are definitely ones of the times when, still little girls, he would take us on his sailboat along the coast of the Conero during summer and spring weekends. Dad was always at the helm. He remained calm all the time and allowed us to keep our feet in the water when sailing close to the wind. The boat would be going fast and we would have a great time. When the boat was slow, if our older siblings felt
University of Bologna, Arts and Philosophy Faculty – Giulio graduating in Science of Education
Univeristy of Bologna – Laura during her graduation presentation
like it, he would let us go in the water, provided that we held on to them and then we would all be dragged along by two ropes that were attached to the boat. For us it was great fun and pretty unusual, too. Because of his job and his little time, dad hardly ever sails now and we are really sorry about that. Yet the sea always remains a metaphor for values and principles. Our father’s stories and his sea still invite us to be brave enough to let ourselves go, to experience the great adventure that life is, where all your dreams and your desires must be supported by preparation and knowledge, and also by a pinch of good luck. Dad used to take his whole family out to the sea because he knew it well. Before we left, though, he would always study the weather and the winds. Challenge and challenge yourself, but always with competence: this is a very hard lesson we will always be thankful for!”.
Sailing and Technology
There is no second Motto of the America’s Cup
s Giulio himself says, sailing is a form of education that allows people to enhance their ability to look forward. It has always been part of his life. It is therefore predictable that the sea and the wind are omnipresent, even if on an unconscious level. Giulio had his first encounter with sailing when he was only five years-old. He was introduced to it by his father Giorgio who took him along during their summer vacations. His first experience was on the boat called Pan, the name of the Greek God of the forest and of the inner satellite of Planet Saturn. Pan was his first contact with the sport that would accompany Giulio throughout his life. Corinna tells a very significant story about Giulio’s passion for the sea. “In Portorose, in the hours of the day when dad wasn’t using the cutter Pan, Giulio would sail it himself. He wasn’t even six at that time. My dad’s colleagues would say, ‘when we see a white cap coming out of the deckhouse on Giorgio’s cutter, we know that it is Giulio”. This great passion he had forced him to confront the strength and the complexity of the sea and of its winds. His cups and his trophies are the sign of the noble bond between mankind, the sea and the winds”
However, sailing has not always been his only sport. Giulio sums up his sport activities, “In Turin, while attending my masters in Telecommunication, every Saturday night I would play in the basketball second division in defense and as
1931-1941: Pan, Giorgio’s boat (Giulio’s 1964-1970: Gis, the boat on which Giulio arrived father) in Ancona
playmaker, on Sunday morning I would participate as riser in volleyball matches in the third division and in the afternoon I played inside-forward on a soccer team in the first division. Back at the time, sport in Italy was still amateur and did not require the preparation necessary now to participate in championships”. Sailing continues to represent Giulio’s most important activity because it entered his DNA. “I have lost track of how many adventures I have had at sea. I will only hereby recall two that are particularly significant.There are two kinds of winds, one deriving from the difference in temperature between the earth and the sea, and the other from the difference in climatic pressure between two different geographical areas. During the day, the earth becomes warmer and therefore the warm air attracts the cooler air from the sea.Vice versa, when the earth’s temperature drops at night, the wind drops and changes direction going from land towards the sea. Sometimes in a sailboat, especially at night, when the wind is blowing from land, a calm might follow.This means that a gust of wind is about to arrive from another direction due to the drop in pressure. So you must be both quick and alert, since you only have a few minutes to pull in all the sails in order to prevent the craft from being damaged by the gust of wind. Once the
1971-1974: Pan II, the first boat that Giulio had constructed in a shipbuilding yard in Trieste
gust of wind has risen you can pull up the sails again, paying attention to do this slowly so that the boat can pick up its speed. This climatic condition reminds me of an incident that had happened in the gulf of Trieste that I will never forget.We were in the middle of a regatta, it was night, and suddenly we felt the wind beginning to drop. We immediately lowered the sails expecting wind from a new direction, but it did not rise and the wind from the land picked up again. At night, it is particularly difficult to sense the direction and speed of the wind. When we felt the wind from the land, we pulled up the sails again thinking that the gust of wind would no longer rise. But after half an hour there was another calm, and we immediately lowered the sails once more and waited another quarter of an hour. But the wind of pressure would not arrive. We wanted to be sure that we could raise the sails again, we had no doubt that the wind was coming from the land, so we kept the sails hoisted but in a few seconds we were surprised by a strong wind blowing against us that did not spare us. We instantly lowered the sails because the intensity of the gusts was so strong that we ran the risk of tearing them. Fortunately, it did not do any damage but it was a real blow for me as an expert sailor, because I was certain that a sudden wind of pressure would not rise anymore after two episodes of
calm. I let myself be caught by surprise with my sails hoisted.The sea teaches us that at times we feel certain of particular events whereas instead we must always be ready and adapt to change in every circumstance. This was not the only occasion in which I have learned a lesson from the sea and wind. Sometimes over the years I took solitary trips on a sailboat. In particular, I recall 1964 when I departed with two companions to sail Gis from La Spezia to Trieste. My two companions on that trip disembarked later at Reggio Calabria for family obligations, so I continued my journey around Italy alone. I have never been afraid of sailing alone due to the fact that I began sailing when I was five and I have learned to understand the sea well, however it is difficult to get rest when you are alone on a sailboat. I did 24 hour “shifts” without ever sleeping, I seldom rested for any longer than six hours and always with the sails lowered. One evening I was very tired and I was following the route towards the Dalmatian coast with a favorable current that would have allowed me to reach the island of Lesina the next morning.The boat was sailing smoothly with the wind and the current favorable, and so I fell asleep. When I woke up it was three in the morning and I was surprised to see an island before me. I was afraid that the boat had taken the wrong course and that it had arrived at the Tremiti Islands instead of Lesina. Not far off, I saw a rowing boat with fishermen on it. I was forced to ask them where I was, even though whoever sails a boat should always know exactly his location. They replied in the ItalianDalmatian dialect, so I promptly understood that I was not at the Tremiti Islands but just a few miles from my final destination, so I was on the right route. Here my humiliation was to be forced to ask a group of fishermen where I was. Besides this experience, I have never had problems sailing alone on a sailboat, on the contrary, the solitary moments lived in the middle of the sea have been intense with emotions and meditation. I have learned to always look ahead because on a sailboat you can only consider what has just happened as something valuable for the expansion of your experience. There isn’t time, you have to concentrate on what is happening at the moment and what is going to happen. For all of this I have to thank my father who introduced me to sailing. It has taught me to think quickly, always looking to the future, which is something that has proven precious for my activity as an entrepreneur.” Giulio’s journey around Italy finished in the port of Trieste on August 21, 1964, after 19 days of sailing.
Two years later he took another important trip to the port of Ancona on Gis. Between 1966 and 1975 Giulio took part in numerous regattas on Pan II, the 12- meter boat designed by an architect from Trieste and launched in 1968. The Histria Rossa was launched in 1975. It was a 12- meter designed by Ron Holland, with which Giulio participated in many regattas in the Tyrrhenian Sea, in Sardinia and in the Adriatic Sea, including three different editions of the “Barcolana”. In 1984 it was Histria Bianca’s turn to be launched. It was much more competitive than Histria Rossa and it allowed Giulio achieve great results on a national and international level. “Now it’s important”, Giulio says, “to hear what Massimo Cardinali, doctor and partner in many regattas, remembers. It was his job to regulate the sails to the wind”. Massimo Cardinali tells us the adventures of Histria Rossa from 1975 to 1983. “It all started in the fall of 1975, when I was 23 and half-way through a Medicine degree at the University of Ancona. I had had a little experience of sailing since I had been playing for several years around the rocks in Palombina with a Flying Junior. Paolo Cori, who at the time took part in many regattas with 420’s and who I knew because he was the little brother of some friends at the beach, asked me if I’d like to go out on a brand new 12-meter yacht that had just been bought by Engineer Viezzoli, the owner of an electronic-supplies company in Collemarino. At first I was hesitant, scared by the unknown, but then decided to give it a try. Looking back, those were the most exciting years of my life. As soon as I was aboard, I realized I had never seen a winch before.The sheets and the halyards were so many that the different colors were not enough to distinguish them from one another. However, the rest of the crew, apart from Engineer Giulio Viezzoli and Dr Angelo Corvetta, were not that much more experienced than I was. As I tell my story now, I will always refer to Giulio Viezzoli as to the Engineer. The whole crew, in fact, called him that and still today, after so many years of friendship, I hesitate to call him differently. Our worst rival, was GAP III. Its crew members were far more experienced than we were, even though our Histria Rossa was invincible with our helmsman on light wind. On the other hand, when the wind picked up, blowing above 15-16 knots, we could only pull down the sails and this made the boat less efficient. In 1976, the year after our debut, we won the winter championship for 1st and 3rd
class IOR.This victory made us so excited that the following year, in spring, we would find the time to go out to sea on weekdays for training. Between the summer of 1976 and the summer of 1978, we were at our best and won many regattas, managing to sail up to Trieste, which obviously filled the Engineer with joy. Our ship owner was convinced that we could dare a little more and booked a place for our boat in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, for the Settimana delle Bocche in 1978. Only 4 or 5 of us left on the boat (the others came on the ferry) with plenty of food supplies. On August, 8th, 1978 we left the port of Ancona with great enthusiasm and with a good Libeccio astern. Even though we’d have to cover 900 miles we only
1975-1983: Histris Rossa, the boat with which Giulio participated in his first important regattas
stopped over in Bari and Crotone, and arrived in Porto Cervo, sailing only with the sails as the Engineer wanted (as long as our speed did not drop below 3 mph) every night between 10 and 11 pm. All the regattas were great, with unusually scarce or moderate winds for the area, allowing us to achieve good results and to win the third place. Our stay in Porto Cervo was great fun. We visited the “spiaggia rosa” (pink beach) on the Island of Budelli. At the time you could still moor, and so we took a walk on the island. Elisabetta joined us with the three kids. We arrived back at the port of Ancona on September 8th: We had lived exactly a whole month on the boat and had sailed for over 3000 miles. The following year (1979) we tried to repeat our experience in Sardinia, but unfortunately due to less favourable weather conditions we were not as successful”. Massimo Cardinali also remembers the period from 1984-1988 on board the new Histria Bianca. “In those years we did many regattas in the Tyrrhenian Sea looking for challenging rivals. The first journey we took was in a lorry from Ancona to Chiavari, and then to Tolone where the Giraglia would start that year.The regatta was to end in Sanremo. Giorgio Viezzoli and a friend of his were on board that year. The Giraglia was one of the quickest that year and the race finished in little more than 24 hours since we sailed with the Maestrale astern from Tolone up to Giraglia’s Rock and then with the Maestrale abeam up until Sanremo. The boat was left in Cala Galera, in view of the possibility to go back for the winter championship in the Tyrrhenian and then the following June (1985- I suppose) for the Italian Championship in Capri. The Winter Championship in Cala Galera was a wonderful affair. We left Ancona on Friday afternoon in a van big enough for crew members and for the sails. At sunset we were at Lake Trasimeno and by 11 pm or midnight we were in Orbetello. Our rooms in the hotel were for four-five people, thus promising to be great fun. On Saturday and Sunday we participated in the regattas then after eating all together and Sunday afternoon we left to go back, tired, yet satisfied. The post regatta dinner was always a very fulfilling moment, even though I only mention it at the end of my story. It always had the same characteristics. The crew was tired, more or less satisfied, and very hungry. Every member of the team remembered the most significant moments and the mistakes they made, while the Engineer was constantly picking at bread-crumbs on the table-cloth.This image is so precious to me I will always carry it in my heart.
Histria Rossa (photo Carlo Ferruzzi)
My time on board with the Engineer ended in 1986 when I began my job at the hospital and often had to work Saturdays and Sundays, so keeping me further and further away from sailing to the point that I was never able to board Almagores. “Thank you again, Engineer”. In 1989 there was a new boat named ‘Almagores’. It had won prestigious regattas in Great Britain, among which Cowes in the Isle of Wight, and Fastnet Rock in Ireland. Giulio renamed it ‘Histria Almagores’ and used it in many regattas, until 2004. Since 1931 Giulio has had many boats to adventure with. From 1931 to 1943 he used his father Giorgio’s ‘Pan’, from 1964-1970 ‘Gis’, from 1971 to 1974 ‘Pan II’, from 1975 to 1983 ‘Histria Rossa, 1984-1988 ‘Histria Bianca’, from 1989 to 2004 ‘Histria Almagores’. Today, Giulio continues to go sailing with an 8-meter boat called ‘Elisabetta’ to honor his wife who has been so patient for so many
long years of sailing with Giulio.
In 1851, the America’s cup, with a prize of 100 guineas, was established by an English Admiral for a regatta around the Isle of Wight, with both the start and arrival being at West Cowes. “America” was the name of the American boat designed for the occasion after the kind, yet not so convincing, invitation sent out by the English Admiral to the newly-born New York Yacht Club which won the trophy by being the first across the finishing line. It is funny to think the cup itself is not a real cup since it is hollow, without a bottom. “America” was made according to the innovative and courageous ideas of its designer, who chose to use the best materials provided by American technology of the time. Moreover, the boat also sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, proving to be not only a boat designed for regattas but also a reliable sailing boat at sea with a highly trained crew on board. Once back in the USA, the members of the producers’ association that owned the boat decided to donate the cup to their Yacht Club together with a letter, the Deed of Gift.This letter obliged their Club to put the cup up as a prize every time a foreign club challenged them. It also defined the rules of the competition. These original rules changed several times due to the fact that in case of disagreement with the challenger the club in possession of the cup, the “defender”, had the right to reformulate the regulations, and consequently to decide for its own convenience. Even the US Supreme Court had a say in the Cup, when after the II World War it decided to allow 12-meter boats in the regattas. Every three or four years, boats from different nations raced to choose who would challenge the defender, since after Cowes the regattas were always match races, but the cup never changed hands.That’s why Giulio took the challenge and decided to enhance electronic features of ‘Azzurra’, the first Italian boat ever to participate in the America’s Cup at Newport, USA. 1982-1983 Azzurra and the America’s Cup Ennio Angeloni, one of the first engineers to work with Giulio, says “Aethra’s adventure in the America’s Cup officially started in 1982 after a couple of meetings with Nicola Sirione, an architect of the Vallicelli Office who had been chosen to design ‘Azzurra’ by the Costa Smeralda Association.
A few months earlier the Costa Smeralda Yacht Club had challenged the American club, the defenders, who had again offered the cup as a prize for the year 1983. It was the first time an Italian club had participated. Meanwhile the American boat Enterprise had been bought and had already participated in selections for the “defender”. No one in Italy knew or had the proper experience with the 12-meter boats that were to be used following the America’s Cup regulations at the time. I’m telling you all of this just to make it clear that the challenge was rather hard and reckless, considering also that other countries were not capable of competing.To have a chance of winning it was necessary to have innovative ideas, top quality sails materials, forefront equipment and a crew experienced in that specific kind of regatta with direct match between two boats at a time. We were asked to design part of the on board equipment that would help the tactician and the helmsman to find the solution to one of the biggest problems on board: communicating the boat’s position in respect to the “lay-line”. This becomes particularly important when sailing close to the wind, when the buoy that the boat is aiming for is in the wind’s direction. It is important to choose the right angle so that the speed of the boat towards the buoy (VMG:Velocity Made Good) is the most effective. This angle is a characteristic of the boat, but it also depends on many factors such as wind speed. At this pace there are two imaginary theoretical lines, called lay lines.They both start from the buoy representing the final bowline and point towards the area of the regatta, on the side where the boats are sailing. It is strategically necessary that each boat remains within the limits of this angle, otherwise its route is not optimized. In practice, once the boat has hit the lay line it can subsequently reach the buoy without tacking, since its direction is the same of the ideal angle traced by the wind’s direction. It is important to remind the younger generation that back then we did not have laptops, and in any case it wouldn’t have been possible to take them on board a boat designed for regattas. Below deck, there was only room for the sails and for supply equipment. Neither was there GPS satellite technology to locate the boat in respect to the buoy. The area around Newport, like the greater part of the Mediterranean, was served by a positioning system, called Loran C, based on radio signals transmitted by on-land stations. With the right equipment, it was possible to weigh up the situation with a precision of about ten meters and an updating frequency of over one minute. On the other hand the standard equipment was already very sophisticated. Technology allowed for sensors for wind measurement, the boat’s velocity, and even for the
1984-1988: Histria Bianca, the boat following Histria Rossa which preceded Histria Almagores
inclination of the boat and the measurement of the various adjustments on board. A couple of companies built instruments that assured all of this information with reliability and precision, and one of these was B&G, a base at Lymington, opposite the Isle of Wight. It was necessary to start from here in order to understand what could possibly be done. This is where we were when the story of the America’s Cup began for us.” 1982 – Azzurra and Aethra Ennio Angeloni continues, “We came back from our meeting with B&G with information on how to come up with unprocessed navigation data from the equipment on board. This information needed to be defined in order to provide, at least theoretically, an advanced support for whoever had to decide the tactics during the regatta. The crew’s training in Italy would have supplied a considerable amount of data concerning Azzurra’s performance in various wind conditions and depending on the adjustments made to the equipment on board.This would have allowed us to learn the characteristics of the boat better, so that we could draw up the calculations of the lay line reliably. There was also the hope that we could provide the
1989-2004: the sailing boat Almagores, that Giulio renamed Histria Almagores
fundamentally skeptical sailors with objective checks of the best way to conduct the boat. These sessions of telemetry were made possible by installing a modem on board. This had been specifically built, connected to the core of the instruments on one side, and the audio of a transmitter on marine band on the other. On land, the receiver demodulated the digital signal and transmitted it to a computer to register data such as velocity and wind direction, speed of the boat, adjustment of the mast,
sails, and rudders. The idea of registering data utilizing telemetry proved to be good and reliable, but there was not sufficient time to complete it and obtain practical results from it.” 1983 – Newport “In 1983, the cup was still in the hands of the New York Club”, continues Ennio, “but since 1930 the area of the regatta was now the bay in front of Newport, in the state of Rhode Island, a vacation spot for the rich families of New York and Boston. In June, Azzurra arrived in Newport, followed by a crew of young sailors guided by the skipper Cino Ricci. Shortly after, the famous “computer” arrived ready to be installed on board. Italy was no less technologically equipped than the other contesting associations and certainly no less than the super technological American defenders. The computer consisted of a container with a microprocessor board, a program written in basic, a keyboard to register the data about the position of the buoys, some alphanumeric LCD displays (colored graphic displays still didn’t exist), an interface towards the B&G equipment and another for the Loran-C receiver.The program was perfected during the preliminary phase of practice, when the level of excitement had not yet reached its limit. In the end there was not even time to prepare a draft of a calculation of the famous lay lines or to have an idea of the level of accuracy that could have been reached with what means were available. Not even the Americans reached an acceptable reliability, so much so that the Cup was won by the Australians. Just the same, in Newport there were some peculiar episodes, like that of a failure of the interface board with the equipment. The failure was discovered, and, very fortunately, the chip was found in a tiny electronic components shop in Newport and substituted with a welder directly on board the Azzurra. We can’t say whether this was talent or good luck. Just for the record, Azzurra performed with dignity, considering that this was the first experience for an Italian team, and the preliminary heat among the contestants was won by Australia II.After more than a century the Australians had managed to wrench the Cup from the New York Club. The dominating theme of this whole contest was the mysterious keel of Australia II, hidden from everyone’s view by tarpaulins all around the boat, even when it was raised from the water in the port for its normal daily maintenance. In the end, it was discovered that two wings had been attached to the bulb to give hydrodynamic thrusts during certain paces.”
1984-1987 Italy and Aethra Giulio Viezzoli, expert sailor and electronic engineer, knew that on a boat the right equipment could make the difference and give the right contribution needed to make the best decision. He studied and designed a system for data communication between the regatta boat and the support boat with the help of his collaborators, amongst whom was Mauro D’Auria. He interfaced all the data coming from the sensors of the boat to the computer on board, opportunely delivering to the navigator all the information useful for the skipper so he could optimize the choice of the boards. In December 1984, Giulio decided to sponsor America’s Cup again, this time for the 1987 competition. He supplied all the equipment, systems, and a full-time technician for assistance. He appointed Mauro D’Auria. Aethra managed the supplies, the installation and the functioning of all the equipment and of the computer on board - a workstation Hewlett-Packard 200 series. In this way, innovative solutions were made so that a normal office computer could function on a boat where copious amounts of water could arrive any moment. Mauro D’Auria explains “They were not like the current computers, that are also portable, but large calculators with separate hard disks and cpu’s and with cathode ray valve monitors of dimensions certainly not designed to be used on a sailboat in a regatta. The support boat, utilizing data transmission in “telemetry” received information in real time that was gathered by an lcl minicomputer with a high-resolution, up to 1280x1024 points per inch, a graphic processor that gave the highest level performance of the time. The data gathered was analyzed the next morning by the entire crew, who were then able to optimize their own maneuvers in virtue of the boat’s performance. The equipment on board was supplied by Ockam in Milford (USA) who had some expert sailors among their personnel. Furthermore, some very powerful software for the analysis of the regattas was available, still widely used today. The real problem, however, lay in how to make all the equipment fully water-proof. The days really were very long.The wake-up call was at 6.30 in the morning and we never made it back to base before 7.30 pm.” 1985. Italy and Aethra-Sardinia. Mauro continues “Between March and June of 1985, the team of “Italia”, (the name of the Italian Consortium’s boat that took part in the America’s Cup, and which
Since 2005: Elisabetta, the small sailing boat which carries the name of Giulio’s wife
was antagonist to the Azzurra of the Costa Smeralda Yacht Club) practiced off the coasts of California near Long Beach. From the English the Italian union had bought the Victory 83 boat that won the world championships at Porto Cervo in Sardinia. Black Magic, belonging to one of the US trade unions, acted as the pacemaker. At the helm was Rod Davis, who had won numerous Olympic gold medals.The skipper of ‘Italia’ was Lorenzo Bortolotti, and at the helm there was Flavio Scala. They went out on the sea everyday, resting only for four days out of the three months, to gather as much data as possible in every wind and sea condition. The data was repeatedly analyzed and verified before being stored in the cpu of the on board computer, and so became the reference criteria to reach, or if possible to improve on, during the regattas. Occasionally Lowell North, the owner of North Sail (the sail factory that still today furnishes all boats participating in the America’s Cup), took part in the training, and gave his contribution to the team measuring the efficiency of the sails thanks to the pressure sensors of his invention, installed on Randa and Genoa. Remember that at the time it was not possible to simulate all the conditions, so it was necessary to gather data directly on the field. During the period between June and October in 1985, the craft “Italia”, constructed totally of aluminum and designed by the Giorgio-Magrini technical office, was
launched at Genoa and transferred to Porto Rotondo in Sardinia, where practice with the pacemaker boat Victory 83 started. Giulio was there in person to follow the startup and the launch day coincided with his birthday, 2nd August. Giulio also attended the reunions that included the skipper of “Italia” Lorenzo Bortolotti, the helmsman Flavio Scala and navigator Matteo Plazzi, giving his contribution which resulted from his extensive experience as a sailor. The “Italia” boat did not seem to meet the team’s expectations, so in the Intermarine shipyard in Lerici, the construction of “Italia II” started. Like its predecessor this boat was built in aluminum, designed by Mike Trimming.” 1986. Italy and Aethra-Australia. Mario D’Auria recalls “Between November 1985 and May 1986, the team of “Italia” was transferred to Fremantle where preparations began for the two crafts to confront each other so that they could choose the better one. Again, Aethra supplied all the equipment on board and all the components of information technology. The important work of gathering data and then analyzing it, a task made possible
thanks to Aethra’s technology, allowed them to make the definite choice between June and December 1986. “Italia I” was chosen to be the craft of the Italian Consortium. In the preliminary regatta of the Louis Vuitton Cup the boat came in in 7th place.This was a respectable result for a team participating for the first time in the competition. Unfortunately, even the more titled cousins of Azzurra’s team did no better, hitting twelfth place. What the Aethra engineers succeeded in doing at the time by bringing computer and telecommunication technologies on board an America’s Cup boat had somewhat of a pioneering spirit about it. The sailors of those years still looked skeptically at the introduction of equipment so sophisticated and delicate, designed for uses so different, and thanks to Aethra the Italian boats were the best equipped. Today the situation has changed a lot. The modern craft of the ACC (America’s Cup Class) are all equipped with instruments and sensors that gather detailed information from the boat , the sails and the structure. They are also equipped with bidirectional telemetry which permits live dialog between the two boats that simulate a regatta. Furthermore, they have at least two computers on board and the navigator has a palmtop computer or a pulse computer so that he constantly has under control all the data and information detected in real time. Only two limits remain, and these are not of a technological nature, but imposed by the regulations during the official regattas: the impossibility to use radar and to communicate outside of the boat.” “This experience “remembers Giulio“ was also very interesting for me to realize how a high and complex technology for sailing navigation is able to demonstrate yet again how the sea and the wind can lead to extremely complex analysis and developments: Per aspera ad astra!”
P (Phase 1 – The Founding - 1972-1997)
Roma, 1997 – Giulio with the ex-president of the Republic, Hon. Oscar Luigi Scalfaro
Fortune smiles on the audacious (Virgil)
n 1971 collaboration with Farfisa came to an end. Giulio took his first steps, together with Elisabetta and other colleagues, towards the birth of Aethra. In Greek mythology Aethra is the name of the mother of the Greek hero, Theseus, who had seven sisters, Ambrosia, Eudora, Pasitoe, Coronide, Polisso, Fileto and Dione who were transformed into stars, the Greek Hyades, by Zeus. For Giulio, Aethra represents the name of a magnificent sailboat that was one of his greatest desires as a skipper. “Initially there were about ten of us technicians designing projects that were then carried out by local companies. The necessity of having a flexible network business was motivated by the fact that we did not have a commercial or a marketing structure. Therefore we were not able to manage the programming of products. Likewise, it was still impossible for us to plan the projects since we did not know when the first orders would arrive”. Giulio explains. In the group there were recently graduated industrial experts, some of Giulio’s colleagues, and a newly graduated Engineer named Maurizio Giammarchi who has never left the company he helped so much develop. Today Maurizio is in charge of Engineering activities and sits on the Board of Directors. Maurizio Giammarchi narrates his experience with Aethra in the world of telecommunications: “When I met Engineer Giulio Viezzoli, I had only graduated in Engineering two months earlier from the Polytechnic in Milan. For a few weeks at the
beginning of summer in 1974, I visited his young company to carry out a small project. I had the opportunity to meet the people who worked with the Engineer, and moreover, the Engineer himself (we’ve always called him this, with a capital E), who was always ready to give suggestions and advice. He used to say that, even if the company was still small, he wanted to begin designing and planning on his own, because doing things for others did not allow you to learn enough to grow and build a future. We separated at the end of July, when I had to leave to do compulsory military service, with the understanding that upon my return I would begin working for him. This is how I began my experience at Aethra in September 1975. It was a favorable time. Many industrial and utility companies were beginning a process of computerization and the need for new apparatus to connect calculators and terminals through telephone lines (Data Transmission) was opening a wave of development in the telecommunications sector, after a century of substantial immobility.Technology was improving (even though compared with today’s it seemed primitive), allowing companies, even small ones like Aethra, to achieve interesting
results by the end of the 70’s, both from a technological and sales point of view. They began to study products such as “Systems”, capable of interacting with the surrounding world with a flexibility and a capability of adaptation which until then had been unthinkable. Another interesting aspect that was to our advantage at the time (even though during the following years it proved to penalize us) was that the commercial activity was limited to our connections with the then SIP (later Telecom Italia in 1994), while there were very few direct relations with the final client for designs and personalized apparatus. Aethra therefore grew well from a technological and productive point of view, but with little visibility and no presence on the international market. At the beginning it really was stimulating. In Italy there were very few of us who developed projects with microprocessors. At the time these were rudimentary devices, but already revolutionizing the way of conceiving products and defining their performance. The first products that I managed directly were Instruments and Systems of measurement, where we gained experience facing the problems of telephone lines and systems of Data Transmission. This was certainly an excellent schooling. In the meantime, the Design group was growing, with the addition of new forces. In time, the results of our projects started to become important, and then fundamental for the company’s sales revenue.The contribution of experience and professional growth depending on the contracts with the Italian Telecommunications Company was a deciding factor. In this sector in Italy, up until the mid 90’s, there were organizations of absolute excellence at a global level operating.There were many opportunities for collaboration both on a personal level and a company level. For all of us these represented a “treasure” in terms of the development of technological culture and work organization. Over the years this proved to be absolutely fundamental. In particular I remember the experience of a big project developed together with Telettra at the end of the 80s (a true world leader in Telecommunications before FIAT sold it in 1990 to Alcatel, who couldn’t believe their luck at this opportunity and deprived our country of such a reality). Apart from the honor we felt working together with designers in Vimercate (Milan), this job really brought our designers to a turning point. We learnt a lot and most of all we realized what it really meant to design and produce Transmission Systems which are expected to be continuously functional, hour after hour, sometimes for years, and for which reliability and resistance are essential characteristics. Besides the bigger companies, a network of smaller (but not less prepared) ones was developing. Of course, these companies were competitors, but nonetheless they
collaborated as they shared the enthusiasm of working in a field full of expectations and were probably still unaware of the difficult conditions that the market would experience by the end of the 90’s. As time went by, new technology was being discovered.While in Aethra the first steps were being taken in the field of Audio-conference and Video-communication, people were starting to talk about a mass use of Numeric Transmission Technology, which until then had been extremely expensive and so reserved for the big companies. ISDN, at the time an absolute novelty, was probably the first technology to be conceived and developed in ‘European’ terms for the residential market. It certainly was not difficult to convince Engineer Viezzoli to take the risk. Starting from scratch we enthusiastically designed some good products in one or two years. At that time our collaboration with the Centro Studi Telecom Italia (CSELT, currently Telecom Italia Lab) in Turin was fundamental. With them we managed to make a relationship based on the fact that we respected one another, and, despite all the changes that have occurred since then, this collaboration has always continued. In fact, due to a series of circumstances, we ended up being the driver for the development of a device (the NT1 PLUS) which became a milestone in our history. Having agreed with the CSELT on the characteristics of this device, it became our main product.Thanks to the hard and committed work of the whole team, and having corrected some initial mistakes that had been made, the NT1 Plus was recognized as the one product that could be considered the most functional and reliable. This device was essential for us for two reasons. We learnt to deal with mass production, and we had a product suitable to sell abroad once the idea of the device had been accepted in the different countries. Our first foreign buyer was Spain, then Belgium (where we had great difficulties in convincing a northern European buyer that a small Italian company without references could be reliable; we were afterwards awarded ‘best supplier of the year’ for two or three years running) and then Finland, Denmark, South America and the Eastern European countries, which started to develop after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We consequently began to successfully compete with famous companies and brands with international experience. However, a great change that caused radical transformations for us and for many other Italian companies was just around the corner. In 2000 Telecom Italia was privatized (even if the State monopoly had not yet been fully over turned). In the space of a few months technical and market relationships with companies such as Aethra were completely modified, and even though we might have had a collaboration with Telecom Italia for decades, purchase volumes were drastically reduced in some cases.
It turned out to be crucial for us to have started selling abroad. If we had not started, we would have ended up like many other Italian companies, which disappeared in a matter of years, or became sales and distribution companies, practically giving up on design and production. Those years were really very hard. Many of the people we had frequent contacts with were out of the picture, changing jobs or companies. It seemed as though the common network of relationships and acquaintances had suddenly become useless, and that an immediate profit was to be sought with very little attention to continuity, quality and future developments. The same road (if not a worse one) was followed by the newly born providers who were mostly imitating the old provider’s steps, showing very little ability in differentiating and therefore not managing to succeed. Many of the choices we made in that period proved to be at least partially correct and we became more aware of the fact that the presence of flexible and active
businesses like Aethra was a real competitive incentive for other challengers. From a technological point of view, another revolution was about to take place. This revolution was the use of broad band which allowed people to use more and more advanced contents on the Internet from their homes.We took part in meetings where the characteristics of these transmission systems were defined, hence becoming members and actively participating in sessions of the international standardization boards. At the same time, competition started to arise from the Far East, which rapidly occupied the market of mass production Having tried to compete on the broad band residential market, Aethra chose a different direction, making the most of its experience, product quality, and the support it could offer its partners. At the beginning of the millennium we began producing devices which, using the most recent broad band technology (ADSL,ShDSL, VDSL), were designed for “professional” users. In developing these products, renewed contacts and relationships with Italian and European telecommunications providers were crucial after the interruption that had occurred in the previous years. We did not lose hope and, although we had very little experience with this technology, we called new designers to join our team and managed to create a line of products which still plays a major role in our economy. This was definitely a successful decision, since this market niche has begun developing in the past five to six years, thanks to the so-called “convergence”, i.e. the unification of the Data, Audio and Video Transmission, which has spread throughout the whole world of professional use in small medium businesses. Even though it does not have the volumes of the mass home-supply market, this sector is very interesting both for its specialization and for certain entrance barriers that keep it less “crowded” and not as accessible to competition coming from the Far East.” In 1971 and 1972 Italy began to bring into effect the first Data Transmissions. It was a moment of significant change for the world of Telecommunications, where during the previous one hundred years there had only been Telephony and Telegraphy. Giulio and his small group of technicians looked to the future and decided to work on the development of an innovative device, a tester, that allowed the efficiency and the capacity of lines for Data Transmission to be measured. This choice proved to be positively strategic not only because the market requested this type of device, but also because the team concentrating on this kind of technology began to study, know, and understand the complexity of data transmission and so also began acquiring a very high level of
competence.“It was an emerging field and well suited for a company the size of Aethra at that time.The first product was an immediate success on the market. The first clients were the companies that installed infrastructures, and Sip (the state national telecom company).” Giulio remembers. Aethra moved forward in the wind, business was good and the group came up with new data apparatus for the analogical networks. In brief, the innovative capability expressed by Giulio’s group was the reference point for the consolidation of commercial relations with the national telephone company, which possessed the market’s monopoly. Sip, this was the name of the Italian Company for Telecommunications until 1994 (an acronym of the Hydroelectric Company of Piedmont, that later became the Italian Company for the management of telephone communication, and then the Italian Company for the Management of Telecommunications) became its main client. Also the name Aethra proved to be a wise choice simply because of its place in the alphabet. “We soon noticed that in whatever event we took part, Aethra was always on the top of the list.” recalls Giulio. With the amount of work and number of products increasing it was also necessary to expand the company in terms of personnel and ability. Right from the beginning the Research and Development department was fundamental to Aethra’s economy, not only because Giulio has research and development in his DNA, but mostly because it was vital to concentrate on technology for analogical transmission lines, which, at that time, operated at one or maximum two kilobits a second. In addition to the advent of the data transmission era, two other events concurred towards the development of Aethra, officially established in December 1972. One was the reconstruction of Ancona after the earthquake that hit the area in 1972. This terrible earthquake reached the 10th degree of the Mercalli scale and caused enormous damage to all the buildings and infrastructures, but fortunately caused few victims. The Italian government allocated funds for the reconstruction of the city and the emerging company Aethra also received compensation funds for damages caused by the quake. The third element that contributed to the enrichment of the fertile soil where Aethra set its roots coincided with the birth of the Faculty of Electronic Engineering at the University of Ancona, between 1969 and 1970. For Aethra this did not only mean having a source of engineering talent at hand to insert into the company, but it also found itself as a high-tech company in a culturally fertile environment open to innovation.
These are three coincidences that Giulio recalls and narrates when he speaks about the origin of Aethra to underline how initiative, vision, intuition, and will power must also be accompanied by a favorable wind in order to sustain a new enterprise so that it can grow and be successful.“Young people with talent were not hard to find, but back then there were other important companies in the area, in particular Merloni, that were hunting for new talent”. The decisive element was, however, the “skipper’s” intuition of knowing to read the signs which indicated how the Telecommunications was quickly moving towards a new season of development to coincide with the rapid expansion of Data Transmission. So in 1976 Aethra settled for good, fixing its headquarters in Collemarino, an area situated north of the center of Ancona and where it still is today. Over the years the company headquarters have grown, expanding from the initial five thousand square meters to the present thirteen thousand square meters. Maurizio continues to explain “Till that moment Giulio and Elisabetta’s company had been focusing on the development and production of equipment and apparatus that satisfied the requests of the first Data Transmission clients, mainly linked to the industrial and financial world”. Nonetheless, as early as the beginning of the 80’s, the idea of developing applications able to offer new possibilities began to emerge. They began to imagine the transmission of images because, as Giulio says “we wanted to invent something that would not only bring an advantage to Industry and Finance but also to Mankind.” The conviction that innovation is only innovation if it brings advantages to everyone started to take form. Maurizio explains that “the first experiments were made defining a system conceived to be utilized in the medical sector for transmitting X-ray images. This an operation that only appeared to be simple. Although the images are only in black and white, there is an infinity of shades of gray between the two colors. In order to obtain decent quality, having only analogical technology lines of the time, it took about an hour and a quarter to transmit X-ray images, an infinite lapse of time in comparison to the few seconds necessary today, even in High Definition.” “The fourth element for Aethra’s growth ”says Giulio“was introduced in 1992 when we hired fifteen graduates coming from the research group Isequi, coordinated by two engineers, Roberto Flaiani and Claudio Panini”. This was right at the moment when Giulio needed to increase the Research and Development team in order to develop the production of videocommunication devices for British Telecom, a market which had been left open in order to confront other technological areas.
Reflecting on the fourth element, Engineer Roberto Flaiani, head of the strategic Marketing office, says, “During the second half of the 80’s international standardization boards began defining a new network for telecommunications, having as its objective the creation of a digital device able to transmit simultaneously data and voice. Up until then, voice and data used different networks, and data transmission was therefore subdivided into a whole host of implementation properties. By the beginning of the 90’s the work consisting of the definition of the new network, called ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), had reached an acceptable level of perfection. Many telecommunications providers were moving towards a transition from the traditional analogical network to the digital network. In the same way research in the field of video signal compression had begun to bring forward the possibility of transmitting video in real time, with some concessions in terms of quality, even using only the very limited band available, a 128 kilobits a second delivered by an access base (BRI) ISDN. Many believed that the “killer application” for the emerging ISDN would have been exactly that of the Videoconference. Now there were the conditions for a great opportunity in the field of video communication and a new market to explore without the presence of consolidated players. Thanks to the collaboration with CSELT and British Telecom, Aethra began to take its first steps in this sector, without however possessing the experience and the crucial bulk necessary to succeed in taking off and creating the foundations for a new business. Once again, destiny presented itself with a friendly face. In 1992, a consortium called Iselqui, which had been created to enhance industrial research and technological transfer, had financial difficulties and was forced to reorganize. On its staff there were many technicians highly skilled in the elaboration of audio/video, due to their work on
1989: Ciclope, the fist video telephone created by Aethra
1990: Multimedia Workstation, the first Aethra system for group video-communication
important European research projects. Here is how it was that a consistent group of design and planning was ready to enter Aethra, perfecting in a brief time a technological platform that allowed the company to occupy a leading role in the market of Video communication for the following fifteen years. History gives and takes according to mysterious designs. Looking back at the facts, it is possible to see that the ISDN network only had wide success in Europe, and when conceived it was unthinkable as an application. IDSN gave access to the Internet at a speed superior to that permitted by the analogue network and at the same time leaving a network free to access for telephony. Today it is being dismantled in many countries, pushed aside by the package networks and by the technology for xDSL access. Of all the pioneers who ventured out in video-communication since the end of the 80’s, nowadays only two companies remain, Aethra and Tandberg. Fifteen years of technological evolution supplied video-communications with continuously improving performance in terms of quality, with the introduction of HighDefinition before it became common use in television. But video-conference was still confined to the working area, without ever succeeding in entering family habits.” Giulio and Elisabetta also had a vision of a services section for telecommunications, and they assigned the task to Engineer Luigi Astorri, Director of Aethra.net: “Aethra, like any other producer of high technology apparatus, had long created a help desk division supplying technical assistance for business clients who utilized apparatus for video-communication. It was the 90’s, and the market of Video communication, essentially only national, was the absolute dominion of Telecom Italia. The help desk division, therefore, operated under the name of, and for, the national telephone operator that commercialized the apparatus under its own brand name.The explosion in ISDN technology, having video-conference as its killer application, gave way in 1996 to the idea of incrementing traffic on the network and therefore increasing the opportunity for business by activating a functionality of multi-video-conference for the clientele which already had videocommunication apparatus. The help desk division, afterwards, changed its name to Service Center just to give emphasis to this new opportunity. In effect, the impossibility to operate directly with one’s own brand name on the national market (Telecom was the exclusive channel for the products) was not directly applicable to the world of services and, therefore, Aethra began to move directly towards certain important clients. Success was immediate and the key words were “quality”, “flexibility”, and “customer care”.
The Audio-Conference service, albeit with older origins, was following a parallel path. The first attempts went as far back as the reselling of the service Genesys in 1992 and the activation of the first audio link of 90 telephone lines in Rome. Two years later, in 1994, Aethra got its first important clients, Benetton and IBM, expanding the capacity of the audio links. Telecom initially did not believe much in the service of audio conference and, in fact, only began to move forwards in 1997. In theory, starting in the same year, the service Pergaso Audio became a competing firm of Aethra even if realistically it wasn’t the case. The CAN (National Center of Assistance) that ran Pergaso was colossal and was not capable of offering the levels of flexibility and customer care characteristic of Aethra’s Service Center. The market immediately sensed this difference and put an order to this competition. Pergaso was chosen for a more economic but rigid service, Aethra for flexibility and quality. Quality and customer care also meant supplying efficient equipment for the management of customer’s own needs for service. This led to the creation of “My Telereunion ™”, the first portal on the web. It gave clients the possibility to book services and control the progress of use. “My Telereunion ™”, or simply MyTele for those in the know, contributed in increasing the diversification of Pergaso considering that Telecom had never activated a similar instrument and continued to manage bookings by fax and telephone. These two services built the supporting foundation of the Service Center that expanded in any case in the following years, extending its own offer through web conferencing, video streaming, the leasing of equipped meeting rooms throughout the world and the organization and management of special events.” During this phase of Aethra the structural organization appeared somewhat simplified due to the absence of a marketing and commercial structure.Telecom Italia managed all the marketing and commercial areas given the status of their monopoly.Therefore in this first phase of Aethra’s development, these functions were covered by the then Telecom. But envisioning the end of the monopoly in 1998, Giulio decided to begin the study of a development necessary to Aethra on an international level.
and its applications
With the telephone and TV, it is not so much the message, but the sender that is transmitted Marshall McLuhan
n the spring of 1988 one of Giulio’s friends, an English engineer in charge of a group of research and development who worked with British Telecom, invited him to England to show him a new application that they were working on in their laboratories. Giulio had known this engineer since Aethra had begun attending international conventions and meetings where the discussions were about the standard of technologies, regulations and future applications. “Attending these meetings proved to be extremely important for us because they allowed us to learn the lines of development in the sector and so permitted us to make the right choices for our future.” Giulio flew to London and had his first encounter with video-communication. “They were systems that utilized analogical lines but were already quite efficient and marketable.” As a result Aethra began importing British Telecom videocommunication systems to Italy. “I would never have thought of getting involved in video-communication, but in British Telecom’s proposal I saw an excellent opportunity for Aethra and decided to consider that technology.” For about three years, from 1989 to 1992, business continued. Aethra adapted the devices, improving them, and moreover, enhancing the design. Unfortunately, later British Telecom decided to radically change its strategy and to abandon the business of video-communication, assigning instead new and different jobs to the group of research headed by the engineer who had first revealed to Giulio the emerging
technologies of video-communication. “One day in 1992, my friend at British Telecom phoned to tell me that the group he had directed would be employed in other activities and that video-communication was going to be dropped. At this point we decided to go on alone, continuing our own path.” Aethra’s staff believed in that project. Having distributed British Telecom’s products, they had also developed considerable technical and technological skill, and so they decided to create a laboratory with the mission of making a new product for video-communication.“It was not an easy decision to make because at that time the distribution of British Telecom’s products counted for no more than 15% of our total revenue. It was only a niche product, but we were convinced of the market potential.” Once again the heavens were smiling on Aethra, as they had done since its birth. In1992 Iselqui, a local company in Ancona specialized in development, suddenly closed, stranding a group of young graduates. This group had been guided by two engineers, Roberto Flaiani and Claudio Panini, who had the appropriate technical and technological skills to dedicate themselves to the transmission for video-communication. By employing them Aethra reinforced its team, concentrating this group of fresh graduates on the development of video-communication starting from the experience and knowledge that the company had acquired up to that moment.“For us time was especially important because we did not want the market to sense a discontinuity, it was fundamental for us to succeed in presenting the first product within the year 1993, and we did.”
1993: FormulaUno, one of Aethra’s first rollabout systems
1994: Giugiaro design, Maia videophone with 6” LCD screen
The first “made in Aethra” devices for video-communication were ready for the market around the end of 1993 and the beginning of 1994. In 1994, Sip was
Aethra’s major client and at that time it held the state monopoly in the national telecommunication market. “Essentially, Sip was our only client, accounting for over 90% of our revenue, with the rest coming from other clients and from multinational companies that purchased our systems in order to connect their different branches”. In the fifteen years from 1976, when Aethra established itself in its headquarters at Collemarino, to 1994, the number of employees in the company doubled from 80 to 160 people.The video-communication business was growing. In 1997 it was already worth 30 million lire, a sum that represented about 25% of the total revenue. Even though the principal client was still SIP, the results began to confirm the validity of Giulio and his collaborators’ choices taken five years
1995: Electra, Aethra's first rollabout system with integrated MCU
1997: Voyager, Aethra's first portable videocommunication system
earlier betting on technology and on the applications of video-communication. There was however still a long way to go.They began moreover to analyze the potential of business, of growth, and of a scenario created by the prospect that the imminent liberalization in the field of data telecommunication was promising to bring with it. Claudio Panini, Research & Development Manager, talks of the growth of Video communication. “The scenario of market globalization and more and more heated competition meant that companies were under constant pressure to research ways to recover productivity. From this came various tendencies, such as that of decentralizing decisional processes, creating a distributed organization and the so called “virtualization”. Companies looked for more efficient dimensions through the management of outsourcing many activities and the functional integration with partner networks. A modern company must look abroad, capitalizing all the
Electra, High Definition technology and Made in Italy design, exclusively for Aethra by Michele De Lucchi
opportunities and resources to enlarge its portfolio of products and services as well as getting as close as possible to its own markets, in order to be able to offer a personalized service and to create a lasting relationship. Today more than ever progress depends on communication. It’s no longer possible that a group of designers in different geographical locations can come together for ‘face to face’ meetings, not only for economic reasons, because of the costs associated with travelling, but most of all because of time. Beating the competition is always a matter of timely intervention and in traditional meetings most of the time is spent traveling, punctuality can be compromised by traffic or by transport problems, and it may occur that some crucial component may not be present. On the contrary, meetings using Video communication can be organized in the briefest time to respond to eventual emergencies.They tend to be prepared in a better manner, to be structured and so to be more efficient and briefer than physical meetings, and, given that it is easier to guarantee a wider participation, it is less probable that a key element will be missing or that the participants must spend further time in a second moment to brief the absentees. Physical transfers are always a cause of stress and risk, and they reduce the time we spend with our families.Today most developed countries have adopted a policy to stimulate working-from-home, with the prospect of less traffic, a reduction in pollution and making cities more liveable. Distance training is an instrument that can be used to bridge a gap that would otherwise be difficult to overcome in every geographical area at a disadvantage because of the lack of efficient services, of a system of advanced education or of a fertile industrial under layer that gives access to knowledge and the necessary skills for the activation of an economic activity. Then there are cases where Video communication integrated with Data Transmission is the only option. Just think of a patient who arrives in a decentralized emergency unit in a critical condition: without
the possibility of getting a precise diagnosis from a consultation with an expert in a different location, they risk being transferred to the wrong hospital. The scenarios described above, along with many others, are evidence of an acute need for the technology of video-communication. So we must ask ourselves to what level are we able to satisfy it today. Ideally, we would like a perfect “tele-presence”, the sensation of overcoming distance and a fully multi-sensory experience, yes artificial, but almost completely comparable to the real thing. The videocommunication of today is not far from this paradigm: it adds vision to vocal communication but loses its tri-dimensionality. Systems of video-conference with three-dimensional Video and ‘spaced’ audio are, however, object to research and not too far from a commercial distribution” (see appendix 2 on video-communication). Aethra is also about tele-medicine, as Roberto Fogliardi, strategic marketing specialist says: “In the last couple of decades the term tele-medicine has had various definitions, all of which have certain characteristics in common: the use of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) systems, the distance between users, the aim to guarantee a high-rate health care anywhere in any moment and at a reasonable cost. Aethra’s experience with tele-medicine dates back to the 80’s when analogical technology was in use. There was no problem transmitting black and white, but between black and white there are many shades of gray. That is the reason why sending X-rays used to take an hour and fifteen minutes, with the resolution being too mediocre and insufficient for the image to have any significant value. Only at the beginning of the 90’s did companies start to consider the possibility of using digital communication systems for social purposes and not only for business matters. First attempts were made trying to send digital radiological data, scanning old-style X-rays. It immediately became clear that dealing with complex data, like that of the human body, seemed a difficult perspective due to the insufficient transmission velocity of the time. However, over time Digital Freeways began to expand and Aethra continued experimenting, integrating biological data with video-communication. Aethra’s codec programs were initially integrated with true and real “Tele-consultation stations” (Eykona) so as to connect various specialists with one another. For example, a hemodynamics specialist and a heart surgeon can discuss in real-time whether a patient should undergo surgery or not. As the years went by, the costs of these new technologies dropped significantly and devices suitable for tele-home-care were starting to be designed. Unfortunately, year in year out, tele-home-care appeared to be very slow in picking up, mainly
because the greater part of house-patients are older people, who felt sceptical and
Beginning of the 90's, Eykona, tele-consulting station for tele-medicine
unable to use devices which are sometimes difficult to use without the help of a specialist. Video-communication in home-care, therefore, has a double purpose. On one hand it allows the doctors to see their patients and to guide them in the correct use of the medical equipment, and, on the other, it provides the patients and their family with both practical and psychological help. A simple video system, called “Telecomfort” has been presented as a device to help older people, making long-distancecare easier. The research and development of tele-medicine is a project that Aethra has never wanted to put to one side.” “Thanks to video-communication, Aethra can overcome linguistic barriers”, reports Engineer Loredana Taddei, chief software engineer. “The importance of communication and of the most reliable transmission of one’s thoughts and ideas is undeniable. Developing video-communication systems over the years,Aethra has helped people far away exchange their ideas and connect in an easier and more reliable way. In 2000 such a challenge became even more exciting when Aethra had the opportunity to participate in a European project The main objective of this project was to design a system with simultaneous translation, so that video-communication could be possible between people speaking different languages and of different nationality. In times when distance is no longer a problem, there continue to be linguistic barriers, thus limiting a natural exchange of information and the possibility to contribute to the solution of whatever type of problems. The project NeSpoLe (Negotiation through Spoken Language in E-commerce) lasted three years and involved some of the most important European Universities. It led to the creation of
software which, during video-communication, gives the simultaneous translation, based on the recognition of the concept in the whole, and not on the translation of the single word. This concept is then transformed into a new phrase in different language and reproduced by a voice-synthesizer. During the creation of the project, two particular situations underwent specific study. The first regarded tourism and involved an English, French or German client who wanted to book a trip through an Italian tourist agency. The two were connected by video-conference and, each speaking their own language, exchanged all the necessary information. The second situation of great use regarded a tourist with health problems in a foreign country. The hotel provided the guest with a video-communication system with simultaneous translation, so the guest had the possibility to contact a doctor and explain in their own language their symptoms and from the doctor, who spoke their own language, got indications to solve or better the illness. Also in this case, Aethra could not pass up the opportunity to enthusiastically take part in an initiative that with further development could contribute to the process of unification of the nations”. “The development of video-communication was regarded as an objective of priority in order to evolve the offer of our systems to an international level” Giulio illustrates.“It was a long, demanding path, but we successfully became one of the main players on the international market of video-communication.” Together with the use of videocommunication beyond video-conferencing, the development was studied for other applications which could bring advantages from the use of video image transmissions. Applications that include Tele-medicine, distance learning and video surveillance have also proven to be beneficial to develop particular services, which even today move Giulio. For example take the case of children confined to isolation in hospitals – thanks to video-conferencing they can remain in contact with their classmates and teachers. (See appendix 1 concerning the history and development of Aethra).
P (Phase 2 – 1998-2004)
When thunder strikes you can be certain that an idea has flashed Ippolito Nievo
n 1997 the revenue generated by Sip, now Telecom Italia, amounted to 94% of the total. However, the liberalization of this sector began to take shape on the horizon and above all the eventuality of internationalizing Aethra’s business began to be taken into consideration. “We had to decide whether to expand and develop, or whether to be absorbed by some multi-national company ready to enter Italy” Giulio states. “We analyzed the possibility of developing our international presence in order to prepare a plan of investments aimed at increasing the number of our collaborators, doubling our staff from 200 to 400, or as an alternative, reducing it by 40 people should it be necessary to resell imported foreign products in Italy.” It was decided to deal with the prospect of internationalization, and so Aethra with its products and technology was presented around the world, from South America to the Far East. It began in 1997 with 3% of the total revenue generated abroad, in 1998 it increased to 12%, and in 1999 to 26%, before reaching a 40% quota in 2000. “In order to confront the international market we needed a complete range of videocommunication products, but we also were aware of the fact that we were in line with other telecommunication producers and we were taking advantage of those in order to enter foreign markets.”
Research and Development Department, the heart of Aethra
The decision to aim at international markets proved to be farsighted and fundmental. From 2001 to 2002, after the change in administration of Telecom Italia, Aethra’s revenue from Telecom Italia reduced by 70%, making up for 35% of its total turnover. Aethra managed to diminish the negative effect thanks to the excellent results that it was obtaining from the international markets. The company faced the situation decisively and continued investing fervently in the development of video-communication, with about one hundred technicians working on this.This commitment permitted Aethra to become one of the most important players in the field of telecommunications. The level of growth in revenue from video-communication in 2004 led Aethra to be considered the fourth most important company at international level. In this way 2004 was considered the year that Phase 2 was fulfilled, and Phase 3 started, with the initiation of an administrative structure for the development of Aethra’s future. “It was precisely due to focusing our attention on expanding in international markets that we survived. Aethra reached an incredibly high level and was considered one of the most important companies in the world in Videocommunication systems. “Phase 2” ended with internationalization. Within
Aethra, people know that foresightedness, strategy, and timing are mandatory, but these alone are not enough.The quality of the products and the continuity in developing technology are indispensable. As Giulio says, “the time variable complicates the function that includes the variables of quality, costs and time. It is precisely the time variable that makes it a spinning function, and this situation can turn into an important opportunity that Aethra is seizing.” Although these years were incredibly complex for the company, they nevertheless bought great joy to the Viezzoli family. Marco, Giulio and Elisabetta’s second son, became a father. First Luca arrived in 2001, followed by Lorenzo in 2003. At the end of 2004, evaluating the results obtained that confirmed the reality of the company’s presence on the international market, phase 2 was concluded. “For us it was a test phase to see if we could be an international company. Therefore the company structure would have remained stable until we had the confirmation that we were ready for international markets. This started to happen in 2005, when an evolution of the structure was started.” Giulio underlines. Engineer Corrado Mazzoccato, Director of Operational Marketing, tells us about the start up of the company’s internationalization and Aethra’s introduction into the global market: “In 1995, even though it had reached considerable dimensions with more than 200 employees and a deeply-rooted presence in Italy (thanks also to its long-term activity of supplying various products and technology to Telecom Italia), Aethra was however a company with very few international ties (foreign revenue was less than 3%) and with only one important client. Engineer Viezzoli had already foreseen the liberalization of the Telecommunication sector and the consequent opening of the market.With great farsightedness he hired a small group of people with the immediate objective “of verifying the validity of the company in international markets.” For Aethra it was immediately clear that “internationalizing the company” meant several things: starting an activity for the commercialization of products and services for foreign countries; activating positions of presence and support for commercial clients and partners; gradually transferring production outside the country so as to locate it near clients to take advantage of local costs where these would be significantly less than the costs in our country.With all the enthusiasm of those facing an important goal, the initial team of four people dedicated to boosting export took part in trade fairs and international conventions, and developed promotional documentation and visibility on the Internet. It was not long before requests from
foreign companies wanting to commercialize video-communication products started to arrive. The market was basically dominated by two North-American producers. Furthermore, the complexity of the standards, and of audio and video coding technology, were creating a significant barrier to the entry of new producers. The difficulties were immediately obvious.Aethra had an unknown brand and a name that was hard to pronounce in English-speaking countries abroad. The products required a complete localization in terms of application interface and user documentation. Moreover, local approval was complicated. The partners with whom we launched our business were very quick to remind us all of our flaws for developing the local markets. In spite of these difficulties, success arrived fairly soon.There were product orders for foreign branches of Italian groups. Banks were the most interested in buying, but also a big car maker from Turin started to ask for a few systems in various foreign countries. However, we also suffered a few disappointments. An important project in Germany got blocked because our interface in German wasn’t perfect, and the same happened for several bids and big projects. The company failed to qualify for a big supply contract to an American car maker that wanted to install some hundreds of systems all over the world. It was clear that our geographical coverage was too small and we were hardly visible, having installed very few systems indeed and with almost no credentials. I remember one day, considering this negative scenario, Mr. Viezzoli called us to remind us the company was also operating in the Telecommunication field, and that the Videocommunication products were only a part of the catalogue. He was spurring us to start the market development for other technology too, in particular for the ISDN apparatus, for which the company had begun an interesting cooperation with Telecom Italia. Aethra was the only supplier of Network Terminations and Terminal Adapters. It developed and supplied Measuring tools for installers and had contributed decisively to the launch of the ISDN service in Italy, acquiring wide knowledge in the field. Mr. Viezzoli urged us to see if we could use our experience abroad, understanding that this was the way for us not to be de-motivated by our first frustrations. So we started a study, using also data coming from the European Union, with the aim to boost Telecommunications, and, most of all, the ISDN network.This study showed that in Europe there were two groups of nations running at two different speeds. On the one hand there was Germany, France, Spain and Italy, with a good level of installed systems, close to 10% of total lines and with growth rates between 20 and 30% ,
and, on the other hand, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Greece, lagging far behind. Central Europe was accelerating its economic development with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland being the new candidates in the enlargement of the EU, and who could not miss out on the new development of the ISDN networks. Furthermore,Telecommunication carriers, still in a monopoly, were receiving constant requests to develop the network. The driving factors of this were the installation of the second line for phone services in small companies and in the SOHO (Small Office Home Office) market to differentiate the business line from the domestic line, the second lines for Internet connections to keep the standard phone line free, and the fact that Internet speed was in fact better compared to an analogue modem and perceived as adequate for what was then necessary . Internet was in its early days and users didn’t require high performance. ADSL technologies were still in their experimental phase and the difficulties of installation and management emerged immediately, while ISDN was available and, as had been seen in Germany, had a success story to imitate. The Commission in charge for innovation in the European Community, supported by two big producers of commutation centers with the aim of facilitating the development of ISDN, launched many initiatives, including the GIIF (Global ISDN Industry Forum), a Forum of Telecom carriers and technology providers. Aethra was invited to participate from the beginning. We were on the executive committee and had an active role. We also organized events in Ancona. Furthermore the Forum promoted training days which were completely free for minor carriers who wanted to develop the network. During the courses Aethra’s equipment was used so as to start to make the company known out on the market. Our target was limited and aimed specifically at the operators of the second group who were lagging behind with ISDN technology. The preparation study on the market development wanted to analyse the attractiveness, based on data of the possible growth and investment drive of the local operator and also our ability to develop the market, evaluating the technical requirements and the way the standards were put in force. The objective was to define the necessary timing to supply the local market with the proper solution. We tried to analyze first the elements that differentiated our offer and the advantages that could make it interesting for local Telecom companies. It can certainly be said that the experience matured in Italy, where in different phases and in different regions we used different standards, allowing us to be ready and have the necessary skills.
Moreover, the completeness of Aethra’s offer, that included network terminations with all the possible configurations, terminal adapters for specific applications and, most of all, measuring tools, put us in a very favorable condition. The first target was Belgium. The local carrier, that wanted to accelerate the development, opened a bid for a few thousand lines to be installed within two years. Aethra qualified well on the technical part, with better characteristics than the already existing supplier, a big German Telecom company. It wasn’t long before we agreed on prices and general supply conditions and won the bid.The supply took off in an unexpected way. The figures that had been estimated for two years were absorbed in four months and we felt a high level of appreciation from the customer, who in turn benefited from high priority and quality. The Research & Development unit was continually improving our products with new features that repeatedly surprised our customers. For example, by doubling the resistance to lightning we solved a serious problem that otherwise would be very expensive for the subscriber in case of damage and substitution of the product. The Belgium carrier, part of a Telecom carrier that had a common financer, presented its experience with Aethra to other Telecom companies. From this we got other connections with the Danish and the Hungarian operators. Our business in Belgium was in full sail. They also asked us to supply their 400 installer technicians with our equipment and invited us to be part of a project with the State lottery. Also here we benefited from our experience in Italy with a similar project we had developed and where the requirements of reliability and solidity were fundamental. Shipments were increasing, we had become their number two supplier, behind the German multinational that, although cut out from the ISDN supplies, was clearly deep-rooted in Belgium. On the wave of our success in Belgium, the team working on internationalization developed parallel business in many countries.The success in South America deserves its own chapter. It was facilitated by the presence of Telecom Italia and the support of a local company where many Italians worked, allowing us to become the supplier for many operators in Chile and Argentina. Following the projects launched in Latin America, where Telefonica had a strong hold, the right conditions were formed to also do business in Spain with the same national operator. The products were being quickly adjusted to the local standards to let us participate in the many bids we were invited to and where we confronted the main suppliers.
In 1999 we took part in 44 bids held by telecom operators for ISDN and we won more than half. In 1998 our aim of developing international presence with the target of working with three new telecom countries every three months was achieved in three out of four quarterly periods. In the course of 1998 the demand for ISDN products was very high, stimulated by Internet applications and fostered by the strong economic growth of that time. The revenue leapfrogged between 1997 and 1998, thanks to the commercialization of the ISDN Telecommunication products abroad. In the meantime, the process of Internationalization was being consolidated and we were adding branches and offices abroad. Soon after we also launched a productive delocalization in South Africa, following the local government’s indications, and then in Poland, using a local workforce. In l998 we opened production in China in the electronic district of Shenzhen, where we also made marginal developments and projects for the local market. In 2000 a technological innovation began. ISDN was being replaced by ADSL technology. It was a gradual process and in some countries it was very slow but it allowed Aethra to maintain its presence in these markets while getting ready for the change in technology. Again Italy was the country where the company first tested its business, and later exported its products and knowledge abroad. A new drive towards internationalization came from the wide range of videocommunication products. In 2000 the market had a new expansion, supported by the availability of IP networks that provided new bandwidth for the applications at cheaper prices. The first successes arrived when a big prestigious project with the European Space Agency (ESA) chose Aethra after careful and detailed tests. Furthermore, Aethra completed its coverage with a widespread network of salespeople in Europe and, gradually, in other countries. Then there was also the opening of the Japanese market with a high-profile partner that quickly gained a 15% market share. This brought in a further improvement in quality in internal processes and in product stability”. At this point Mr. Viezzoli considered the test for the company on the foreign market successfully concluded. But being an expert sailor, he warned us of new storms we might have had to face in the turbulent seas of Telecommunication, always sensitive
to technological innovation and economic downturns.These would be also be difficult seas for a company the founder called Aethra, which stands for clear skies and open spaces, hence ideal for good navigation.
COVERAGE OF THE WORLD MARKET: MORE THAN 60 COUNTRIES
Aethra’s presence in the world
P (Phase 3 – 2005-infinity)
The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious Theodore Levitt Life has to be interpreted by History, but it has to be imagined with a vision of the future in constant evolution Giulio
ollowing plan, in March 2005 Aethra started it’s 3rd phase with a generational handing over of the reins, pushed forward by the results achieved in 2004 that defined the completion of the program of phase 2, or of international expansion, that had begun in 1998. According to the development plan, Giulio and Elisabetta’s second son Marco took over the management of the company as Chief Executive Officer. Giulio kept his position as President and continued working, actively dedicating his attention to the evolutions of short and long term technology that coincided primarily with high definition video-communication, along with the concept of tele-presence, with three-dimensional video-communication and network equipment for medium and high profile areas. Giulio says, “Closing 2006 with a positive financial result was a motivation to continue to invest, to support the acceleration of our business that requires quicker development, higher attention towards international markets, continuous growth of technology, and constant engagement on the road to innovation. We had to set up an investment plan to continue our development on the road so far traced out taking advantage of the results achieved up to now to introduce new developments and new applications”. The extension of the range of products for network access and on new projects in the field of services with Aethra.Net will integrate also the offer of devices. “With this vision, new areas of use are developing, also through the areas of
MNVO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) and IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) services”, states Giulio. After having dealt with “Phase 1” and “Phase 2”, which finished in 2004, Elisabetta and Giulio’s view developed into “Phase 3”, thanks to an organization dimensioned on the national and international markets: Aethra 3. The Aethra development project can be illustrated as follows:
“First Phase” – Aethra 1. Development of National Markets: 1972-1997 • TelecomITALIA – Monopoly • 1972: Beginning of Data Transmission Data Tester NTI – NTI + • 1989:Videocommunication with British Telecom • 1992: Aethra Videocommunication • 1997: total annual revenue of 88.412.000, 94% of which with TelecomITALIA, 3% in the National market and 3% in the International market. “Second Phase” – Aethra 2. Development of International Market. Revenue. A. Estimated analysis to obtain an aligned international presence of the necessary company framework. • 1998: total annual revenue of 80.167.000, 12% of which from the International Market • 1999: total annual revenue of 86.415.325, 24% of which from the International Market • 2000: total annual revenue of 77.594.532, 40% of which from the International Market • 2001: Management change of TelecomITALIA, total annual revenue of 66.358.973, 67.4% from the International Market. • 2002: total annual revenue of 72.556.823, 69.18% of which from the International Market • 2003: total annual revenue of 76.123.281, 54.64% of which from the International Market • 2004: total annual revenue of 70.954.440, 41.27% from the International Market “Phase A” positively completed with presence in more than 60 countries.
Yearly total revenue
100.000.000 90.000.000 80.000.000 70.000.000 60.000.000 50.000.000 40.000.000 30.000.000 20.000.000 10.000.000 2004 2005 2006 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2007
Phase 2A) Estimated analysis of internationalisation
Management change of Telecom Italia
Phase 2B) Organic development for the markets
B. Phase for the organic development required by the National and International Markets. • 2005: total annual revenue of 67.484.823, 46.87% of which from the International Market • 2006: total annual revenue of 83.837.179, 42.90% of which from the International Market • 2007: total annual revenue until December of 50.573.831, 50.67% of which from the International Market, with an estimate of about 75 million euro. “Third Phase Aethra 3”. Development programme for the company’s administrative body through a continuous view of the Value creation, as expected from 2005. Organization chart development 1. Ownership Committee 2. Board of Directors 3. Managing Director CEO a.Management of national and international external activities - Finance - Business b. Control of internal activities with the Chief Executive
c. CIO’s Activities d. Balanced Score Card and Enterprise Resource Planning Development 4. Chief Executive - Coordination of internal activities - Coordinator of BSC and ERP 5. Managers - In charge of their respective areas of the company’s activities - People from BSC and ERP who have weekly meetings B. Development of Aethra 3 Administrative Body BI. Introduction of BSC intended as the brain of the Administrative Body Some information about the 4 Perspectives I. Financial-Economic Perspective a. Company’s development phase through the research of investment b. Maintenance phase during which the company keeps attracting investment and at the same time ensuring that the rates of return on invested capital would increase. c. phase of investment gains made during the two previous phases 2. Market of the business areas Perspective a. Market share showing the sales volume b. Customer acquisition measuring the rate through which a specific business unit activates a customer. c. Building customer loyalty identifies the rate with which the company maintains customer relationships d. Customer satisfaction considers the customer satisfaction through specific performance criteria e. Customer profitability measures the gains coming from a customer after having subtracted all the outlays made to support them 3. Internal processes Perspective a. Production and services: delivering the products in sync with the f elaborate function (Q, C,T) b. Processes of after-sales service: customer satisfaction for the quality and the promptness c. Research and Development: creating new products, optimizing time, cost and quality d. Applied Research: proposals for development with a view of more than 3 years e. Analysis of new suggestions for the development of services: new and clear
suggestions of integrated systems together with the supply of apparatus. 4. Learning and Development Perspective a. Staff evaluation: measurement of productivity, loyalty and satisfaction, that may include: - Participation in decision-taking - Rewards for work performed professionally and promptly - Access to information necessary to allow good work performance - Bonuses to show creativity and initiative - Personnel support level - General satisfaction in being part of the company b. Staff retraining - Strategic retraining - General retraining - Skills increase c. Alignment of individual targets - Management targets from the top to the base - Communication towards the base - Financial-economic plan and target definition - Alignment of individual targets 5. Activities for the BSC development a. Connecting the measures of satisfaction sheets to the company strategy b. Development of the structure towards the company strategy c. Management of the company strategy d. Development of a strategic alignment from the top to the base INVESTMENT FORECASTS 2008-2010
AREA 1. Administration and Finance 2. Management control 3. Applied Research 4. R&D 5. Marketing 6. Sales 7. After-sales 8. Engineering 9. Purchasing Department 10. C.I.O. 11. Servizi Tel. 3 Year total First year Second year Third year TOTAL INVESTMENT (in thousands of euros) 1.200 750 1.950 8.500 2.100 4.700 968 1.020 210 2.500 1.900 25.798 8.798 8.500 8.500
e.Targets, allocation of resources, budget initiatives f. Feedback and the process of strategic deepening B2. Enterprise Resource Planning Introduction The acronym ERP shows integrated software for unitary management of the company’s processes - The expected improvements are: a) Ready information b) Information sharing c) Unambiguous information (from ERP Project by E.Buchi & M.Giammarchi. GSC 27/03/2007) B3 Investment forecasts 2008-2010 This programme of investment should be completed in 3 years to acquire
STAFF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
partners, software packages, and equipment for the different company areas.
B4 Proposal for the company Plan of the company’s organization chart suited to deal with the continuous acceleration of technological development and of national and international market development. Aethra 3 looks out for the future Video communication market evolution, moving towards a growth phase from the limited area of big users to the unlimited area of medium and small users’market.This happened in the past in the Telephone, Telegraphs and Transmission Data markets”. At this stage Elisabetta and Giulio’s view of AETHRA’S DEVELOPMENT ends. Elisabetta and Giulio say the following about the company’s future course: “We are currently living a very important period for the evolution of man who is finally coming out of the prehistoric times.This change coincides with a reversal in the importance of physical strength and intellectual strength, in favour of the latter. Up to now man has lived from the earth and the primary sources of nature, whereas now it is man who creates new raw material, directly influencing the development of nano-cells and atoms. This represents the characterising element of the evolutionary transition entirely based on knowledge. New nanotechnological issues are in the stage of development and they will have an impact on different areas of application and are constitutive features of nature itself. It is enough to think about nano-metals that are not extracted from mines but created in laboratories, or nano-cells specifically created to substitute diseased cells. Furthermore these nano-cells can also be used in industrial sectors, not only in medical sectors. We are at the beginning of a new era with new means to do things that are entirely new. There will be components, products, even colour tones that are still not imaginable today. For this reason it is difficult to foresee the future, even with the wildest of imaginations. It is unknown what will happen when man uses a greater percentage of intellectual wits which nowadays are not completely exploited. This is my view which supports evolution in the human mind. I can see that my children and grandchildren have a much livelier mind than previous generations. There are great differences between generations due to the fact that during their growth, youth continue to use their muscles less and their minds more. Looking to the future has always been motivating, and during my life is something that I have always done at sea. I have looked back at the past only to gain from my experiences, and to have a better sense for the future, constantly developing the
company, and above all increasing advanced research in the R & D department and suitable investment to maintain position in international trade. Engineer Roberto Flaiani, who leads Strategic Marketing at Aethra, tells us about the vision of the technological and application evolution in the future. “It’s always hard to speculate about the future and in technology it is even harder, because in this field we have seen more changes in the last twenty years than we ever saw before. Changes that once took decades and generations to happen, and could therefore be absorbed and assimilated, today are worn out in a few years’ time, creating bewilderment and worry. Aethra cannot avoid the turbulence of the world that surrounds it and since companies don’t have anything like a radar to provide them with complete certainty, all we can do is follow a course paying attention to some landmarks. Many articles have been written by experts saying that we live in the society of knowledge, whose distinctive characteristics are super-nationality, overcoming traditional cultural barriers and valuing of human capital. It’s not just by chance that on a European level the so-called “Lisbon strategy” requests that the European Union becomes “the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world based on knowledge, able to generate a sustainable economic growth with new and better jobs and a wider social cohesion”. In the society of knowledge the importance of physical, economical and social networks becomes more important and the question of cooperation is central. In a recent interview the chairman of Cisco Systems, John Chambers, affirmed that the industry should rapidly abandon a model based on hyper-competition and on short-term results that ends up destroying value and productive tissue in a country. Industry should move on to a more and more cooperative model and adopt the collaborative dynamics typical of the “social networks” that have developed on the Internet and that are hugely successful today. If these assumptions are correct the future of Aethra, a company which has been developing tools for cooperation and for the overcoming of transnational barriers for years, should be bright. Also a series of additional elements prompt us to feel optimistic. Day after day we, along with the experts, become more and more convinced that video will spread further, becoming part of every-day use at least in working environments. Once upon a time, the scarce availability of bandwidth made video transmission difficult. In the near future the massive investments in the new generation network (NGN) and in a higher penetration of optical fiber will also provide residential users
with a capacity of more than 50 Megabits per second. Once an obstacle, the network turns into an incentive towards the take-up of video, since carriers are the first to be interested in applications that rely on this capacity. On a parallel level, the technology of tele presence will make the naturalness and productivity of a distance meeting more and more similar to that of a physical meeting. This will allow the removal of many barriers that have traditionally limited the penetration of video-communication. Greater will be the belief that videoconferencing is a service that frees users from doing anything other than enter a meeting room. Today we are seeing the progressive decline of analogue telephones. Instead, new IP phones are emerging which are more functional and easy to use. In the near future IP phones will be gradually phased out by video-telephones, and personal visual communication will become part of every-day working life. Finally, we can imagine that in the future Video-communication will also become an element of the television experience. Today the interactive component is limited to on-line surveys or lotteries that rely mainly on the telephone, whether fixed or mobile, but in the coming years video-communication will be used more and more not only to engage the public on air, taking people inside the video as co-protagonists of a show, but also to create “clubs” where user groups can share comments and opinions”. Giulio followed the evolution of Aethra.net and in 2001 the Service Center presented such a solid offer that Aethra’s management decided to take the obvious step: spin off the unit from the company and make it an self-sufficient entity for service development called Aethra.net Srl. 2000-2006 essentially saw the consolidation of the business of Aethra.net. This was due to successful commercial deals, evolutions and technological updates, the migration towards Data networks based on IP and the evolution of the portal, that among other things, changed its name from MyTeleriunione to the more international MeetIn. Engineer Luigi Astorri talks about the evolution of the Service Center MeetIn and the new company vision. “In December 2006 Aethra.net was reabsorbed in Aethra Ltd. This seemingly contradictory move was guided by the observation that the market was becoming more and more developed and demanding. It still demanded devices but also, and more importantly, solutions which answer specific needs. In such a scenario, the sole offer of devices, even if of a very high level, was not believed sufficient to grant the development of the company. It was necessary to expand the offer with new solutions meant to be a mix of terminal apparatus,
infrastructure apparatus and operation and maintenance services. Thanks to the return of Aethra.net, Aethra became the only international producer that had a complete offer portfolio, from measuring and test tools to terminal apparatus, infrastructure apparatus and added-value services. Currently the brand Aethra.net is kept only for branding reasons and to avoid discontinuity on the market. The MeetIn services offered today are a technological evolution of the historical services. Finally, in the medium term interesting opportunities arose in the converging services, with the possibility of setting up conferences regardless of the technology available for each participant. In this case in this virtual environment users with a cell phone, a Videophone, a Pc connected to the Internet, or high-performance video-communication apparatus, can all meet. And all this regardless of networks and transmission technologies (internet, ISDN, satellite, UMTS, etc.). But the convergence challenge calls also for the development of vertical applications and services based on the integration of Mobile (UMTS) and Fixed (IP e ISDN) video-communication.This is certainly an unexplored market, but with great potential both for the Consumer and Business areas. For the latter, more suitable to Aethra’s capacities, Aethra.net’s Service Center is already analyzing and developing the first demonstration applications, such as infomobility services, that allow a driver equipped with a videophone to see what the traffic is like on the road he’s about to take. The main virtue of a sailor is to be able to look ahead to guess what the wind will do and, maybe, Aethra’s future could be focused on a growing service business and apparatus offer”. “How do I see Aethra’s future? In my opinion Aethra should carry on being symbolized by the same positive, challenging, brave and human spirit that it has been lavished with by its founder and by the people close to him” says Elena Viezzoli. “At the same time, the company must adjust to the current world that is continually and rapidly changing, the world of Internet, of globalization, internationalization, of knowledge and creativity. But most of all, it’s necessary that Aethra continually develops wider delocalization, acquires more internal skills and specialization, and international teams. The latter means having a mixture of different cultures, acceleration and flexibility to achieve a competitive time to the worldwide market.All of this, combined with the innate ability written in the DNA of Italians to create beautiful things, will make Aethra unique and highly recognizable in the market where it operates! From a simple trade-mark to a new brand identity!”.
Giulio concludes by thinking of tomorrow “I’m confident that, from the Taurus constellation, Aethra with the group of her daughters Hyades is still showing me, Elisabetta, Giorgio, Marco, Elena, Laura and Giulia the best course for our family’s navigation towards the future together with all the people who have worked with us in these first 35 years of Aethra”.
The history of Aethra
Aethra was officially created in 1972 and it immediately concentrated on the development and the realization of specific devices in order to be ready for the emerging market of data transmission. Up until 1976, the Company founded by Giulio Viezzoli focused its attention on systems to access the data infrastructures. In 1987 experiments for the transmission of images took off, and Aethra’s employees developed technology allowing the optimization of bandwidth, scarce compared to what is available today, and of the analogue lines of that time. It was Giulio Viezzoli’s idea to target image transmission, and the men who participated in the creation of the company shared this idea to refine applications based on data transmission that could be used by a growing number of potential users. During those years in fact, the data links were used almost exclusively by telecommunication companies and by large international organizations. The first products specifically designed for video-communication were those that Aethra purchased from British Telecom, distributing them onto the Italian market with the appropriate technological and functional changes, also modifying the design. This was in 1989 and the collaboration with the English group continued up to 1993 when the London office decided to abandon this type of solution. Aethra, on the other hand, firmly believed in this market so much so that, thanks to the technological experience acquired, to their strategic foresightedness and to a group of young and talented engineers, in 1993 the Company put its first device for video-communication on the market entirely designed and built in Ancona. In the meantime, in 1991, work had begun on devices for ISDN lines such as the terminations and measurement tools. Towards the end of the ‘90’s, Aethra’s close and vital relationship with Sip/Telecom Italia began to cool off. Up until 1998, the monopolist of national telecommunication had been the main and practically sole client of Aethra, but during that same year the management of Aethra decided to take an important step first to free itself of Telecom Italia and then to expand its business. This saw
the beginning of Aethra’s season of international growth that established its presence on all the principal markets in the world. In 1999 the first solution for video-communication based on Internet protocol (IP) was ready. More precisely this was the protocol used by the Internet. As the year 2000 was drawing nearer new equipment for the measurement and the operation of digital networks based on xDSL technology was being refined. Following this phase of technological and business development there was a reorganization of the Company. Aethra defined the spin-off of the service company Aethra.net, and, in 2003, became a privately held corporation.
Today, either directly or through contracts with local specialized companies, Aethra is present in more than sixty countries in the world, from Canada to Australia, from Argentina to Russia, from India to Lebanon, from Scandinavia to South Africa. Aethra’s offices in the world are located in Miami (the US), Mexico City, San Paolo (Brazil), in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen (China), and London, Paris, and Madrid (Europe). In Italy, besides its main office in Ancona, the company also has
Development in foreign revenue from 1995 to 2000
60 50 40 30 20
offices in Milan and Rome.
Today Aethra has its headquarters in Collemarino, a suburb of Ancona. It employs around 300 people, 150 of whom are engineers. Giulio Viezzoli is the President and in 2005 he assigned the position of Chief Executive Officer to his son Marco. Every year the company invests more than 10% of its revenue (In 2006 almost 70 million Euro) in research and development activities. Aethra actively participates in international committees which work to define the sector’s standard compliance both at a European and International level. These committees offer updating opportunities for the most recent technological innovations and regulate the compatibility modalities of products coming from different producers all over the world. Aethra’s managers and engineers regularly participate in workshops for International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Asyncronous Transfer Mode (ATM), European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC), International Organization for the Standardization (ISO) and the DSL Forum. Since the beginning, with the objective of maintaining an organizational structure that is flexible and capable of reacting rapidly to the changes of the market, Aethra has decided to use the network company model and outsource its production that today is trusted both to Italian companies (in particularly in the Ancona area) and to foreign companies, above all in Asia.
Telecommunications – Access network equipment
Aethra’s core business has always been represented by termination equipment and measuring tools for the access network, or to be precise, the copper wires connecting the transmission and commuter stations (circuit-switched and/or packet) and the end user (evolved from “subscriber” to “user” and finally to “customer”). Testers for digital networks initially made up the reference market for Aethra. Starting from the ‘90s (1991) the introduction to the network of digital technology ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), alongside the traditional technology of analogue access POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) by Telecom Italia (then a monopoly called SIP), allowed Aethra to appeal to the matured competences in the data transmission field to become one of the world leaders
on the market of ISDN network terminations (the so-called NT1 e NT1 Plus, with only digital or also analogue POTS service interfaces respectively). Today Aethra can boast more than 5 million NT sold worldwide (with its offer penetrating more than 60 countries) and almost 2.5 million units installed in Italy. In Italy, since 2000 the evolution of telecommunications has seen the introduction of truly broadband technology: xDSL makes it possible, at costs (prices) compatible with a residential offer, to provide data connectivity in megabits per second (more than 20 megabit per second in the latest version ADSL2+ currently available on the network), compared with only the 128 kilobit per second offered by an ISDN connection or the few tens of kilobits per second achievable via POTS modem! The availability of a greater transmission capacity at affordable costs also allowed Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) and Small Medium Business (SMB) players to access high-profile data services (guaranteeing hundreds of kilobit per second of bandwidth, symmetric connections), otherwise affordable only for larger companies. The enlargement of that market and the liberalization of the TLC sector in Italy (starting from the ‘90s) has seen the development of a good number of competitors, who are sensitive to the agility and flexibility of their suppliers, for Telecom Italia (Fastweb, BT-Albacom, and Wind just to name some of the major ones). The alternative Operators (CLEC – Competitive Local Exchange Carriers) who were not tied to a TDM-type legacy network for the supply of voice services (as Telecom Italia was) could benefit the most from the extension (both wholesale and in unbundling) of broadband connections to integrate their data connectivity offer with voice services in packet-mode or Voice-over-ATM first and then with Voice-over-IP today. This caused the development of a new generation network infrastructure, which was more flexible and really integrated in services. In general it was also more efficient compared to the overlay network model (or rather distinct networks for different applications as voice, Internet connectivity, dedicated data circuits, etc.) that the ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier – Telecom Italia) was forced to operate (mainly, but not only, due to the different historical phases of the development of the network and the related services). In this context, Aethra has successfully extended its offer to the field of xDSL and NEGN (Next Generation Networks), both regarding measuring tools and most of all data equipment (routers) and voice+data (IAD – Integrated Access Devices), supporting and qualifying the CLECs in their entry and development in the SOHO/SMB markets.
In addition, Aethra has successfully appealed to its historical technological knowledge in the legacy services and to its new skills in broadband network infrastructures to satisfy the needs of technological migration of the Incumbent (switch-off of the Frame Relay network, introduction of symmetric SHDSL systems in access network), developing “complete” systems, or rather systems made both of equipment to be installed at the Customer’s facility and central equipment, and presenting itself more as a technological partner and solution provider than as a “box mover”. Today Aethra can legitimately show off absolute leadership in the Italian SHDSL market, and presents itself as one of the main players in Europe as far as IAD apparatus in xDSL technology for SOHO/SMEs are concerned. It has a product portfolio including apparatus for data and data+voice applications, SHDSL highcapacity transmission systems, central terminations and apparatus for legacy applications on broadband infrastructure, modular testers for xDSL and applications (IPTV). Whatever the “next technological step” might be, tomorrow’s challenge for Aethra is the same as that of yesterday and today: to be a major participant in the ongoing history of innovations and revolutions that has characterized, and always will characterize, the path of Telecommunications. This path started 250 years ago, on Febuary 17th 1753, with the publication of a proposal for what we can define the first information transmission system through electrical signals in Edinburgh’s “Scot’s Magazine” . The author of such a fundamental publication remained unknown, except for his initials,“C.M”.We’d like to point that out because it’s in line with what we believe is the spirit of this field: the capacity to influence (positively, in our opinion) our society, through technologies that, even though fully becoming part of our every day life, still remain invisible in their complexity.The realization and functioning of these technologies are based on intelligence, the innovative push, and the will to achieve concrete results that every day anonymous researchers, technicians and workers develop to allow each and every one of us to be in the best position to do what human beings can no longer do without (be it with a gesture, a look, a written message, a conversation or a sign on a stone). That is to communicate.
Videocommunication, full speed ahead
In 2005, the company decided to concentrate the greater part of its resources on video-communication, not abandoning the other lines of products, but
Main clients between 1997 and 1999
making the solutions of video-communication the strategic business for the present and future. It was exactly in this area that the most significant technological innovations recorded were registered. These were set up by the company research laboratories that back in 1987 began with the first experiments of television broadcasting on lines of analogical data. As early as 1989 the first video-telephones were ready, and in 1996 the initial versions of the set-top-box appeared on the market. The set-top-box made it possible to adapt a screen, typically a television, to a terminal for videoconference. In 1999 the next step was video communication based on the IP lines. This marked the beginning of the technological evolution of Aethra’s solutions that first developed the family with products called Vega Star, and then the systems that utilize plasma screens or liquid crystal screens, solutions with double videos in broadband.The most recent systems are those that utilize highdefinition video. Now in the laboratories they are working on the so called telepresence (in the scientific field tele-presence is a term that has a precise definition. It allows actions to be carried out at a distance by use of an interface such as computer, satellite network or remote systems, putting the user in contact with the real existing environment. The use of advanced technological systems, sensors and robot equipment, allows certain operations and by continuous actions obtains an immediate interaction between the operator and real world. It not only permits the performance of actions at a distance but also permits the operator to sense the physical sensation of the place and as a
consequence to modify the state of the things- definition taken from Wiki Art Pedia, www.wikiartpedia.org.) Today Aethra hosts a complete range of products for video communication and video conference, from devices for personal use, to public video-telephony equipment like Video Payphone, right up to solutions for large auditoriums.
Although the video-communications market is undoubtedly the most important for Aethra, the company strategy is certainly not to neglect the other sectors such as the vertical applications, in which video-communication has an important role like tele-medicine, video surveillance, distance learning, and telebanking. In addition there are multimedia services such as audio and video web conferences, video streaming and the leasing of rooms equipped for video conferences.The historic sectors of the company are still very active, and these include networking with the access devices for ISDN ADSL lines, also in the variation 2 and 2+, wireless ADSL, SHDSL, VDSL, VoIP, triple play and measurement equipment for the ISDN, ADSL and Wan infrastructures and E1 monitoring systems.
The vertical applications
The specific applications for which Aethra defines solutions appropriately studied include: tele-medicine, distance learning, Public Administration, video surveillance, and remote banking. Within the solutions for tele-medicine, Aethra proposes the Eykona 900 system for tele-consultation, which facilitates the exchange of clinical information between doctors, including radiological pictures and multimedia data, and can also be combined with a platform on video conference. There are also the home care solutions, which includes the televideo monitoring system for the diagnostics of patients discharged from hospitals. This system allows patients under care to receive constant assistance even if they are in their own homes. It also makes it possible to reduce hospital costs, and is related to Telecomfort for non-diagnostic monitoring including psychological assistance. Aethra’s tele-medicine solutions today are used by the Mesa project for tele-assistance on mobile vehicles of the European Space Agency, the Cardiology Network of the Marche region that unites the hospital and diagnostic centers of Osimo, Camerino, Ascoli Piceno, Fermo and Ancona hospital through IP networks. It is also used by the orthopedic injuries network of Inail, by the Progetto Giubileo Marche (Marche Jubilee Project) for the
integration of the emergency ambulance services, cardiology, radiology, neuroradiology, and pediatric first aid. Aethra’s solutions are also utilized by the radiology network of the Italian Marine Corps., by the European program Leonardo Da Vinci for neuro-radiology and Teleregions Sun2 for cardiology teleconsultation. Abroad, Aethra’s platforms operate in the Mexican Health Department’s program of tele-medicine, the psychiatric center of the University of Texas, in the medical center at the University of Rochester in New York, the United States network of tele-consultation with special attention in the field of dermatology and in the Jackson Memorial Medical Center and the University of Miami. A sophisticated application of tele-radiology connects the Italian Hospital of Terni with the John Hopkins Hospital in the USA. A complex network of telediagnostics has been made to guarantee assistance for people who live in the most remote areas of Canada, whereas in Mexico the Universidad Anahuac has defined a system of mobile tele-medicine that utilizes satellite connections, thanks to Aethra’s technology. Education, distance training, and e-learning form another important sector for Aethra that has created complete, interactive solutions, capable of guaranteeing high quality and that can also be used in context of a collaborative activity.This equipment is utilized by the Italian Minister of University Education and Research (Miur) for a project denominated Hsh@network, where Hsh stands for hospital, school, and home. It was designed to allow students who were either hospitalized or under home therapy to remain in contact with their class and so to be able to continue their scholastic and educational training.The Hsh system uses both systems of video conference and personal computers specifically assembled and equipped with a video camera.The Miur has also chosen Aethra’s solutions to connect the regional scholastic offices with the central office of the ministry. The services of multi-video-conference are used by the Crui, the Conference of Rectors in Italian Universities, that have equipped themselves with 75 apparatus for video-communication. Another example of the utilization of solutions for computer-assisted education is that of the Law Department at the University of Sassari, in Sardinia. Here they’ve created “remote centers for the irradiation of didactics” with the scope of helping students who have a problem traveling to reach the traditional campus site to follow the courses. For this reason video conference units have been set up in La Maddalena, Tempio Pausania, Budoni, Alà dei Sardi, Ghilarza, and Elini. Also in Sardinia, Aethra has furnished the technological infrastructures
for the project m@rte. This project has the objective of connecting 543 schools in the region by video-conference in order to organize new teaching methods and to further involve the institutes situated in the farthest areas. A different project, scuola@bardi, has involved students living in Bardi, Varsi and Bore who are registered in the high schools of Fornovo, Borgotaro, and Bedonia (localities situated in mountainous areas of the province of Parma). Here too the idea was to reduce the necessity of commuting by using equipment to support teaching activities, video-communication and suitable telecommunication infrastructures. In order to respond better to the actual needs of the school, to improve access to teaching, facilitate communication between teachers students and families, to improve the administration of the institutes, integrate the computerized equipment and Internet with those more traditionally used for teaching, to favor the diffusion of the computer culture and, not least, to make it possible for students with a handicap to access school courses, Aethra has developed a specially designed solution called E-student. E-student combines all the components of technology and communication necessary to give a concrete answer to teachers and students. Such a solution is part of a wider project of a technological school that foresees the realization of special classrooms equipped with personal computers, video-communication systems, access to broad-band Internet, and the use of multimedia contents. In the Public Administration sector, Aethra presents itself as technological partner capable of providing products, services, and necessary assistance.Among its achievements, there are video communication infrastructures for the Italian Inland Revenue Office, EiVideoCom system for the Italian army and aeronautical division. They have also provided a video-communication service combining the fixed and mobile terminals to support the activities of the medical assistance of the emergency ambulance number that utilizes wireless lines and satellite connections. Another important market for Aethra is that of video-surveillance. Also in this field the company has defined solutions equipped with video cameras, sensors and control systems, all designed to guarantee the maximum safety and operative efficiency.The solutions also include cryptographic technology for the protection of information and of privacy. There are solutions for facial identification ideal for environments such as airports, stations, public buildings, embassies, courts, banks.There are anti-terrorism solutions capable of identifying abandoned objects, and detecting sparks of a fire, controling parking lots and
traffic with the use of specific technology which can identify license plate numbers and act as anti-intrusion systems. The applications are numerous, ranging from environment control, anti-crime, public order, control of buildings, university campuses, subway stations, freeways, prevention of landslides, and stadiums. Aethra’s videosurveillance systems are operative within Acea for controlling industrial constructions, Nato for the military zones, and various institutes for surveillance, such as City Administrations, and police headquarters.
Aethra.net officially began in 1994 as a division of Aethra specialized in the distribution of multimedia services and distance collaboration, that is to say audio-conferences, web-conferences, the leasing of equipped rooms, distribution in streaming of multimedia contents. Amongst its clients Aethra.net has 36% of the major 52 industrial Italian groups quoted on the Stock Market and distributes its services with the trademark Meetin. Today Aethra is the fourth producer in the world of video-communication systems according to what was reported by the market analysis groups Telespan Publishing Corporation and Wainhouse Research LLC.
Beijing (China) Paris (France) Shenzhen (China) Madrid (Spain) Miami (USA) Hong Kong (China) Mexico City (Mexico) San Paolo (Brazil)
Overseas branches in 1999
History and development of Video-communication
Video-communication as we know it today began to catch on in the late ‘80s thanks to the wide penetration of ISDN network and to the definition by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of the series H.320 standards. Thanks to these standards, a terminal built today can interoperate with one built ten years ago and terminals built in Europe can connect with terminals built in America or in Asia. The ISDN network is a globally available digital “circuit-switched” commutation network. It provides connectivity from 64 kilobit per second up to 2 Megabit per second (a whole primary access or PRI – Primary Rate Interface) with 64 kilobit per second increases.Whether it is used or not, the bandwidth remains available for all the duration of the connection.The transmission delay is very low and the error margin negligible. For these characteristics, the ISDN network is particularly suitable for the transportation of audiovisual fluxes that are highly sensitive both to delay, that might compromise the interactivity of the communication, and line quality that influences the intelligibility and fidelity of the audio and the quality of video. The drawbacks of ISDN are represented mainly by two critical elements: perminute- and per-channel fees that are typical of the circuit-switched networks, and the necessity to “aggregate” and synchronize several channels at 64 kilobit per second to achieve the desired bandwidth. The first-generation systems were very expensive and had quite disappointing performances, with low-quality jerkily-moving video (also due to the prevalent
use of 128 kbit per second connections), echo, and frequent incompatibility between terminals of different producers. The objective to allow the use of Video-communication first on local networks (LAN), and then the huge success of the Internet afterwards, motivated the industry to define a Standard series also for the Video-communication on packet networks; so came the “H.323 series”, whose first version dates back to 1996. New regulations (H.450 series) define a whole new range of supplementary services that don’t have an equivalent for the H.320 systems. In the H.323 architecture a network element called the ‘gatekeeper’ was introduced. With this element terminals must register and it can be used to authenticate the users, authorize calls or not, and regulate the use of bandwidth, among other things. Recently the SIP protocol has also started to gain popularity in the Videocommunication systems. SIP was developed by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) for VoIP applications and was later extended to cover other applications (presence and instant messaging, video, etc.). The IP protocol has the undisputed advantage of being independent from the peculiarities of the physical network it relies on. An IP “connection” (not a correct term for a packet network) usually crosses several different networks. The user doesn’t have to worry about what kind of access they’re using, whether it’s narrowband (phone line, ISDN), broadband (xDSL) or wireless (for example WiFi). However, they should be aware of the kind of service they can expect (bandwidth, delay, etc.). To continue speaking of benefits, a single line may be easily shared among several applications (for example Video-conference, Web navigation, e-mail downloading) and also among several users, which is impossible with circuit-switched networks. The drawback of IP networks is that generally they don’t guarantee the quality of service. The jitter and the rate of packet loss (mainly due to the congestion on the router) may vary greatly depending on traffic conditions.The correction of errors through re-transmission takes too high a toll on delay to be considered. In spite of the progress in error concealment techniques, if the quality of the line drops below a certain level (more or less 3% of lost packets), communication becomes a problem. If it’s true that it is possible to have a highquality IP delivery, obviously paying for the service, in some regions or for certain connections the “universal” level of connectivity provided by the ISDN is yet to arrive. The Video-conference on IP networks suffers also from other problems, for example the difficulty to cross firewalls and NAT and the underlying lower security, which it’s not possible to linger on for reasons of space.
It’s important, however, to consider that, compared to a circuit-switched network like the ISDN, an IP network is less efficient.The overhead of the packet transmission compared to that of the circuit transmission can be estimated around 20%, which means 300 Kbit/s on ISDN require about 360 kbit/s on an IP network to have the same service. Today the majority of Video-communication systems of a certain level are multistandard, therefore able to operate both on ISDN (standard H.320) and on IP network (standard H.323 and SIP). This avoids having to pass through a “gateway”, the network entity which makes the necessary protocol conversions when trying to establish a session between terminals on different networks. Audio-video technology Bandwidth is expensive and video signal requires a lot of it. A non-compressed PAL signal absorbs around 300 Megabits/second, and the main challenge for a Video-conference system is to compress the video signal so as to use easily available and not expensive bandwidths. The use of a 300 kilobit/s connection requires a compression factor of one thousand. To achieve this every possible excess of information and degradation of quality and space resolution (details of the image) and of time resolution (movement fluidity) is taken advantage of. With the recent introduction of high definition, a terminal can transmit and receive up to 30 frames per second at the resolution of 1280x720 pixels in progressive mode (720p30 format). At the current state of the art, an HD signal requires more than 1 Mbit/s, the standard television resolution (equal to the 4CIF, 704x576 pixel format) needs more than 384 kbit/s, the “Common Intermediate Format “(CIF, 352x288 pixel) between 64 and 384 kbit/s while below 64 kbit/s the QCIF is preferable (a quarter of CIF, 176x144 pixel) or even SQCIF (“Sub QCIF”, 128x96 pixel). Given a certain codec model and having defined space resolution, time resolution depends on the available bandwidth and on the movement in the entry sequence. If the bandwidth is scarce and the codec inefficient, it might be that the quality of the frames transmitted each second is good when this is not useful (like with low-movement sequences) and drops when in fact it should be increasing (scenes with a lot of movement). The “frame per second” criteria doesn’t help much in letting the user understand the quality of a codec because it might refer just to the decoder; standards leave complete freedom to a terminal to transmit anything, the only condition being that it is decodable by the
recipient. Modern Video-conference systems use the standard ITU H.264 for video coding (also known as MPEG4 AVC (Advanced Video Coding), successor of H.263 e H.261. Developed thanks to a joint project between ITU and ISO/MPEG H.264, it allows a significant improvement in quality compared to predecessors H.263 and MPEG4. This means there is a 30% to 50% bandwidth saving with the same performance. Compared to MPEG2 the advantage is even more significant and some speculate that in the future there might be a television channel transmitted at about 1 Mbit/s with the same quality today provided by a satellite service at 4Mbit/s. Still, we have to underline that it is not the standard that makes quality, but how well that standard is implemented, together with computing resources and level of peripherals. If a cheap camera is connected to the best codec it will always deliver disappointing results, and the best camera with a high availability of bandwidth won’t be sufficient if the codec is badly designed or on an unsuitable platform. If there has been enormous progress made in terms of reduction of bit-rate, the same can’t be said about delay because the predictive interframe codification, which adjusts for movement and is still the base of H.264, is an intrinsic production mechanism. Jitter remains an issue, mainly at low bit rates. That’s why it’s important that the network doesn’t add too much of its own. Passing through gateways and MCUs has additional side effects, especially if the signal is re-coded (to create the “continuous presence” effect) or trans-coded. Different codecs may be used for audio transmission, with less employment of bandwidth and a performance similar or superior to that registered in the traditional telephone lines.The audio delay is always significantly lower to that of video but normally the synchronization of signals is required (lip sync) and so audio must be artificially delayed. During the years the audio technology evolved from 4 kHz (phone bandwidth) to 7kHz (wideband), then to 14 kHz (superwideband) and today the ITU is standardizing a codec at 20 kHz (full band). The echo, created by the coupling of speakers and microphones, becomes more annoying when the jitter between the useful signal and reflected signal increases. In Video-conference systems delay is such that a good echo eraser is needed. The use of array of microphones and highly sophisticated numerical processing techniques allow the active talker to be localized, make the microphone system directive and to automatically position the camera in the direction of the audio source (“speaker tracking”).This avoids the necessity of manual intervention or
the use of a long shot before a crowded assembly room. Each system may have largely different abilities like maximum transfer rate, variety of available audio and video codec, maximum decodable space and time resolution, management of data conference or not, and so on. Once the call has been completed, but before the audiovisual session begins, the terminals exchange information about their features (“capability exchange”) so that each is sure to transmit only what the other can decode. Data Communication In many cases it is necessary to exchange documents or make remote presentations in order to make a distance meeting effective. In first-generation systems the only tool available was the stative, with which it was possible to take a document or slide and transmit its content in the form of video signal, usually replacing the one in the conference room. In the following years, a series of protocols (series T.120) became standardized. These defined, in a multipoint environment, data applications such as the electronic board, remote presentation or the sharing of generic applications.These applications can be in the Video-communication terminal or in a Personal Computer connected to it through standard interfaces (serial, Ethernet). The use of T.120 technology never became universal for a series of reasons, including complexity, insufficient efficiency on IP networks and compatibility issues among producers.To avoid its use, today’s systems can either convert an electronic presentation in the form of a sequence of fixed images that are then transmitted as a part of the coded video flux, or directly capture the video exit (XGA) of a PC and code it as a “special” video flux, with high resolution but low frame rate. The capacity to operate two displays is fundamental for a full availability of the data component. One of these displays is for the video in the remote room and the other for the graphics. In the case of recording from a stative or transmission in XGA format, the operation of two displays requires the terminals and the multipoint units to be able to simultaneously manage two video fluxes. This feature is included in the most modern equipment and was recently fully standardized (Racc. H.239, May ‘03).
Multipoint Video-communication In order to allow participants spread out in multiple locations to take part all together in a Video-communication it is necessary to use equipment called
“Multipoint Control Unit” (MCU). Every single terminal connects in point-point mode to the MCU. For example in a multi communication session in four different rooms the MCU carries out the following functions: • it sends the sum of audio signals of room 2,3 and 4 to the first room, the sum of audio signals from rooms 1,3 and 4 to the second room, and so on. In this way each room does not receive its own audio which would be perceived as a strong echo. If the communication is “voice switched”, it transmits the video signal of the active talker to every room, whereas the signal of the previous talker is sent to the active talker. As an option it can also transmit the video of one selected room to every room. If the conference is in a “Continuous Presence” mode, the MCU sends the video signal of several rooms composed as a mosaic in a single picture. In our example, every room could occupy a quarter of the display thus letting everyone see each other, even if at a low resolution. Sophisticated MCUs can allow more video combinations, a useful feature in crowded communications when not all the rooms can be fitted in a single picture, and use a higher resolution for the video transmission compared to the video signals received. If it supports Data Communication it transmits to every room the traffic going towards it. In more costly equipment other options can be supported such as: • Asymmetric modes: for example. a terminal sends audio on narrow band and receives audio on broadband; • Transcoding: should a terminal transmit Video H.264 but one or more recipients only have the old codec H.263, the MCU converts as necessary. • Different resolutions: for example some conference terminals support HD, whereas others only SD, and others even lower resolutions (old terminals that process CIF, mobile terminals that process QCIF or sub-QCIF) • Different Bandwidths: the MCU adapts the “bit rate” transmitted to the characteristics of each link. • Hybrid conferences: if participants are on mixed networks (for example some are on ISDN, others on IP) the MCU integrates gateway functions. Apparatus types Video-communication systems are divided into two major categories:“room” or “group” systems like Rollabout and Set Top, and systems for personal use, like video telephones and Desktop. Rollabouts are high-performance systems which are highly integrated, mobile (explaining the name), equipped with a large display and a motorized camera with a system for the automated framing of the speaker, and accurate audio sub-
system. Set Top systems are compact and require an external display, giving an extra something to larger systems in terms of wide choice of options, expandability, rich external interfacing and so on. Video telephones are meant for personal use and have the advantage that they are simple to use. Desktop systems have a reduced cost and can be integrated with PCs. Compared to ten years ago, systems today are less expensive, easier to use and manage, and offer higher performances. Nevertheless video-communication is still a niche technology, mainly used in work environments to hold meetings with several participants. This situation can partly be ascribed to a lack of understanding, especially in the early days, of the human factors. Human factors and motivations of adoption Video is certainly an intrusive technology, above all when compared with telephone conversation. It is mainly for this reason that up to now efforts to make the consumer market take off have failed, as well as the high cost and the disappointing quality. To use video the user must be motivated, either by work needs or by psychological or sentimental reasons.Video sessions should not be a permanent substitute for the audio call, but a plus for communication to be used as necessary when it is believed convenient.That is why the set top is more suitable than the video telephone, since the location (usually the living-room on the TV set) and the large display mark it as an object to be used when one is “ready” for the video. Also in the work environment, a lengthy experience has allowed a better definition for what the user perceives as technological limitations: • No opportunity for socializing, both in a formal way like shaking hands, and useful to intensify interpersonal relationships like having lunch with the conversational partners; • The difficulty to create the right “atmosphere”, which is attributable to the lack of multi-sensory appeal; • The fact that the conversation is not very natural for technological reasons such as delay, video quality, echo; • The environmental conditions are not ideal (acoustic level, light, view angle); • The complexity of use, especially when compared to the phone. Audio is a critical component of video-communication experiences. Bad quality audio makes people even less tolerant towards possible video imperfections. User feeling may be influenced by subtle factors, for example the difficulty of a visual contact due to the placement of the camera.
Further to the above mentioned reasons, an understandable mistrust towards everything that’s new and that can alter one’s habits is what makes the user typically react at first with resistance. They try, if possible, to avoid the experience.Traditional limiting factors have also been the initial investment and the operational costs, compared to mostly indirect benefits. Today the cost of both equipment and connectivity is no more a deterrent; integration in terminals of multipoint capacity allows the management of small multi-conferences without having to use a service provider. The drawback of having to have specialized staff to operate the systems is less important due to the fact that the new generation of management systems automate many functions (for example, a conference can be completely launched and controlled remotely) and terminal use is more and more within the reach of non-skilled users. The success of video conference in a company can be facilitated following some simple rules: taking care of the environmental aspects, avoiding rooms that are too reverberating and reflecting objects, paying attention to light and protecting from external noise; choosing a display of adequate dimensions (a 15 degree angle of sight corresponds approximately to real dimensions, that’s why it’s advisable not to fall below 6 degrees), positioning the camera so as to facilitate visual contact (according to recent studies this visual contact is perceived asymmetrically, so the camera should be positioned above the display, centrally, and so that the visual angle between local user, camera and remote user on the display doesn’t exceed 5 degrees), putting the microphones at the right distance and far from noise sources, using a band of around 384 kbit/s for professionalquality conferences and making sure, in the case of IP transmission, that the network provides an adequate quality of service, and always allowing systems that support two displays, one for remote video and the other for the graphic part, even if data use is not initially planned. Video-communication Applications Initially used for executive meetings in organizations that could afford expensive technology, today Video communication is a tool used in a diversity of contexts and by a growing number of people. For many companies it is a common tool for commercial and marketing operations such as analyzing the market situation with the sales force, brainstorming to design new commercial strategies, planning and training during the launch of new products and customer support in post-selling. Through video conference all the people who tele-work can reduce the feeling
of isolation and improve the effectiveness of their contact with colleagues. A society of modern information requires an unprecedented level of knowledge both in quantity and quality. Distance learning facilitates the access to knowledge and can satisfy the individual needs and potentiality of learning.Video-conference makes synchronous and interactive distance learning possible, meaning that the fruition of contents happens simultaneously to delivery. The teacher and electronic board are visible at the same time, re-creating the conditions of a classroom, and bidirectional communication with students makes it possible for teaching to be based on dialog. The effectiveness of this basis for teaching has been well known since the time of Socrates. According to a study published in December 1999 by the “National Center for Education Statistics”, in 1997/1998 a third of academic institutions in the USA offered e-learning courses. Among these, on average 54% used Videocommunication, with the public sector leading the way (78% of use for the 4year courses and 62% for the 2-year courses). Tele medicine allows the distribution of services to be de-centralized, even when there’s a shortage of fully qualified staff, the reduction in operational costs, and provides low-cost home care. Video conference systems are used to watch over streets, ports and airports, industrial facilities, stores and homes. In courtroom, testimonies can be made at distance, avoiding security issues and costs associated with transferring prisoners or witnesses. Portable video conference equipment is used more and more by reporters, above all in war scenarios where the use of alternative means of communication is an issue. What’s in store in the future? In the short run, for group systems used on broadband networks, the technological evolution promises audio/video quality similar to the one you can get today with the satellite television receivers, management of multiple video fluxes, better multi point support, and more information protection.The overall user experience will be improved and new applications will be made easier: for example, the transmission of angiography in real time for diagnostic use. If the personal use of video conference, both at work and at home, hasn’t taken off so far, things could change in the near future. The growing popularity of instant messaging applications in the business environment, the growing computing power of PCs and the availability of complete platforms for Web collaboration (for example, Microsoft Office Communications Server) will turn
the integration of text and audiovisual communication into common practice . Therefore the right conditions will arise for a growing user familiarity with video, both at home and at work, and for its implicit acceptance as a means of communication part of every day life. Young people are much more open and used to new multi-media technology than their parents. If the price allows it we can foresee the success of mobile Video-communication among teenagers and, for the first time ever, there will be a generation which will have grown up using video communication. Thanks to the dissemination of broadband networks also for domestic use (ADSL, cable modem) it will be more and more common to offer video conference services to the masses through multi functional terminals (data, voice and video) and integrated offer bundles to overcome those cost and quality barriers that in the past hindered the take-off of this market.
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