Hitec: The discreet Luxembourg tech firm at 35

If SES is the showy big brother of Luxembourg’s early space activities, Hitec is its shy, studious younger sibling. To mark Hitec’s 35th anniversary, CEO Yves Elsen and CTO Philippe Osch talk about collaborations and new developments.

Established by three entrepreneurs in 1986 out of a garage in Junglinster, Hitec started out designing instruments to measure the robustness of carbon black.

While today it remains a discreet player in Luxembourg’s SME landscape, you’ll find its influence in many critical infrastructure.

Hitec has the traffic control contract with Luxembourg’s highways agency since the 1990s. And it is a veteran of Luxembourg’s newspace ecosystem, after developing its satellite ground antennae business, in the same decade.

Local collaboration

Heading a lean team of 54 staff at its offices in Mamer, where it moved in 2019, CEO Yves Elsen and CTO Philippe Osch say the firm’s philosophy is to focus on getting the job done, rather thab seeking the limelight. And with Luxembourg riding the new space race wave by developing the space resources initiative in 2016 and space agency in 2018, there had been no shortage of work. “This has benefited the sector overall a lot,” says Elsen. “It has benefited us because there’s a new demand generated. It shows us what are the future trends in the field of the ground segment.”

Discussions with other new space players in Luxembourg over the past five years could soon bear fruit. “We’re writing a proposal for a concrete collaboration [with a local player]” Osch says.

While not revealing who the collaboration is with, the technology officer hinted that it was closely connected to the development of a new type of antennae that can support more satellites at once. Such a component could find traction with the large swarms of satellites being launched for broadband communications by new space players.

Ground segment

Active in the fields of ground segment technology, testing, traffic management and mission critical ICT, Hitec is probably best known for its involvement in the ground segment of earth observation and telecommunication activities. It will deliver the ground antennae for the Luxeosys government defence satellite in Redu, Belgium, by the end of 2021-early 2022.

It was also integral in the development of emergency.lu, a mobile satellite-based telecommunications platform designed to give emergency communication in disaster-hit areas.

Because earth observation will remain important in future, in 2015 the firm acquired Earthlab, a startup combining Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Earth Observation and which won the 2020 Fedil innovation prize.

“This will help in other offers, for instance humanitarian fields and remote maintenance services,” says Elsen, stressing that the firm’s future will be heavily linked to AI and ICT. “There’s not a single domain where you don’t use a programme somewhere to fulfil a product or service,” says Osch. “We’re now looking into research projects to make sure we use 5G to support or pave the way for automated driving.”

5G information transfer

Among other applications, through its work with Luxembourg’s highways agency, Hitec is developing technology to support the real-time transfer of information to autonomous vehicles related to, among other things, weather or road conditions.

While there are no new acquisitions on the horizon, Elsen says the firm is always on the look-out for strategic and sustainable growth opportunities.

While some SMEs have struggled during the first year of the pandemic, Hitec has flourished in its niche market. The two chiefs credit part of this success to their EU-based supply chain and European focus, early introduction of teleworking and a firm anchoring in the Luxembourg ecosystem. Around a third of its workforce are Luxembourg nationals and half of all employees live in the grand duchy.

While it remains a discreet player, Hitec is conscious of its public image–its recent recruits include a press officer, for the first time in several years.