#CES2019 – Swarm Technologies and the Ford connection

CES 2019, Las Vegas NV and Alexandria VA – While Swarm Technologies may have FCC trouble, it hasn’t deterred others from working with the satellite IoT startup.  Ford Motor Company has teamed with Swarm to enhance its Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC), a platform to facility communications between mobility services.  Swarm is planning to launch up to 100 Texas Toast-sized satellites by the end of this year to provide low-volume, low-cost IoT services, with a final constellation of 150 satellites deployed in 2020.

How low? “Messages could be as low as a penny,” said Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo in an impromptu Q&A conducted on the floor of the CES show in Las Vegas. “Cost per device per month around $3 per month per device.”  A Swarm message packet is around 250 bytes in size, which would be more than sufficient for numerous monitoring tasks or safety telematics applications.

Ford’s Autonomic TMC (not to be confused with TMCnet.com) is a cloud-based platform that connects the different components of mobility systems, including vehicles, mass transit, city infrastructure, and service providers. Swarm’s network of low-cost satellites would ensure coverage for critical services where cell service is spotty or unavailable, such as relaying an airbag deployment message from a car to a monitoring center.

On display at the Ford booth was one of the Swarm satellites and a “Gateway BEE” $200ish dollar solar-powered gateway to link and route multiple Bluetooth, LoRa and/or WiFi devices to the Swarm network of satellites.  (From the picture above, note the gateway is physically larger than the satellite in the transport case).

Last month, Swarm filed a request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch its 100 satellites and is looking at launch opportunities by the end of the year on the Rocket Lab Electron, said Spangelo.  The current partial U.S. government shutdown is both hurting and helping Swarm, since license processing is on hold, as is a 30 day response time for the company to respond to how it will pay a $900,000 fine levied for launched its first satellites into orbit without FCC approval.

Swarm currently has seven satellites in orbit operating under temporary FCC licenses.  The first four SpaceBEE satellites were launched in January on an India PSLV mission without FCC approval, due to agency concerns the four satellites, each around 10 cm by 10 cm by 2.5 cm, would be difficult to track from the ground and potentially resulting in a collision with another satellite that can’t get out of the way.  The FCC did not look kindly upon the transgression, fining the company $900,000 on December 20, 2018.  Part of its investigation found Swarm had conducted other communications tests without a license and communications between the SpaceBees illegally for more than week.

Despite its regulatory troubles, Swarm continues to roll forward.  Spangelo said the company expects to announce a Series A round of investment funding in “a few weeks” along with a couple more customer announcements.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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