European satellite operator Eutelsat formally announced its ELO satellite constellation for IoT today, September 24. The company has four satellites under construction with Loft Orbital and Clyde Space and plans a total of 25 satellites in operation by 2022 if all goes well.
ELO’s first test satellite, built by U.S. manufacturer Tyvak International, is expected to be launched early next year and will confirm technical performance between various IoT protocols between it and objects on the ground. Protocols to be tested include LoRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IoT, and LTE-M.
“At the end of the day, we’re agnostic as to what terrestrial technology we will support,” Luc Perard Eutelsat SVP IoT Business said in an August discussion with Space IT Bridge. “The service fee will be the same few dollars per year [as ground connectivity] at the end of the day.”
The ELO constellation will pick up data directly from things on the ground, bypassing the expensive and complexity of deploying terrestrial gateways to aggregate device data collection and then forwarding it to a passing satellite. Eutelsat has been working with IoT network operator Sigfox for months in a strategic partnership with launch of ELO enabling IoT worldwide coverage with a combination of existing terrestrial networks and satellite.
ELO 1 and 2 are being built by Loft Orbital while Clyde Space will build ELO 3 and 4. The initial four commercial satellites, of 6U size, are expected to be launched between 2020 and 2021 and put into commercial service as soon as they enter orbit. Based upon the success of the first four satellites, Eutelsat will add more satellites to the constellation to reach 25 by 2022.
Money for the constellation is included within Eutelsat’s existing capital expense budget and the cost associated with each satellite “will not exceed 1 million euros,” according to the company’s September 24 press release, with the investment being described by Eutelsat’s CEO as “relatively modest” and “fully scalable.”
Eutelsat’s arrival on the satellite IoT field is likely to cause a mixture of happiness and consternation for newer firms, especially those embracing open standards. With a global fleet of 37 communications satellites and delivering services around the globe, Eutelsat provides a stamp of legitimacy to the work already being conducted by companies such as Hiber Global and Lacuna Space.
However, Eutelsat comes into the market with revenues of over 1.3 billion euros and a workforce of 1,000 people spread across 46 countries. The publicly traded company comes to market with a ready-made sales and marketing group with existing customer relationships and the cash flow to fund expansion as needed without having to spend time soliciting venture capital. The satellite IoT space is going to get bloody.