Iridium NEXT satellite separating from SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage (Source: SpaceX video)

Iridium embraces Amazon Web Services, new satellite IoT providers

Iridium Communications is fully embracing as much new technology as possible this week, with an Amazon Web Services (AWS) announcement and highlighting relationships with a pair of satellite IoT startups at its partner conference in Nashville.

Highlighted in a press release, Iridium says it has been collaborating with AWS on the development of Iridium CloudConnect, a service the company claims is the “first and only satellite cloud-based solution” that offers “truly global” coverage for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.  The new service is planned for launch in 2019 and will make Iridium IoT services available with AWS IoT, extending the reach of AWS’s suite of IoT services beyond the 80 percent of the Earth lacking cellular coverage. 

Iridium customers will be able to take advantage of AWS IoT while existing AWS customers will be able to have a path to expand their geographic IoT footprint anywhere on the globe.  AWS IoT will create a simplified process for companies to Integrate Iridium with AWS, according to the company, increasing speed to market, reducing engineering efforts, lowering fixed operating costs, and reduce time to develop new products and services.  Between the two companies on the backend, there are various translations between Iridium network protocols and industry-standard protocols supported by AWS, as well as to and from various devices and databases.

As of June 30, 2018, Iridium had around 630,000 active devices, with IoT subscribers growing at a compound annual rate of approximately 19 percent over the last three years. Iridium was the first company to leverage the power of low-flying satellite constellations two decades ago, launching 66 satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to provide narrowband, low-latency voice and data, later moving up to higher-speed data connections up to the megabit range.

But Iridium and near-peer ORBCOMM aren’t alone in the satellite IoT services world anymore. There are at least 20 IoT start-ups leveraging nanosatellites to provide lower cost IoT services, with two touting their presence at the Iridium partner conference this week via Twitter.  Fleet Space Technologies earned a center-stage name-drop plug from Iridium CEO Matthew Desch as a new IoT partner while Hiber Global was later seen in another Tweet from the conference.  

Australia-based Fleet Space is already an Iridium customer, using Iridium as one of several satellite services to relay data from the Fleet Space Portal LoRaWAN gateway placed in the field.  Fleet has two satellites scheduled for launch this fall, each about the size of a wine box (10x10x30 cm) and under 10 kilograms, and plans an operational constellation of 100 satellites.  (This begs the question as to how big of an Iridium user Fleet will be once it has its constellation up and running, but that’s for a different day.)

Hiber Global signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Iridium about a year ago to explore “collaborative partnerships” with complementary “NewSpace” players, with the two firms to discuss how to expand opportunities around low power global area network (LPGAN) technologies. Hiber also has a couple of satellites scheduled for launch this fall and plans a production constellation of 18 to 24 satellites in the future.

Working with Fleet and Hiber enables Iridium to hedge its bets while giving both companies a potential exit strategy should they grow and thrive.

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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