Luxembourg-based OQ Technology announced today it has successfully tested the Narrow-Band IoT (NB-IoT) waveform and synchronization procedures using a third-party satellite. The company’s Tiger mission demonstrated NB-IoT can be used on existing software-defined radio (SDR) payloads, enabling SDR-equipped satellites for expanding NB-IoT service coverage above and beyond terrestrial cellular service.
OQ used GomSpace’s GOMX-4A and GOMX-4B satellites for the test with an agreement signed on July 26, 2019. The rapid test and turnaround will provide OQ with considerable flexibility in deployment of its IoT services and plans to perform further tests over the next three months to optimize link and system performance. The company started research and development in 2016 to implement NB-IoT on LEO satellites, working on issues of Doppler and delay that come from communicating with a satellite a couple of hundred miles overhead as compared to communicating with established cellular towers around 35 miles away.
NB-IoT is established as a 3GPP standard for IoT connectivity as a part of the release of its Release 13 LTE Advanced Pro specifications in June 2016. There are over 160 operators across 69 countries investing in NB-IoT network technologies, creating a global ecosystem of services and hardware vendors supporting everything from chipsets to full devices. NB-IoT is a part of the Release 15 5G standards and the 3GPP world plans to incorporate support for non-terrestrial network (NTN) services in Release 17 around the 2021-2022 time.
OQ is targeting the cellular IoT communication market, along with oil and gas, maritime, transport, and “Industry 4.0” segments, “particularly for the management and tracking of assets in remote areas,” according to OQ’s press release.
The company plans to put up an initial constellation of satellites but declined to state an exact number. It has three possible “levels” for deployment. Level 1 would be finding a third-party satellite operator willing to provide SDR as a Service, where OQ can upload its software and lease time on the satellite/payload for providing services. Level 2 would put hosted payload onto other people’s satellites, a business option currently available through companies such as Spire Global and NanoAvionics. At the top, Level 3 includes building and launching their own satellites.
OQ’s satellites would be 6U in size and likely be the part of a larger build to gain economies of scale. Expected orbital lifetime of a dedicated satellite would be between 3 to 5 years and include propulsion for orbital adjustments and movement. A fully operational constellation in the future is expected to provide global “real time” coverage.
Service pricing for OQ was not specified but is expected to be “10 times lower” than traditional satellite technology. It isn’t clear if OQ requires a software upgrade for the ground device to enable it to cope with the higher latencies and doppler effects introduced by satellite communications as compared to terrestrial networks; off-the-shelf NB-IoT hardware currently in use can connect to an overhead satellite without physical modifications.
OQ wouldn’t get into details as to the number of resellers and VAR/OEM relationships it has established, but would say it has more than 25 MoUs with large industrial customers and has multiple reseller agreements with large satellite device resellers to be local distributors in Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Company founder Omar Qaise said the company has some paying customers but declined to provide details.
Qaise would also not discuss the amount of seed capital or total amount of capital raised to date other than point to a contribution through the Luxembourg National Space Program LuxImpulse investment fund of 6 million Euros.
Future activities will include establishing VAR/reseller relationships, providing a developer’s kit with SDKs and APIs available, with customers accessing OQ’s IoT data analytics together with its cloud and analytics partner… which it has not disclosed at this time.
QC isn’t the only company working with cellular technologies with LEO satellites. Virginia-based Lynk, formerly known as UbiquitiLink, is currently conducting its second on-orbit demonstration. Lynk’s software emulates a cell tower onboard a LEO satellite, not requiring any software or hardware modifications to existing ground devices. To date, Lynk has tested 2G GSM communications and is currently testing 4G LTE communications. The company plans to build its business by providing SMS text messaging services as well as cellular IoT connectivity and has said it will support NB-IoT in the future based upon customer demand.