Spain-based Sateliot becomes at least the third company building a business around satellite services to extend the reach of 5G for Internet of Things (IoT). The company is in the process of raising 10 million Euros to build and launch a constellation of cubesats.
CEO Jaume Sanpera said the company had previously raised “a small capital amount” of 1 million Euros, enough funding to build and launch two 3U cubesats and cover day-to-day operations. Open Cosmos is handling the manufacture, launch and operations for the two satellites, with the first expected to go up in July 2020 and the second sometime in the second half of 2020.
Sanpera wants 16 satellites in orbit by the end of 2021 to extend the IoT reach of existing 5G coverage. Sateliot will support the NB-IoT standard with the formalization of the non-terrestrial component expected in Release 17 of the 3GPP standard in the 2021-2022 timeframe. Upgrading to the standard when it arrives is expected to be a simple software update to the satellites in orbit.
Sateliot will act as a third-party extension to 5G IoT coverage, supplementing carrier 5G terrestrial networks rather than interacting directly with customers. Ultimately, the company plans to put up over 70 satellites to provide near real-time coverage of the globe, with the expectation of having to raise up to 100 million euros to complete the network.
The company isn’t alone in leveraging small satellites to extend 5G IoT coverage. OQ Technology in Luxembourg is also planning to use the NB-IoT 3GPP Release 17 standard and has already conducted a series of NB-IoT tests using a satellite already in orbit. OQ has options to first use existing software-defined radio (SDR) satellites in orbit to service NB-IoT devices, then moving to put its own hardware on a hosted satellite and eventually operating their own satellites.
Both Sateliot and OQ are supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), which will likely make for some interesting panel discussions at future conferences. Likely competitor Lynk Global, the company formerly known as UbiquitiLink, is riding a wave of $12 million in venture funding and is currently operating its second “Cell tower in the sky” test with a Northrup Grumman Cygnus spacecraft acting as its in-orbit host. Unlike Sateliot and OQ, Lynk is planning to bootstrap its company by offering SMS text message services as an extension to cellular service, but CEO Charles Miller says the company can support NB-IoT with a software load/switch, supporting NB-IoT as needed on a geographic basis.
Eutelsat may also have plans to support NB-IoT when it is formalized. The company announced plans to support a number of IoT protocols through its planned small satellite constellation, including LoRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IoT, and LTE-M. An initial four satellites are under construction for the ELO constellation and Eutelsat plans to have up to 25 satellites in orbit by 2022 if all goes well.