Internet of Things (IoT) startup Swarm Technologies has been awarded a license to launch and operate a constellation of 150 satellites by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The company says it plans to deploy the satellites by the end of 2020 and start rolling out its commercial 2-way data offerings in early 2020.
Swarm’s announcement comes after some very public lobbying of the FCC, with trips made by company executives to Washington D.C. to meet with the FCC Chairman and Commissions. In early 2018 Swarm launched four Texas toast-sized satellites into orbit without approval by the FCC, resulting in an investigation that revealed the company had conducted several regulation violations prior to the unauthorized launch. The FCC imposed a fine of $900,000 on the company and required it hire a regulatory compliance director and take other steps to prevent future problems.
Virgin Orbit, a Swarm launch provider, was among the first to congratulate the company on its FCC license award. It is not known if or how many Swarm satellites will be put into orbit by Virgin or when. Gunther’s Space Page currently lists SpaceBee 10 through 21 going up on a Vega launch in 2020. The 150 satellites will be distributed between four orbital planes to ensure global coverage.
The FCC license grant also covers usage of spectrum which established service provider ORBCOMM claimed it had rights to use. ORBCOMM had filed a petition to get Swarm’s spectrum request for its satellites either denied or held up, claiming Swarm had not coordinated use of the spectrum with it. It will be interesting to watch interactions between the two companies and the FCC in the future, with ORBCOMM likely to file protests in the future if problems with interference arise.
Swarm will provide two-way, low-cost IoT communications with message costs priced as low as a penny. The company has conducted a series of tests with a select group of potential customers, including Ford Motor Company. Costs per device per month could be as low as $3 dollars per month. Earlier this year, Swarm secured $25 million in Series A venture funding, one of the largest single fundraising rounds among the new wave of satellite IoT companies.