Cygnus spacecraft (Source: NASA/Northrop Grumman)

UbiquitiLink gets $5M seed, preps for second demo of satellite cellular tech

Falls Church, Virginia-based UbiquitiLink has raised $5.2 million in a second seed round and is in the process of setting up a second set of orbital tests for its “Cell tower in the sky” technology.  Participants in the second seed round include Revolution’s “Rise of the Rest” fund and Blazar Ventures, with total funding raised to date $12 million.

Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and Co-founder of AOL, stated, “UbiquitiLink’s mission of providing everyone, everywhere with mobile connectivity is well aligned with the focus of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed fund. Revolution is excited to invest in technology that is helping to provide global connectivity and is designed to have a significant economic and social impact in rural and remote communities.”

UbiquitiLink plans a series of five space flight tests of its technology, which leverages standardized cell phone technology and combines it with low Earth orbit (LEO) small satellites.  A modified software stack enables a stock cell phone or cellular IoT device to relay text messages through overhead satellites, providing basic communications connectivity outside the reach of terrestrial cellular networks.

“Our ability to connect satellites directly to mobile phones anywhere on Earth solves a fundamental economic problem that limits coverage in remote areas,” said. Charles Miller, co-founder and CEO of UbiquitiLink. “It is economically unaffordable to build cell towers on the ground in communities with low population densities. We are building this solution for the 88 million Americans who live in rural areas and lose coverage at the edge of town. We are also building this solution for the 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t have a mobile phone, many because they are not connected where they live and work.”

Earlier this year, UbiquitiLink launched and tested its first “cell tower in space” as a hosted payload onboard a Northrup Grumman Cygnus spacecraft, NG-10, that had completed its primary mission of delivering supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).  The next test package is scheduled to travel to ISS onboard the CRS-18 SpaceX Dragon supply mission on July 21.  When CRS-18 arrives at ISS, the package will be bolted onto the NG-11 Cygnus currently at the station.

The second round of UbiquitiLink tests are scheduled to start in August, with an expansion of capabilities to include LTE (4G) as well as continuing to verify GSM (2G) operations.  Launch of operational satellite and initial commercial services are expected to commence in 2020 with 24 to 36 satellites in orbit.  By 2023, UbiquitiLink plans to have several thousand satellites in orbit for continuous worldwide coverage.

UbiquitiLink is promoting its network for providing connectivity in isolated areas and providing a safety net for people in remote locations and when terrestrial wireless networks are down due to mishap.  Backing up UbiquitiLink are 18 mobile network operators and 24 companies that have signed up for trial partnerships.

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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