SAN JOSE, Calif. — Satellite IoT is about to take off … literally. As many as a dozen startups aim to launch as many as 200 nanosatellites each over the next few years to link nodes in remote areas that cellular networks don’t reach.
Bill Ray, a Gartner analyst, predicts that the 1,500 commercial satellites in orbit today could grow by an order of magnitude in five years, many of them aimed at IoT. “A lot of companies are at an early funding stage,” said Ray. “Some raised $4–5 million with a proof-of-concept and are ready to launch their first couple of satellites.”
It’s a renaissance for a mature industry once focused mainly on large, expensive birds parked in high geosynchronous orbit. The new satellites weigh less than 15 pounds and cost less than a million dollars to build and launch into low orbits about 300 to 500 miles above Earth.
Both the new and a handful of existing satellite IoT services are competing to get their software designed into a wide array of sensors, end nodes, and gateways. It’s an opportunity for chip and system companies if they can pick partners who survive what’s expected to be a shakeout over the next few years.
Among the players, Sky and Space Global (Perth, Australia) has launched three of 200 nanosatellites that it plans to put into orbit for a cost of $160 million. The S-band sats use a novel mesh networking technology and are geared for a number of applications beyond IoT.
Astrocast (Lausanne, Switzerland) plans to launch 64 nanosats at a cost of $50 million by 2021, with its first launches this fall. U.S. startup Swarm reportedly ran afoul with U.S. regulators when it launched from India a handful of satellites too small to track.
“We are still in in the early stages of satellite IoT,” said Alex Grant, chief executive of Myriota (Adelaide, Australia), which aims to make satellite links directly to IoT end nodes. “Companies are getting their infrastructure in space … ultimately, we see a market for hundreds of millions of devices.”
The startup designed a $50 module with a five-year battery life based on an off-the-shelf UHF transceiver loaded with its own firmware and algorithms. It aims to get the module designed into OEM sensor gear before the end of the year. Many other startups are embedding more bulky and power-hungry satellite receivers in access points that link to hundreds of end nodes via Wi-Fi or LoRa.
For its part, Myriota filed for 20 patents on its proprietary waveform, coding scheme, network architecture, and approaches to delivering end-node security and location data. Today, it serves a few hundred pilot users based on connections to four third-party satellites.
Next year, the startup aims to launch its first two or three satellites dedicated to UHF bands that deliver wide coverage for relatively low power. It has filed regulatory requests for 24 satellites so far and hopes to have a constellation of more than 100 up within five years.