Author: Chris Young at Interesting Engineering
Barcelona-based startup launches first-ever 5G standard low-Earth orbit satellite
Sateliot's constellations will essentially function like "cell towers in space", according to CEO Jaume Sanpera.
Startup Sateliot is developing "cell towers from space" designed to provide low-cost, global 5G coverage.
• It aims to launch 64 of its satellites to low-Earth orbit by next year, and 256 by 2025.
• "Sateliot opens up a new era of the telecommunication industry," CEO Jaume Sanpera told IE.
Barcelona-based company Sateliot launched its first satellite aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rideshare mission, Transporter 7, on April 15.
The satellite, dubbed "the Groundbreaker", is the first of a constellation that Sateliot believes could lead a "revolution" in which cellular terrestrial telecom "merges seamlessly with satellite connectivity", the company explained in a
recent press statement.
The small, 22-pound (10-kilogram) satellite, also known as Sateliot_0, is reportedly the first-ever in low Earth orbit (LEO) to operate on the 5G cellular standard. It will communicate directly with cell towers on Earth and is designed
essentially as a "cell tower in space" that can fill the gaps in global data networks.
If all goes to plan, Sateliot aims to eventually have a constellation of 256 satellites in LEO by 2025. Its first goal is to send 64 satellites to orbit by the end of next year.
Those satellites could provide communications to some of the most isolated locations on Earth, allowing enough coverage to send an emergency message from remote locations.
The system could save lives by allowing stranded individuals to seek help. According to Sateliot, it could also help transform sectors such as the agriculture, logistics, and maritime industries, which often require connectivity in remote locations. The company has, to date, signed three deals with firms in these sectors, worth roughly $1.1 billion.
We spoke with Sateliot CEO Jaume Sanpera about the potential of Sateliot's constellation, why Sateliot chose a multi-colored, fire-breathing dragon for its first mission insignia (above), and how it intends to grow its operations over the
coming months and years. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and flow.
Interesting Engineering: Why did you choose to name your first satellite ‘Groundbreaker’ and what is the significance of the mission’s dragon insignia?
Jaume Sanpera: "We chose the name "the Groundbreaker" due to its disruptive character: no other orbiting LEO satellite delivers 5G standard technology yet, so we are setting a milestone in satellite telecommunications with the Groundbreaker.
"The dragon symbolizes strength, confidence, and knowledge. Sateliot is a Barcelona-based company, so we chose not just a dragon, but a multicolor, fire-spitting, Gaudí-style dragon as the mission insignia. We did it as an homage to the Catalan master artist Antoni Gaudí, who was a world-famous architect and designer known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism.
"The Gaudi dragon is a characteristic element of the artist’s style; one can find it in the Gaudi-designed Parc Guell, one of the most famous tourist attractions of Barcelona. Using this particular style of dragon as the mission insignia is a reference to the city and to Sateliot itself: a company born in Barcelona but with global presence and aspirations."
IE: What sets Sateliot's communications constellation apart from other in-orbit satellite networks?
"Sateliot’s constellation works as cell towers from space and delivers its service to land-based telecom operators.
"The 'classic' satellite industry offers broadband connectivity using proprietary solutions, so if you want to work with a certain satellite network, your devices must be compatible with the protocol of that network, making operation costs very high and even unaffordable for most users. Unlike competitors, Sateliot’s constellations of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites use a patented technology 5G NB-IoT network that lets anyone with a 5G device use its network without modifications, so satellite telecom users don’t need a separate network that is compatible with its devices.
"We can say Sateliot opens up a new era of the telecommunication industry by creating an affordable, global 5G satellite network."
IE: What types of customers will you serve with your initial 64-satellite constellation?
"With the initial 64-satellite constellation, we will be at 20 minutes revisit time on any point on earth. With a refresh time of 20 minutes, most IoT applications work perfectly. Of course, we are talking about agriculture and cattle
management, which need much less than this, but we are also talking about logistics, maritime, and infrastructure."
IE: Will you continue to work with SpaceX to lift your satellites into orbit, or will you consider working with other rocket companies?
"We are open to other providers as long as they are mature enough to guarantee the same level of safety for our satellites."
IE: What are the plans for expansion after that initial constellation is operational?
"We will be increasing the number of satellites until near real-time is achieved to provide services to the full scope of the IoT market. The IoT sector is expanding, and we are fully convinced that the number of applications of such a service-standard and low-cost device and service will exponentially expand the number of applications available in today's out-of-coverage areas."
IE: What is the ultimate goal for Sateliot?
"Our goal is to provide connectivity to the IoT world everywhere and to everyone. These two words are the key to the development we are looking for. By everywhere we mean that satellites are the only way to provide coverage to
the 85 percent of the world currently not covered by mobile operators.
By everyone, we mean we do things in an efficient way. The only way to achieve economies of scale is by making connectivity available to everyone — and that means working with standard devices. That’s why we work with fully standard devices as an extension of mobile operator coverage."