Article from Telcotitans.com
As international efforts to expand connectivity continue, Jaume Sanpera, Chairman and Chief Executive at satellite-based Internet of Things startup Sateliot, is looking to position his business as a key player in delivering IoT services to rural areas.
Speaking with TelcoTitans, Sanpera said that approximately four million IoT devices are currently connected in hard-to-reach areas via satellite — a narrow slice of the 14.3 billion global IoT connections cited by market research firm IoT Analytics. However, with the binding orders Sateliot has already signed in advance of its full launch, Sanpera claims the provider is in line to enable a “similar number, right now”.
This is before it has fully realised its network. Currently comprising two low-Earth orbit satellites, Sateliot plans to launch another 60 within the next 18 months and eventually reach a fleet total of 250. The aim is to deploy the full constellation by “2025 or 2026”.
However, the satellite sector has hefty competition. Many scaled players are also looking to offer IoT services, including Amazon with its Project Kuiper satellite constellation, and SpaceX, which recently announced its new Direct to Cell service aiming to connect unmodified IoT devices via satellite starting in 2025.
Other established players include Eutelsat, Inmarsat, Intelsat, and Iridium Communications. Despite the volume of other players, Sanpera believes that Sateliot can compete effectively by leveraging its mobile network operator relationships and adopting standardised technologies.
“ I really believe that, in the IoT world, the proprietary satellite IoT constellations are dead. They have no possibility, not because of Sateliot but because of our standards." On a hardware level, Sanpera noted Sateliot has incorporated standardised components “already used in other devices” into its satellites to maximise compatibility with customer systems.
It has also adopted the GSM Association’s standard roaming services, having become a member of the organisation in May 2023. Combined with a recent partnership with international mobile roaming specialist Comfone, this enables Sateliot to offer network access to other MNOs that are signed up with these businesses by signing a standard roaming agreement.
So far, Sanpera said it has signed up “more than 50” MNOs and in excess of 200 customers to use its services. He expects this to grow “exponentially” once it launches commercial services in the “first half of 2024”.
“ If we have been able to sign 200 customers before having any commercial service, I expect for this to grow exponentially once the service is available. ”
Sanpera, who co-founded Sateliot in December 2018, has a history of creating and scaling startups, including digital environmental services provider Ambientum.com, Spanish telecoms service provider Eurona, and vegan shoe brand Vegtus.
Sateliot overcomes LEO struggles
Sanpera noted that MNO relationships are crucial for operating LEO constellations, as LEO satellites do not always cover the same section of land on Earth, unlike their geostationary counterparts.
To overcome this, it has developed a patented Store & Forward two-factor authentication method, which Sanpera said has been four years in the making. It enables data to be stored on a 5G core network when Sateliot’s satellites are out of range, and to be later transmitted once coverage returns.
While beneficial for use-cases that do not require real-time connectivity, it also acts as a safety net as Sateliot is scaling its network, as Sanpera said it is “absolutely impossible” to deliver real-time roaming connectivity until its network has been built out to include between 200 and 300 satellites. “You don’t have a ground station everywhere you have a customer”, he noted.
Telefónica puts tech to the test
Store & Forward has already been tested in space and recently enabled Sateliot to achieve what it called the “first-ever” 5G roaming connection from space, in collaboration with Telefónica
Sanpera described Telefónica as “one of our closest partners”, with both being headquartered in Spain and seeking to expand rural connectivity. He said they have been in talks for about three years, and these came to a head in July 2022, when Telefónica Tech, the operator’s business-to-business growth services division, announced plans to conduct “pre-commercial customer pilots” with Sateliot’s satellite system for Narrowband IoT connectivity.
The “main objective” of their collaboration, he said, is to bring IoT coverage to rural parts of Latin America, adding that the operator is “ready to deliver this service to final customers”. He highlighted Argentina and Brazil as markets where Telefónica’s impact “could be huge”.
“ They are a very large company with complicated procedures… To convince one of the largest worldwide MNOs like Telefónica to be on our side… this is something that is highly rewarding for us. ”
Telefónica has numerous other satellite relationships in Latin America — including with AST SpaceMobile, Comtech Telecommunications, Gilat Satellite Networks, Hispasat, ST Engineering iDirect, Starlink, and Viasat.
Developing sustainable use-cases
In addition to working with MNO partners, Sanpera highlighted Sateliot’s work with non-profit organisations (NGOs) over the last three years, focusing on enabling sustainable use-cases such as environmental conservation and wildlife tracking.
Sanpera said he has travelled to see the impact of its solution in rural communities, joking that he will spend “more days out of Spain than at home” for the remainder of 2023. “In certain cases, the change is amazing”, he said.
Sanpera highlighted several projects that stood out to him, including one harnessing Sateliot’s network to connect 200 wildlife tracking devices, helping an NGO to reduce costs “significantly”. Another pilot showed that using IoT connectivity in agriculture could reduce water usage by 40%.
He made clear that its satellites are also designed to be sustainable as they are equipped with propulsion systems for de-orbiting purposes, preventing debris from being scattered by an uncontrolled landing procedure. However, he said the technology alone is “not enough”, and that creating sustainable use-cases is also important.
Other use-cases Sateliot is working to enable include cattle management, infrastructure management, maritime, mobility, and smart cities.
Sateliot in it for the long haul
Sanpera believes that non-terrestrial networks are “here to stay for a long time”, and, as such, Sateliot has been looking at future use-cases and generations of mobile network.
He pointed to its work with the European Union on the Self-Evolving Terrestrial/Non-Terrestrial Hybrid Networks project, which aims to develop a radio access network designed with “AI-enabled resource management across the terrestrial, aerial, and space domains”. Through the project, he hopes to realise “fully seamless [integration]” of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks.
Sanpera is also continuing to work towards his previously stated objective of achieving an annual €1bn (£867m) turnover and €370m in earnings by 2026. “Every day, I see us [get] closer”, he said.
Author: Cameron Page