NB-IoT reaches for the stars with Softbank-backed Skylo
- System cuts costs by using existing geostationary satellites
- Which is good news for stargazers worried about space clutter
- Still, with all the buzz, it's beginning to look crowded up there
Satellite IoT is hot right now, with LPWAN players of every stripe gazing longingly at the heavens. California-based Skylo is the latest to join them, but it is taking a slightly different approach.
The start-up emerged from stealth mode this week following a $116 million funding round led by Softbank. It has developed a suite of products that facilitates NB-IoT connectivity to existing geostationary satellites.
This will doubtless go down well with actual stargazers, some of whom have warned that the night sky could become cluttered with tiny satellites, making it harder for Earth-based telescopes to identify celestial objects.
Skylo's portfolio consists of three elements: The first is the Skylo Hub, a self-installed satellite terminal packed with sensors that connects to element number two: The Skylo Network. As previously mentioned, the network connects terminals to communication satellites already in orbit, which of course is a lot cheaper than building and launching your own. Skylo has also developed its own method of transmitting data; it's all a bit hush-hush, funnily enough, but it claims to be far more efficient, minimising satellite usage costs.
Finally, element number three is the Skylo Data Platform and API, which helps customers manage Skylo Hubs and visualise – and act on – the data they gather.
Skylo has made the bold claim that its use of existing infrastructure, and products that incorporate off-the-shelf components, allow it to undercut other geostationary satellite-based solutions by a whopping 95 percent, with connectivity starting at $1 per user and hardware priced at below $100.
"This low-cost, global fabric of connectivity for machine data will be transformative for entire industries," declared Skylo CEO Parth Trivedi, in a statement.
As far as Skylo is concerned, the industries in question at this point in time include shipping and logistics, agriculture, fishing, and passenger transportation.
Similarly-suitable verticals being eyed by other budding satellite IoT players include environmental monitoring and personal safety in remote areas.
One of these other budding satellite IoT players is SigFox, which wants to augment its terrestrial IoT network with something a little loftier.
It recently explained to TelecomTV how it has partnered with Eutelsat, which plans to launch 25 LEO nano satellites – starting this year – that will carry SigFox network traffic, opening up opportunities for the company in new areas.
British-based Lacuna Space is another one that hopes to capitalise on demand for satellite IoT, with its own, LoRa-based LEO satellite service.
That's before you get to all the players vying to offer affordable Internet connectivity via LEO satellite, such as SpaceX's Starlink arm, and OneWeb, which counts Softbank among its backers. These networks will doubtless come in handy for certain IoT use cases.
It is still early days for satellite IoT, and it is not clear whether there will be room for everyone in the market.
The revenues are there for the taking, according to Northern Sky Research (NSR), which predicts that the satellite M2M/IoT market will generate $11.6 billion over the coming decade.
However, Vytanis Buzas, CEO of smallsat maker NanoAvionics, warned last year that he doesn't know how broad a window of opportunity is being opened for satellite IoT technologies, so players must move quickly.
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