Sateliot has launched the first satellite in a new LEO constellation designed to provide a big coverage boost for terrestrial 5G Internet of Things applications.

The Barcelona-based company announced the launch of its GroundBreaker satellite via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California late last week, after a few false-starts. The satellite is the first in a constellation of 250, the first 64 of which are scheduled to be in orbit in the next 18 months.

The aim of the project is essentially to merge satellite and terrestrial cellular-based connectivity to improve IoT coverage. In Sateliot’s own words, its LEO constellation will function as cell towers from space, enabling users to seamlessly switch between terrestrial and non-terrestrial 5G networks without the need for additional hardware. Sateliot has brokered roaming deals with telecoms network operators, which means users can keep their existing SIM cards and mobile operators.

Sateliot is talking up the project as a means of creating massive IoT adoption worldwide, although the impact will not be instant, of course, GroundBreaker being the first of many planned satellite launches. The company insists GroundBreaker can provide global coverage, but clearly it will need a lot more kit in space before we’re truly looking at orbiting cell towers providing 5G coverage on Earth.

GroundBreaker is a nano-satellite weighing in at 22 lbs and with the ability to cover an area three times the size of Texas – the largest of the 48 contiguous states in the US – at any one time. It can complete a full Earth orbit in 90 minutes and comes equipped with an onboard module that allows direct NB-IoT connection for any 5G device supporting Rel 17 NTN – that’s the 3GPP’s non-terrestrial network standard.

At present the company is targeting the maritime, railway, aeronautics and automobile industries, offering surveillance services that will help them save money on lost cargo, for example. It also gives the example of water monitoring, and its ability to provide safe drinking water to 43 million Americans, referring presumably to the deal it recently announced with Gospace Labs to that end.

Key to its success will be its ability to broker other such partnerships, and to do that it will need to persuade would-be customers that they need to add satellite connectivity into their IoT offers. That might be an easier sell in difficult-to-cover areas than it is elsewhere, and ultimately much will come down to price, of course. Satellite-based connectivity is not as eye-wateringly expensive as it once was, but the financials still have to stack up for customers.

Sateliot seems to be making some progress on that front. It says it has closed deals with global telecoms operators and other companies, and can already boast a sales pipeline of over €1.2 billion. Its aim is to reach €1 billion in billing and €370 million in EBITDA by 2026.

If all goes to plan, we will presumably see more launches from Sateliot in the coming months, as well as some all-important customer announcements.

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