A slew of satellite companies have been promoting non-terrestrial networks as a way to connect more people to the internet, but there are also several space entrepreneurs looking to use satellites for IoT. One of these is Sateliot, which has just announced plans to launch its first functional nanosatellite early next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

A nanosatellite is defined as one that weighs less than 10 kilograms. Sateliot founder and CEO Jaume Sanpera said his company hopes to have a total of five Low Earth Orbit (LEO) nanosatellites launched by the second half of 2023. He said this will enable any IoT device with a Release 17 compliant NB-IoT modem to transmit data to the internet four times per day. 

According to Sanpera, four transmissions a day will be sufficient for the use cases his company is targeting. These include remote infrastructure like towers and dams that need to share operational data, ships that need to share location and status data, mobile assets that need to be tracked, and cattle. Elevated body temperature is an early warning sign of a sick cow, so ranchers have started inserting connected thermometers into cow bellies and leaving them there, since this is less work that taking periodic rectal temperature readings by hand.

Sanpera is talking directly to ranchers, shipping companies and other potential users, and is asking them how much they’re willing to pay for remote connectivity. But these companies won’t become Sateliot customers; instead Sanpera will refer them to mobile network operator partners. Telefónica is the only named partner so far, but Sateliot is in talks with carriers in 60 countries, Sanpera said.

The carriers will use Sateliot’s service to support NB-IoT, which carves out very narrow bands (200 kHz ) from spectrum already assigned for commercial voice and data services. So unlike some satellite operators, Sateliot does not need to lobby regulators for access to spectrum. 

Originally part of the LTE standard, NB-IoT was also included in the 5G standard as part of Release 17. Sateliot made 17 contributions to that release, more than any other satellite operator, according to Sanpera.

Two billion existing SIM cards already support 5G NB-IoT, Sanpera said. He added that these SIM cards typically cost less than $1.00 and said the off-the-shelf modules that connect them to the network cost less than $10. Sanpera expects carriers to charge $1.00/month/device for the service.

Carriers will need to share that revenue with Sateliot. When a connected ship or animal moves beyond the range of the carrier network, it will automatically connect to a Sateliot nanosatellite, Sanpera said. Sateliot will bill the operators for the traffic it handles on their behalf, like any other roaming partner. 

Sateliot will manage and monitor traffic using its own core network built with Magma, a software-defined distributed mobile packet core which was developed by Meta (then Facebook) and moved to Github as an open source platform in 2019. Sateliot built its core in partnership with AWS, and Sanpera said the Saliot virtual core can be deployed anywhere AWS has infrastructure.

Reaching for the stars
Sanpera wants to increase the number of satellites in orbit so that Sateliot can support more use cases, including those requiring more frequent transmissions. By 2024, the company wants to be able to support one message per hour from its connected devices. 

The San Diego-based startup had early financial backing from Evonexus, an accelerator funded by Qualcomm and Verizon. Other investors include tower giant Cellnex, European defense technology provider Indra, Danish satellite software maker GateHouse, and Seraphim, a UK-based fund that invests in the space sector.

One of Sateliot’s goals is to connect the remote assets of non-profit agencies at no charge, Sanpera said. He wants to help track medical supplies sent to Africa and other humanitarian aid, and said he is already in talks with several non-profits. 

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