Astrocast on satellite mission to fill in coverage for IoT

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Astrocast aims to provide a very low speed, low data rate service for battery-operated small form factor devices. (Pixabay))

Astrocast, a Lausanne, Switzerland-based company, is preparing to launch a constellation of satellites that could be used to “fill in” areas that cellular IoT technologies don’t cover.

While a lot of ventures these days—think OneWeb—are focused on providing high-speed broadband and connecting the unconnected, that’s not Astrocast’s mission.

“We are very low speed, low data rate, small data packets and designed for battery-operated small form factor devices,” said Bryan Eagle, U.S.-based vice president at Astrocast, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. “That’s really our sweet spot. We’re much more an extension of NB-IoT, LoRa, Sigfox, than we are any relation to the OneWeb” or something of that nature.

The company has a presence of four employees in the U.S., but most of the team—about 40 people strong—is based in Switzerland. Fabien Jordan, CEO and founder to Astrocast, said the goal eventually is to have 64 operational nanosatellites to offer global coverage, and that likely will be complete in the end of 2020 timeframe.

But the company doesn’t have to wait for the entire constellation to be launched in order to do commercial business. “The good thing about the concept, it’s very flexible,” Jordan told FierceWirelessTech. However, the more satellites that are launched, the lower the latency will be. The company is using the L-Band, with spectrum ascertained through the Swiss national regulator.

Of course, with IoT, it all comes down to cost efficiencies, and Eagle said that’s what Astrocast’s model offers. The entire constellation deployed in space is less expensive than a single Iridium satellite, “so we have a much different infrastructure cost profile, which allows us to have a much lower cost service,” and more on par with the pricing from somebody like Sigfox, he said.

Cellular today covers about 10% of the geography of the globe; “we’re covering 100% of the geography,” Eagle added. “Our primary focus is on those applications and those places where there is no cellular coverage.”

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Use cases involve maritime—such as getting environmental data from buoys or drones, tracking everything from fish to trash and offering some tracking and locating capabilities. There are applications for the oil and gas industry as well. In some cases, people are just happy to hear there’s a way to get data even if it’s only once a day—because they have no alternative.

“Our focus is not to compete so much on the smart city-type applications but to really extend the reach for people that are looking to get outside of that environment,” Eagle said. Having said that, “we have a number of prospects that are interested in using our service as a partial backup for some of their smart city applications.”

An example would be a hospital that is very well connected but when a bad storm hits and the power and cellular systems are knocked out, they need a back-up, with a power-efficient, battery-operated device, to find out how much fuel is still in a tank, for example.

The company opened a Series A round earlier this year with the goal of raising about $15 million, and it has raised about half of that already with several candidates identified as lead investors for the second part of the round.

“We just want to find the right partners to work with to build out this project and then scale up this business the best way,” Jordan said.