Skylo, Inmarsat team for first commercial narrowband IoT-over-satellite solution

IoT start-up and satellite software-maker are connecting machines in remote areas, across oceans and in dense metropolitan areas for simple but important messaging.
Written by Chris Preimesberger, Contributor

Each day, gazillions of tiny internet-borne communication instances ping around the internet in deference to the ones we most think about--those being messaging, web browsing, voice calls, video conferences and watching television. 

The wide range of lower-network-level yet important tasks in the internet of things include functions such as starting a car remotely, summoning an ambulance, sending a farmer an early storm warning or registering soil quality metrics from a faraway soybean field. These happen billions of times a day, and they can easily be taken for granted, but they're all important to someone, somewhere.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup Skylo, whose global IoT connectivity fabric software facilitates satellite-based narrow-band IoT communication services, specializes in these behind-the-scenes functions. 

The company made telecom news June 10 in announcing a partnership with UK-based Inmarsat, which has developed satellite-to-Earth communications software for more than four decades. The deal makes the world's first commercial narrowband IoT-over-satellite solution a reality.

Inmarsat will provide the satellite capacity backbone to deliver Skylo's IoT packages internationally for connecting machines and sensors. Skylo will utilize existing Inmarsat satellites located in geostationary locations 35,000 kilometers in space.

The deal pairs Inmarsat's global satellite network with a Skylo IoT solution that provides remotely located application users with real-time, actionable data. This function fills in dead-area coverage gaps, improves efficiencies and can literally save lives in emergency situations, Skylo CPO and co-founder Tarun Gupta told ZDNet.

"We had a situation last Thanksgiving off the coast of India, where a couple of boats were sinking," Gupta said. "They were able to press the SOS button, which called back to the equivalent of the Coast Guard, and the Indian Coast Guard came out and saved their lives. So we've been actually able to save several dozen lives off the coast of India, and we're really proud of that."

The Skylo solution is available now in India through a partnership with in-country partner BSNL. Expansion plans will be announced later this year, Gupta said.

"Our software runs on satellites in the highest level in the atmosphere, the geostationary level," Gupta said. "We provide a full-stack solution, starting from the CPU in the hardware device. We provide access to the network as well as the platform where the data resides. Our global partner, Inmarsat, provides that pipe connectivity to transport the data from, say, the middle of the ocean, back over satellite to where you want to go."

Global connectivity is rapidly expanding beyond people to connect billions of machines and devices, and geographic separation is becoming less of a problem thanks to fast improvements in bandwidth, power sources and next-generation narrow-band software, such as Skylo's. Simultaneously, more and more IoT operations are requiring increasing always-available connectivity. Satellite IoT connectivity is changing how smart "things" are connected, enabling real-time data transmission and greater reliability and cost-effectiveness--particularly where there is inconsistent or no cellular coverage. 

"The most effective IoT solutions require a truly resilient and flexible network that can scale as demand grows," Inmarsat CEO Rajeev Suri said in a media advisory. "Our L-band network provides a unique capability for enabling the billions of connected IoT devices in India and across the world that are being deployed at an extraordinary speed."

New deal with Softbank announced

Skylo also announced that it has signed an agreement with Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank Corp. to provide satellite communication services for internet-connected commercial devices. The agreement comes with a caveat: Softbank will charge only 10% of competing rates.

SoftBank struck its alliance with Skylo late last month, after parent company SoftBank Group led a $103 million funding round for the startup in January. The goal is to launch an affordable network in Japan as early as next year. Boeing is also an investor in Skylo.

The network also will serve areas that have insufficient coverage by base stations located on the ground.

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