Startups like Sateliot are developing constellations in low Earth orbit to connect with internet of things devices running on terrestrial 5G networks. Credit: Sateliot Credit: Sateliot

For the past decade, we’ve been witnessing a revolution in the space industry. Significant technological advancements, such as the rapid adoption of cubesat technology, reusable rockets and the rapid evolution of microprocessors have lowered the barrier to entry, making the market more accessible to newer, smaller players. 

Legacy companies still hold a majority share of the market, but it’s worth noting that these giants still face significant (and expensive) challenges that allow others to catch up. Satellite positioning difficulties, plus the astronomical costs of manufacturing and launch, have made it a perpetual struggle for profits. This is further compounded by the uncertainty of a successful launch. 

To offset these costs, legacy corporations relied on proprietary protocols for their systems, which made them virtually inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t a big spender, such as governments, broadcast networks and other giant corporations. However, this is quickly shifting thanks to the advent of smartphones, nanosatellites and 5G technology.

Shaking up satcoms

The true game changer for the entire market now is the NB 5G-IoT satellite communications, which is what will allow widespread adoption of 5G technology. Current estimates are that the number of global 5G subscriptions will surpass 4.4 billion by 2027, and satellite IoT connectivity revenues are expected to grow up to 14 times faster than traditional satellite revenues.

It’s projected that startups will account for 20% of all industry revenues by 2026. This is an impressive piece of the pie, considering that most of these startups were nonexistent 5-10 years ago. 

With smartphones and IoT technology came a shift in focus for satellite networks: seeking better ways to connect the world. In this case, “better” meant developing a new approach to satellite constellations (or non-terrestrial networks, NTNs). Introducing 5G protocols in telecommunications opens a gateway for near-real-time data transmission and better-quality communications, and this connectivity is now available to anyone with an IoT device. 

With further technological developments, 5G satellite telecommunications will be a huge boon for both first responders and the average cell phone user. Instead of relying solely on expensive proprietary technology that often still has coverage gaps, those in remote areas or disaster zones will be able to more reliably receive high-quality coverage from 5G-IoT-enabled satellite constellations with no specialized hardware or software requirements.

NTNs that support 5G-IoT satellite communications via low-Earth orbit (LEO) are also gaining rapid and widespread support, signaling the beginning of a new era. 

5G-IoT satellite startups aim for massive adoption

Two major players have already shown clamorous support for this move toward a better-connected world. 

The 3GPP, which leads the way in defining global telecommunications standards, set forth a new scenario in 2021 where LEO nanosatellite networks would provide IoT services worldwide. This was approved by all members, laying the groundwork for better cooperation among all telecommunications players. 

The European Space Agency (ESA) also recently endorsed the NB 5G-IoT LEO NTN technology. This seal of quality indicates that the ESA is confident that IoT devices can function just as well under NTN connectivity as they do with traditional cellphone towers. In some cases, such as natural disasters, this endorsement can actually signal better functionality because of the increased potential for connectivity in those emergency situations. 

The backing of these two entities, plus the forthcoming formal regulatory support, paves the way for creating cheaper, more accessible and highly scalable IoT adoption. Companies and institutions are quickly realizing this, and they are all looking for ways to be the first to take advantage of bringing 5G-IoT to space. 

Space is the future of connectivity 

By 2029, the global satellite-enabled IoT market is projected to reach nearly $13.7 billion, a CAGR of 12.10%, and Statista estimates there will be over 29 billion IoT-connected devices by that time. 

IoT networks facilitate faster data transmission. While traditional satellite networks can easily transmit terabytes of data, we have been hampered by the need for large, expensive satellite equipment to achieve this level of connectivity. 

Smaller satellite companies and startups are revolutionizing the way the satellite communications industry is developing, and exciting innovations are completely changing the trajectory of the market as a whole. 

LEO satellite constellations are helping the space industry become a safer, more attractive investment while lowering previously sky-high barriers to entry. Additionally, narrow-band 5G-IoT NTNs are opening the gates for more widespread and rapid adoption of 5G technology, which is foundational to creating a highly connected world. 

In short, 5G-IoT will unquestionably be the next big thing in the space industry.

Jaume Sanpera is the founder and CEO of Sateliot, a Spanish startup developing a LEO constellation for connecting internet of things devices and smartphones.