TAMPA, Fla. — OQ Technology, a Luxembourg space startup created to connect internet of things (IoT) devices to 5G technology, has signed a multi-launch deal with rideshare specialist Spaceflight to loft its own small satellites.

The company has been running tests on satellites owned by Denmark’s Gomspace, demonstrating narrowband spectrum capabilities on the 3GPP standards used by terrestrial wireless providers.

OQ Technology’s first satellite will launch this year, according to founder and CEO Omar Qaise, followed by another in the 2021/2022 timeframe to provide “latency tolerant” services.

Those services, supported by hosted payloads on other satellites, will be for customers that do not need more than a few updates from sensors per day. Agriculture customers, for instance, that can wait a few hours for data about humidity or soil temperature.

OQ Technology announced April 6 that Lithuania-based NanoAvionics is building a satellite called MACSAT, based on its flagship 6U cubesat buses and equipped with S-band transceivers.

Qaise said OQ Technology’s Spaceflight agreement covers the launch of six more satellites in 2022. He said it will pick a manufacturer for those spacecraft in the middle of this year. 

The agreement includes an option for Seattle-based Spaceflight to arrange the launch of a second batch of satellites, which OQ Technology has earmarked for the end of 2022 or the start of 2023 to improve capacity and latency.

OQ Technology envisages a constellation of more than 60 spacecraft in total.

The venture expects to have “real-time coverage everywhere by 2024. In fact we are already in talks with oil and gas, and mobile telecom companies to provide service trials,” according to Qaise.

He told SpaceNews early customers are mostly in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America, although it is planning trials in the United States where it is considering expanding.

There is a bigger market for “real-time and latency intolerant applications,” Qaise added, including tracking smart cars, commanding and monitoring drones, telematics and alarms for fire or leak detection on oil pipes.

Qaise declined to say how much financing it has secured to date, but said “it is a mix between private funding and revenues from government and institutional contracts.”

Private investors from the United Arab Emirates are also supporting the startup.

IoT rush

OQ Technology is one of dozens of small satellite IoT startups that are racing to expand their services.

A flurry of IoT satellites launched in the last week of March, including inaugural satellites for two startups: Spain-based Sateliot and Australia’s Myriota.

Sateliot expects to begin offering commercial services next year, and like OQ Technology its network will work with 5G IoT standards used by terrestrial telcos.

Qaise said its satellites will be larger and more powerful than Sateliot’s, and will also have a first-mover advantage after earlier tests with its own patented technology. 

To accelerate market access and widen its geographical coverage, he said OQ Technology is also exploring partnerships with geostationary (GEO) satellite operators.

Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek said in August it had successfully tested narrowband IoT technology over Alphasat, the L-band satellite that U.K-based Inmarsat operates in GEO.

U.S. startup Skylo emerged from stealth in early 2020, with $116 million funding, to develop technology to connect IoT sensors to existing GEO satellites.

“In the end we should have a network of our own LEO satellites, hosted payloads, and partner GEO satellites to provide reliable and continuous 5G IoT coverage for users anywhere in the world,” Qaise said.

“I cannot comment on who we are talking with but we are starting to reach out to operators.”

Smallsat IoT companies have moved from design plans to real commercial service in the last couple of years, Northern Sky Research senior analyst Alan Crisp noted.

In addition to recent satellite launches, Crisp said an increasing number of partnerships are targeting specific applications, such as mining and agriculture, are also moving ahead.

“With these launches and partnerships, it is clear that smallsat IoT isn’t only gaining momentum, it is accelerating,” he told SpaceNews.

“And with each new satellite launched, reduced latency and higher quality of service is achieved, resulting in a more desirable product with each launch. Pricing isn’t quite as originally promised, yet these price points compared to existing satellite IoT services will open up a whole new market opportunity.” 

Smallsat IoT will grow to more than five million satellite terminals by 2029, according to the baseline scenario in NSR’s latest report on the market. 

“With so many potential smallsat IoT constellations being planned in the coming years, NSR’s high growth scenario identifies 15 million satellite terminals in 2029 should more of these constellations become fully launched,” Crisp said. 

“Smallsat IoT really does have the potential to expand the satellite market to a whole new type of customer.”

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...