OQ Technology’s “wake-up” patent draws yawn from IoT smallsat rival

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TAMPA, Fla. — Luxembourg startup OQ Technology said Feb. 16 it has secured its first patent for a planned satellite constellation to connect internet of things (IoT) devices.

OQ founder and CEO Omar Qaise said the patent, granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, will “give us an edge over competitors” in the increasingly crowded space-based IoT market.

Qaise said the patent covers “wake-up” technology that enables OQ’s terminal devices to save power by only communicating with satellites as needed. 

He said the technology will help OQ develop devices that meet a 10-year battery-life goal that 3GPP, the international body that sets standards for terrestrial wireless providers, has created for narrowband IoT communications.

However, other small satellite IoT companies are developing constellations promising similar capabilities, noted Northern Sky Research analyst Alan Crisp, which he said “should lead to 10-year battery life too, i.e., only send data when there’s a satellite overhead to save power.”

One of these is Sateliot of Spain, which says the ability for its upcoming constellation to connect with non-proprietary IoT devices, also through 3GPP standards, is a key advantage it has over competitors.

“Proprietary features are never an advantage,” Sateliot CEO Jaume Sanpera told SpaceNews, claiming these solutions “do not go far” despite being able to start sooner.

“In a standard ecosystem, the difference is in the business model and how good your implementation, exploitation and evolution are,” he added.

Sateliot is working closely with 3GPP to help shape standards due to be released this year, which Sanpera says will be critical for integrating satellite IoT solutions with terrestrial mobile operators. 

He said technologies developed before these standards are finalized will be unable to efficiently integrate with the terrestrial mobile ecosystem.

However, OQ is confident of being able to adapt to incoming standards, according to Qaise, because the “3GPP standard provides guidelines for requirements for conformance and not the actual implementation itself.”

He told SpaceNews these guidelines enable the startup to implement “efficient features based on the requirements and specifications at software level,” which can be updated as necessary.

“The hardware aboard our satellites is programmable and the software can therefore be updated in-orbit,” he said. 

Racing ahead

According to OQ, it has successfully tested a user terminal compatible with terrestrial 5G technology with Tiger-2, the startup’s first commercial nanosatellite that launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission in June.

Lithuania’s NanoAvionics announced a contract last year to build, integrate and operate Tiger-2 on OQ’s behalf. 

Qaise has plans to deploy up to six more satellites in 2022, through an agreement with rideshare broker Spaceflight, for a constellation of more than 60 spacecraft in total.

He said the company’s next satellite, Tiger-3, is slated to launch on SpaceX’s Transporter-4 rideshare mission “no earlier than April 2022.”

OQ has five other patents pending in the U.S. and Europe that, according to Qaise, will also give it an advantage over other companies chasing an emerging small satellite IoT market. These patents cover frequency and timing synchronization technologies, IoT device localization, and inter-satellite links.

The startup aims to use small satellites in low Earth orbit to connect low-power devices in rural and remote locations for asset tracking, drone control, vehicle telematics and other applications that need less than 10 milliseconds of latency.

Sateliot said Feb. 9 it had raised 10 million euros ($11.4 million) in a Series A round, after also launching the inaugural satellite for a similar IoT business last year.

The Spanish startup said the funds will support research and development activities to develop its business. It is also planning a Series B round to support the launch of 16 nanosatellites in 2022-2023.