Yahsat invests in eSAT Global’s direct-to-cell activator

TAMPA, Fla. — Emirates fleet management company Yahsat said on Oct. 11 that it has invested in California startup eSAT Global, which is developing a chip that will allow phones to connect to its geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites.

The companies did not disclose financial details of Yahsat’s acquisition of a minority stake in eSAT.

The deal includes a long-term commercial agreement for Thuraya, Yahsat’s L-band mobile satellite services business, to use eSAT’s technology to connect directly to phones and low-power Internet of things (IoT) devices.

San Diego-based eSAT was founded in 2017 to create communication modules that enable low-cost tracking, monitoring and other IoT devices to connect directly to GEO satellites where terrestrial networks are unavailable.

Last year, the startup said it was also developing a satellite-enabled text feature for emergency and “simple messaging” services.

Along with other startups, established satellite operators have recently announced plans for an emerging direct-to-cell market, including SpaceX’s Starlink.

Most of these plans envision leveraging small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which are capable of providing lower latency services than spacecraft farther into GEO.

However, pumping from existing satellites in GEO can be more cost-effective than LEO for low-power global connectivity services, eSAT says, with sub-two-second latency still possible for time-sensitive applications.

“We have designed our systems to take advantage of the inherent advantages that L-band GEOs have over LEO and other GEOs,” said eSAT CEO Rick Somerton.

“It is very exciting for us that Yahsat, through its investment, supports our belief that its GEOs will deliver low-cost, low-power, low-latency IoT connectivity.”

Silicon Valley startup Skylo is also developing a business to bring connectivity to IoT devices beyond the reach of terrestrial networks via third-party GEO satellites.

Skylo, which has partnered with UK-based fleet provider Inmarsat to use the L-band satellites, announced her own plans on September 7 for the sector directly in a cell.

Extension directly to hive

Smartphone makers will have to add eSAT’s custom RF chip to their phone designs, or modify existing chipsets, to give their handsets the ability to connect to satellite partners in GEO.

The startup said it is developing a communication device that will connect to existing handsets, allowing them to use eSAT’s Remote Text Service (eRTS) without that chip.

Thuraya and Inmarsat supported field trials for eRTS earlier this year.

In October 2021, eSAT said it expects to have the first commercial rollout of the direct-to-cell service by the end of 2022. The company has not provided an update on that time frame or the status of field testing.

Announcing its investment in eSAT on October 11, Yahsat said it expects the startup to launch commercial IoT services on Thuraya’s network by the fourth quarter of 2023.

Thuraya’s L-band constellation includes two aging satellites covering two-thirds of the globe, providing connectivity to specialized devices across commercial and government markets from Europe to the Asia-Pacific. The operator relies on roaming agreements to cover the remaining third of the world not reached by these satellites over America.

Yahsat operates three broadband satellites in GEO and acquired Thuraya in 2018 to drive an expanding satellite-enabled IoT market.

Yahsat ordered a next-generation L-band satellite called Thuraya-4 NGS from Airbus two years later to renew part of the Thuraya constellation, which SpaceX is due to launch in 2024.

The contract with Airbus included an option for a second satellite to continue coverage in Asia, which Yahsat has not launched.

“Yahsat’s investment in eSAT, combined with Thuraya’s commercial agreement, aligns with our belief in the tremendous impact of the IoT industry on the satellite and space industry today and in the years to come,” said Yahsat CEO Ali Al Hashemi .

“Through this partnership, we will be able to serve our customers even more effectively by offering intelligent, reliable and adaptable solutions that will unlock new and exciting opportunities in a range of sectors.”

The IoT market is projected to grow to $525 billion over the next five years at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22 percent, Yahsat said, while satellite IoT is projected to generate a total of $6 billion over the same period.

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