In mid 2017, British company Sky and Space Global successfully launched their 3 Diamonds nano-satellites at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. The 3 Diamonds nano-satellites are the company’s ingenius effort to provide affordable communication services to currently underserved regions such as Africa. Even more recently, Sky and Space Global signed a $30 million contract with Nigerian-based mobile payments startup Beeptool.A deal that requires Beeptool to purchase from SAS all the available communications bandwidth that is required by BeepTool to fill its commercial demand. SAS CEO, Meir Moalem spoke to Techmoran about this and much more on what SAS has in store for the future of cheap satellite communication in Africa.
Your company has been the pioneer in some really interesting communication technology. Having recently successfully deployed the 3 first satellite (the 3 diamonds), what does this mean for the future of digital communication?
The 3 Diamonds launch marked a key milestone for Sky and Space Global as a business. The launch was an important step towards delivering the Sky and Space Global vision for providing affordable communication services to those who are currently underserved. We have pre-sold the nano-satellite communications bandwidth from the 3 Diamonds to Sat-Space Africa, an IP connectivity company. An agreement was also signed with Globalsat Group, a company which delivers satellite communications services in South and Latin America.
A few months ago we also performed a world first for the aerospace, satellite and telecommunications industries, as we successfully conducted the first ever voice call and text messaging facilitated by nano-satellite technology. Just a few months later we successfully demonstrated the first financial transaction performed using nanosatellite connectivity with our partner BeepTool.
These achievements demonstrated our capability to deliver low cost satellite connectivity to remote locations in emerging markets that have previously had no access to a communications network infrastructure.
How is affordable satellite communications driving digital inclusion in emerging markets, such as the various African countries.
As our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, the demand for affordable connectivity is growing dramatically. This growth is partially driven by the increasing adoption of mobile technology in emerging markets and by the growing demand for data. Despite the rapid adoption of communication technology across the world, there are still almost 4 billion people living without mobile coverage in emerging markets. This creates a huge demand for connectivity services in remote locations.
Nano-satellites have the potential to provide affordable connectivity to anyone, anywhere, anytime in the world and offer a great alternative to traditional satellite communications, which are very costly. The ability to provide mobile coverage in remote locations is vital for building a healthy information infrastructure in developing countries where poor connectivity is a barrier to education, business growth and economic prosperity.
This is why we see our mission not only in becoming a leader in innovate satellite technology but also in helping drive digital inclusion across the world. It’s about providing affordable connectivity to everyone and creating more opportunities for people across the world.
How is narrowband satellite communication disrupting the space and telecommunication industries alike?
Sky and Space Global is the first company utilising nano-satellites for mainstream communications and enabling access to data, phone calls and text messaging in regions which are currently underserved by telco providers. Until now nano-satellites have been predominantly used for earth observation and imagery but with advancements in miniature space technology their capabilities have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, opening up opportunities for NewSpace start-ups like us to disrupt the space and telecoms industries.
Currently, the telecoms companies are under a lot of pressure to innovate with data and connectivity services, while cutting down costs. At the same time, developed markets are becoming increasingly saturated with communications service providers, offering limited opportunity for incremental growth. This is why a lot of global telecoms companies are looking to expand into emerging markets. However, the lack of coverage in remote locations, combined with the lack of affordable connectivity solutions, is making this a very challenging process.
Sky and Space Global’s unique technology and business model allows us to build a very low CAPEX space infrastructure, based on nanosatellites which are cheaper to produce and launch. We also have very low operational costs because our nanosatellites will be managed by an autonomous network management software programme. This allows Sky and Space Global to offer services of narrowband satellite communications at much more affordable prices than traditional satellite connectivity services. Therefore the total capital and operational costs of Sky and Space Global is a fraction of the cost of competing services and is disrupting the market.
Which companies has SAS collaborated with to bring affordable connectivity to Africa? (teleco providers, start-ups and established enterprises), tell us more about the Beeptool contract in particular.
We are working with African start-ups and we are keen to partner with more local companies to drive tech innovation and digital inclusion in Africa. For example, we recently signed a 30M$ 5-year contract with BeepTool, an African mobile payment start-up.
In October 2017 we successfully performed the world’s first financial transaction via nanosatellites using the BeepTool messaging app. The Chatellite app will be integrated into BeepTool’s mobile payments, messaging and voice platform. This technology will provide access to messaging and payment services to people living in remote locations where there is limited or no communications infrastructure.
Last year we also signed our first binding commercial contract with a wholesale customer, Sat-Space Africa and we are also testing connectivity solutions for farmers in Africa and other regions with our partners WeFarm – the world’s largest knowledge and data network for small scale farmers.
What are some of the industry trends and business opportunities industry players should be observing?
The smallsat industry is experiencing rapid growth at the moment and this is opening up huge opportunities for satellite start-ups such Sky and Space Global to disrupt the market. For businesses outside the space industry NewSpace technology provides opportunities to expand to new markets and to innovate with products and services.
The use of nanosatellites for mainstream communication services is a new trend for example and we are expecting to see a lot more companies entering this market in the next couple of years. This technology can not only help bridge the digital divide and improve the lives of billions of people, but it can also create significant commercial opportunities for enterprises. By connecting more people who currently have no mobile and digital access, we create new opportunities for businesses across many sectors – from telco providers, through to retailers, financial services providers, mobile manufacturers app developers and many others.
Narrowband connectivity provided by nanosatellites can be also used connect assets in remote locations in emerging markets and drive innovation in IoT.
The opportunities are huge. As I like to say, ‘the Sky is the only Limit.’