From how glaciers are moving, the size of ice caps, the salinity of the water, and tracking of endangered species, SatIoT provides unprecedented monitoring. For the first time in history, SatIoT can now connect any type of IoT sensor with low-cost and low-power anywhere around the globe, which provides new ways to monitor various use cases, such as climate change. Fabien Jordan, the Founder and CEO of Astrocast, joins the podcast to discuss just that, along with other use cases of SatIoT. Fabien also gives insights on the goal for nanosatellites orbiting Earth, challenges in the industry, and what the future holds for SatIoT.
Fabien Jordan is the Founder and CEO of Astrocast, a leading Satellite IoT service that enables asset tracking and two-way communications in remote areas of the world. Fabien is widely recognized for his work on SwissCube, the longest-operating nanosatellite. He also worked as Technical Manager at the Space Exploration Institute in Neuchâtel, where he contributed to designing two scientific instruments for the ESA ExoMars Rover Mission. Previously, he was Electrical System Engineer at the Swiss Space Center EPFL. Thanks to his 15-year experience in space systems engineering and early involvement in the CubeSat community, he became convinced that nanosatellite constellations would disrupt specific segments of the satellite industry and saw the NewSpace revolution coming. In 2014, with an international team of experts from the space and telecom industries, he developed a strong business model to provide global, direct-to-satellite Internet-of-Things (IoT) communications. Leveraging the industry-leading performance of Astrocast’s L-band IoT network, Fabien successfully positioned the first Swiss satellite operator as a front-runner.
Interested in connecting with Fabien? Reach out on Linkedin!
Astrocast SA operates a leading global nanosatellite IoT network, offering services in industries such as agriculture & livestock, maritime, and environment and utilities, to name a few. The Astrocast network enables companies to monitor, track, and communicate with remote assets from anywhere in the world. It relies on a superior L-band spectrum through a strategic alliance with Thuraya. In partnership with Airbus, CEA/LETI, and ESA, Astrocast developed Astronode S, an ultra-low power and miniaturized module compatible with inexpensive L-band patch antennas. Founded in 2014 by a renowned team of experts, Astrocast develops and tests all its products in-house, from the satellites to the modules. Astrocast is listed on Euronext Growth Oslo and recently announced the acquisition of Hiber.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(05:18) Use cases Astrocast focuses on
(12:58) Goal for satellites
(14:46) SatIoT and climate change
(19:45) Future of this space
– [Fabien] New opportunity to really connect your sensors straight to satellite to measure how the glaciers are moving, the ice gaps, the salinity of the oceans. We are connecting also wildlife, animals like sea turtles and everything to help understanding how these changes these changes are affecting the global climate. And we see a lot of traction from these organizations.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode. Of the IoT For All Podcast. Presented by IoT For All, the number one publication and resource for the Internet of things. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon. If you’re watching this on YouTube, we truly appreciate it if you give this video a thumbs up and subscribe to our channel if you have not done so already. If you’re listening to this on a podcast directory like Apple Podcast, please subscribe to the channel so you get the latest episodes as soon as they are out. Alright, on today’s episode, we have Fabian Jordan, the CEO and founder of Astrocast. They are a company that operates a leading Globalite nanosatellite IoT network that provides services to many different industries like agriculture, livestock, maritime environment, coal and utility industries, just to name a few. And we have a great conversation. We talk about realizing the true potential of
IoT with cost effective satellite communication. How satellite IoT is contributing to global. Climate change, understanding and solutions, how interoperability is playing into all these challenges they’re seeing in the space global market, conditions that are affecting the industry, as well as the satellite communication side of things. So, all in all, great conversation that I think you’ll get a lot of value out of. But before we get into it, any of you out there are looking to enter the fast growing and profitable IoT market but don’t know where to start. Check out our sponsor Leverege. Leverege’s IoT Solutions development platform provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white, label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangesverything.com that’s iotchangesverthing.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome Fabien to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Fabien] Hey, Ryan, great to be with you.
– [Ryan] Yes, it’s great to have you. Looking forward to this conversation. Let’s go ahead and kick it off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself to our audience.
– [Fabien] Of course. My name is Fabien Jordan. I’m the founder and CEO of Astrocast. I have a background in electrical engineering. So mostly space systems. I spent most of my career working. On what we call nanosatellites miniaturized satellites, missions. I had the privilege to build the first Swiss satellite back in 2006. This is a mission that we launched in 2009, and it was a very successful mission. Still operational today after more than 13 years in orbit. I think it’s one of the world record in terms of lifetime longevity for a nanosatellite. So working on these different space missions during the past, basically the past 15 years made me realize several things. First, I realized how access to space offers really a global reach, really allows you to tackle global issues. And the second aspect is that because I worked on nanosatellites, I had a really good understanding of what can you achieve with this type of platform and how they can play a role in this revolution of the, of the what we call the new space movement. So I was, I was convinced that Nanosatellite could really play a role in in the the IoT, the global IoT market. Back in 2005, 2010, we were hearing a lot about the first players, like Sigfox in Europe, Laura and everything. So I was very well positioned to see that opportunity that linked IoT to Nanosatellites. And, and I says that I went to see different experts from the telecom industry and together we progressively developed a very solid business plan to offer global satellite IoT connectivity. So that’s what we do at Astrocast. We operate a network of miniature satellites. I have one with me, by the way, I can do it on the camera here. So that’s the actual size of the satellites. We call that a three unit CubeSat. It weighs about 5 kilograms It’s the most advanced platform you can have today to send messages from anywhere on the planet, back and forth. And we operate twelve of these satellites. Currently, we’re launching eight more at the end of the year. And this is what we do, we are a satellite operator. Not only do we operate the satellite, we also design and build them in house. So we are vertically integrated, and we provide our customers with an IoT modem radio that we design as well, that communicates directly to satellites through a proprietary protocol.
– [Ryan] That’s fantastic. Very exciting stuff. So when it comes to the areas that you all focus, from an industry use case standpoint, can you tell us a little bit more about that? What are some of the use cases that you all kind of focus your efforts on and that you kind of see leading the way in the space that you’re in?
– [Fabien] Sure. Yeah. So if you look at the planet, about 10 to 15% of the planet is covered by terrestrial network, mostly fiber, cellular, and other type of IoT networks. But if you have assets in remote areas, the only way to communicate with your asset, the only way to transmit data, is by using satellites. And therefore, the use cases that we focus on are all these use cases that are in remote areas. We have a massive traction in the maritime industry, obviously, for the supply chain. So we’re talking about tracking shipping containers in the fishing industry, tracking vessels, but also the fishing boys, the environmental boys as well. And a lot of traction as well in the Arctic industry, IoT sensors to measure different parameters like moisture in the soil and livestock tracking. We actually have five different companies right now building devices for livestock tracking based on the Astro gas technology. So really plenty of opportunities, but always linked to remote areas where you have limited or saturated or non available connectivity on the grid.
-[Ryan] Fantastic. So let me ask you a question. How do you kind of see these cost effects, or I guess, the cost effective satellite communication and connectivity that comes out of launching these nanosatellites? How do you think that is helping the industry truly realize the potential of IoT? What do you see it really enabling? What do you see the real value that it’s adding? And why is it such a big deal for parts of the industry or even the industry as a whole?
– [Fabien] Yes, thank you. Very good question. I think it’s really a question of how do you fit in that existing ecosystem? Satellite communication has existed for a long time. It was just not affordable. It was not accessible for the typical IoT use cases. Right. IoT is a very cost sensitive market, and if you want to use satellite, you won’t be as competitive as the terrestrial offerings, but you need to be in the same range of pricing. So pricing is absolutely key to be successful and to be able to be really cost effective, you need your entire infrastructure to be very lean and to be extremely optimized. And that’s what we have at Astrocast. Not only the satellites small and highly optimized, but everything, all the other components of the infrastructure are really optimized to do one thing and do it really well transmit data, IoT data, back and forth. I think if you want to be able to extend this terrestrial network, we’re talking about use cases that typical, use cases of the IoT industry where you have assets that are moving out of the connectivity areas. The only way to serve these markets is by having a cost structure that makes sense for these displayers. And this is very recent. We are among the first to really offer something now that is reliable, that is certified and obligated, and that’s available in many countries. That makes sense from the cost perspective. Now, there’s a second factor which is absolutely essential, is the power consumption. Because when you put yourself in the shoes of the systems integrators or the device makers, they look at the power consumption as a cost because it defines either the size of your battery or the lifetime of your asset when you connect shipping containers. This is a fantastic product of one of our customer called Aerospots, based in Israel. This is a killer device that relies on many different type of connectivity. They have Laura, they have Bluetooth, they have cellular, and they have Astrocast as a low cost satellite link. This is the first device by the. Way that has low cost satellites embedded. This has to survive for many years on the container. So they usually ask for seven, eight, nine years of lifetime on the same battery. So power consumption is so critical. And with an optimized system, chip based system like we have, this is our chipset that we integrate in our product. So this is basically radio that communicates with our satellites. You can really have something that is very similar to LoRa. Our power consumption is very similar to a typical LoRa chipset.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Yeah. I’ve had some conversations recently with people that are really finding a lot of value in the satellite connectivity, not just from the cost standpoint, but from the coverage standpoint, and how it’s able to kind of fill in gaps when they lose connectivity moving out of range from like cellular and things like that. From your perspective, I know you mentioned kind of asset tracking and such, but what do you see as some of the leading industries and use cases that are going to truly benefit from the growth in nanosatellites being deployed? And the reason I’m asking is because we have a lot of people who will listen to this and watch this, and I just want to make sure that we kind of can pinpoint who of those audience members should be paying the most attention to get the most value, because this is probably very applicable to them. So where do you kind of see that going and where do you see it provide the most value there?
– [Fabien] Yeah, so from our perspective with the type of performance that we have today, the key markets are, as I said, the maritime industry and the agriculture and livestock industry and everything that is environmental. So weather monitoring, weather station. Just to clarify, in terms of performance, we’re talking today with twelve satellites. We’re talking about end to end latency in the range of few hours. So we’re talking about a few messages per day, all the way to maybe five, six, seven messages per day, depending on exactly on where you are. So these are use cases that we’re not a real time system. This is not the goal to become a real time system. But as we launch more satellites, this end to end latency will decrease and then it opens up the market. But today the key markets are, we think, really the shipping container industry, where we have a lot of traction and are discussing with all the key players. And I can show you a product like this one for example. This is a typical data logger or agtech sensor that you put in the field. In remote areas, use a solar panel and you can use different types of connectivity than to relay your data. If you don’t have anything, then you can use satellite. This we think in general, in the active industry, especially in Asia, we have a lot of traction right now. So this is a massive opportunity for us.
– [Ryan] And you’ve mentioned a couple of times how many satellites you have up right now deployed. What’s the goal? Is the goal to just continue to get satellites up or launch more satellites or how is that kind of thought about or approached? Because that’s not something I’ve really kind of gotten a lot of insights into.
– [Fabien] Yeah, so we already have something very good, right? So we want to monetize that. We want to capitalize on what we have already, but we are launching more. So we have two launches planned for the end of the year, one with SpaceX in December, 4 additional satellites, and another one with an Indian rocket a bit earlier this year. And this will improve the performance a little bit, and then we’ll continue to deploy. But it’s not like it’s critical to deploy the full network before we can offer a service. Our service today is highly optimized and already very successful. We started to sell it early this year in Q1, this year after seven years of development. So that’s what we have been focusing on, making sure the entire system is reliable and can really serve the market. We are active in 73 countries. This includes international water as well, which already is providing fantastic results. Now, the more satellites we launch, the better the performance. So we will continue to progressively deploy until we reach 40 satellites. This is the first generation full constellation, and then we will move to a second generation satellite.
– [Ryan] Okay, fantastic. So you mentioned something earlier about kind of how everything or I guess, new use cases and benefits from a climate perspective, how do you see satellite IoT contributing to climate change? And just maybe the understanding of what’s happening with the climate, different solutions that are out there that are more environmentally focused. How do you kind of see it affecting that space?
– [Fabien] Yeah. So you can measure a lot from space using Earth’s observation satellites, but you often lack the granularity you always need to see two measurements to have good data or to index your model for insurances. For example, when it comes to measuring institute data over large areas in the oceans or in the forest and everything, really, the only way is to have an IoT center institute and then have a direct to satellite link. And I think at this stage, we see a massive potential for that. And we see a lot of organizations now looking at this new opportunity to really connect your sensors straight to satellite to measure how the glaciers are moving, the ice caps, the salinity of the oceans. We are connecting also wildlife animals like sea turtles and everything to help understanding how these changes are affecting the global climate. And we see a lot of traction from these organizations. Obviously, this is not a major market, but in terms of impact, we think it’s massive because it’s the first time that you have this ability to really connect at very low-cost and low-power, connect any type of IoT sensor institute and works anywhere from the poles to the equator. So that’s the beauty of this global constellation.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. One question I’m curious to hear your perspective on is around the challenges that you see occurring in the space, especially as it relates to satellite IoT and satellite connectivity. Where do you see the biggest challenges when it comes to the adoption of satellite connectivity? Is it technology focus? Is it things like hardware? Is it maybe just global things going on in the world that are affecting or causing the most challenges when it comes to adoption of satellite IoT connectivity? Just kind of curious, from your perspective, where you see the biggest challenges that kind of lie in the space?
– [Fabien] Yeah, very good question. I would say it depends on the verticals. The constraints can be quite different from one segment to the other segment of the industry. But in general, as most companies nowadays, we see some issues with components availability. Some of our customers, they sometimes take more time to integrate the technology because we’re not selling a full device, right? We’re selling a modem. This is our modem, our main product. And this gets integrated together with the antenna in a device that is sold by solution provider, together with the data platform and everything. So it takes time to integrate that product. So this is a challenge, but the challenge that we knew existed. So we have put everything in place to support the customer during that integration phase, providing all the documentation, technical documentation, very good dev kits, software, example, everything that is needed to quickly develop your application. And we have a whole team here that support the customers in these phases and try to help them when there is something that takes more time than planned. So I would say availability of components is one aspect. Obviously, in some regions it’s more about regulatory matters. We have been very successful in opening many countries. I was talking about 70 countries. This is a lot. It’s basically Europe. The entirety of Europe. Africa. Oceania. And then we start opening countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. But some geographies are more difficult than others from the regulatory point of view. And here we see some we need to put more effort into that. But overall, once the customer has understood the value proposition and that they don’t have any, there’s nothing else available. Basically, we are the only one with a commercial solution that reached this type of performance. They are very eager to develop and build these products and applications.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. One last question, I want to ask you for that you go here is just what does the future of the space look like in your perspective? What are the next six to twelve months look like in this area? What should people be most excited about paying attention to things like that?
– [Fabien] Well, I think we will see more and more adoption of satellite IoT technologies, whether it’s direct to satellite or backholing configuration, which is a bit of a different market, but yeah, there’s a lot of deployment. We see. We hear more and more also about the 5G IoT over satellite. We currently use a highly optimized data protocol that we developed together with Airbus in France that really has amazing performances. But for the long term, we think we need to keep an eye on how these end to end standards are evolving because we have access to the perfect the frequency we are using can be also used by cellular operators, so we could also implement using the exact same hardware, we could implement the biot protocol in the future. So I think this is also very exciting to look at, how quickly this will evolve, how quickly the standard will be ratified, and what type of performance can we see from these kind of technologies. I believe that what we have today is much more optimized, at least for the coming two or three, maybe five years or more. But we keep an eye on that and it’s exciting to see development around that as well.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, really appreciate your time today. I know our audience is getting a ton of value out of hearing your insights and learning what you all have going on in the space. For those members who are interested in kind of following up, learning more, diving further into this, engaging in any capacity, what’s the best way that they can do that?
– [Fabien] Well, our team is ready to.. I’m sorry for that. Our team is ready to interact with anybody. We have a website that is really well designed to be able to gather interest and interact with customers. We are very active in different shows around the planet. You can see on our website or on social media where we are. Please reach out to us. We will be very happy to discuss with you how we can help you in your IoT, the extension of IoT coverage, and feel free to reach out to us.
– [Ryan] Perfect. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and would love to have you back at some point in the future to talk further about what’s going on in the space.
– [Fabien] Absolutely was a pleasure to talk to you, Ryan. Thank you.
– [Ryan] Thank you. All right, everyone, thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT For All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the Bell notification so you get the latest episode as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.