A Skylo base station in assembly.
Silicon Valley space startup Skylo Technologies has secured funding from the venture capital divisions of Intel, BMW and Samsung, as the company aims to bridge the gap between satellite and terrestrial communications.
Skylo raised $37 million in a seed round, the company told CNBC, led by Intel Capital and Innovation Endeavors and joined by BMW i Ventures, Next47, Samsung Catalyst Fund and Seraphim Space. The increase brings Skylo’s total equity raise to $153 million, from previous investors including SoftBank and DCM.
Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Mountain View, California, the company focuses on the burgeoning “direct-to-device,” or D2D, satellite communications market.
But instead of building next-generation satellites, Skylo aims to provide a network to connect new devices – including low-bandwidth Internet of Things hardware as well as high-bandwidth smartphones – via existing satellites, but without additional antennas or bulky equipment.
“We want ubiquitous connectivity. We just don’t want additional hardware because it adds complexity,” Skylo CEO Parth Trivedi told CNBC.
Trivedi said he believes his company can bring the telecommunications industry’s standards-based networks into the “walled garden” of proprietary satellite technology. His company is working to build software infrastructure to certify chips and devices capable of connecting to satellites in orbit.
In this way, Trivedi views Skylo as a “roaming partner” to existing cellular networks, effectively endorsing and linking devices made by other connectivity players.
“You’re going to find that this approach is very, very scalable, because operators don’t have to change behavior, users don’t have to change behavior, satellite operators don’t have to change behavior, and regulators don’t need to change behavior. I don’t need to change behavior,” Trivedi said.
The company has partnerships with chipset manufacturers including Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek and Sony. Skylo has already certified a number of IoT chips from these companies and is in the process of certifying more for wearables and smartphones.
“Older phones will not be certified on our network. It’s all new devices that come out that have the appropriate chipset, then we work with the [original equipment manufacturer] for this device to be certified…by the end of this year, most major smartphone modems will support the Skylo network,” Trivedi said.
Dave Johnson, managing director of Intel Capital, explained that his fund’s support is a result of his belief that Skylo is at the forefront of the D2D satellite opportunity.
“They made smart use of existing infrastructure wherever possible. They also did a very good job of engineering the solution end-to-end, so that it was transparent and easy for customers to adopt,” he said. Johnson told CNBC.
Skylo’s co-founder quartet, from left: Chief Hardware Architect Andrew Kalman, CTO Andrew Nuttall, CEO Parth Trivedi, and Chief Product Officer Tarun Gupta.
On the other side of Skylo’s network are the base stations it installs at satellite operators’ gateways. Also known as ground stations, these are the large satellite dishes that connect to the company’s satellites in space. Each Skylo base station is essentially a single server rack – which Trivedi says is “very capital efficient” – that the company installs at a gateway.
So far, Skylo has eight base stations installed on the satellite gateways, with partners currently including Viasat, Ligado and TerreStar. Through these satellite operators, Skylo started its initial service in the United States, Canada and Europe.
A Skylo base station.
“Sklyo is technically satellite agnostic, so as these different satellite providers launch and start supporting different things, they can add other partners to their portfolio,” Johnson said.
Trivedi said Skylo was generating revenue but declined to disclose details. Skylo has 52 employees and, in addition to its headquarters in Mountain View, has offices in Finland and India.