Beam me down, Skylo

Internet from infinity and beyond

Trolling telecom companies for their cellular coverage (or the lack of it) has become a favourite pastime among the social media generation. Despite what some companies claim via loud advertisements, cellular coverage reaches a mere 20% of the earth’s total landmass. Now you know why the network bars start disappearing the moment you venture outside a city or a town. 

Connectivity has far more serious uses than just getting your daily dose of pet videos or posting food pics on the gram. Think of a fisherman out in the deep sea whose boat breaks down, how does he call for help? In the middle of nowhere, he is unlikely to get cellular service or be able to make a radio call. 

For these kinds of scenarios, a company called Skylo is offering an interesting Internet of Things based solution that has machines and sensors talking with satellites. In this case, Skylo is able to connect the fisherman with the Indian Coast Guard in an affordable and efficient way. So what does Skylo do? Read on to find out.

What does Skylo do?

To reach remote areas, companies have been looking to the sky for beaming internet back to the earth. It may sound like something out of the Star Trek universe, but it is fast becoming a reality. 

Building on this concept, Skylo came up with a satellite NB-IoT (Narrow Band Internet of Things) solution involving geostationary satellites to exchange data in real-time without the need for a cell network. This allows the company to service even the remotest of areas in the country. 

Skylo has partnered with Inmarsat to use its satellite capacity to deliver IoT solutions for machines and sensors. The company recently also announced a partnership with BSNL, which will allow it to use the telecom operator’s satellite ground infrastructure. This ensures a truly pan-India coverage, including the Indian seas.

More importantly, this solution is as much as 95% cheaper than traditional satellite connectivity with data plans that can start from as low as ₹300 per month. Skylo is keeping costs down by using a “proprietary method of efficiently transmitting data” which reduces satellite usage costs.

How does it work?

There are three parts to how Skylo’s end-to-end solution works. The first is the Skylo Hub, which is a box with sensors that attaches to a machine like trucks, fishing boats, rail cars or even underground pipelines. It is compact, is powered by an internal battery, and can be easily installed with instructions from the Skylo app. Once powered on, the box connects to your mobile device via the app using Bluetooth Low Energy or Wi-Fi, instantly making these machines internet-capable. 

This Hub then talks with the Skylo Satellite Network, which involves a group of geostationary satellites. The third part is the Skylo Platform, which offers relevant information in easy-to-understand visuals on the mobile or desktop. Access to such information in real-time will help people make informed decisions.

Should I care?

Yes you should. Though it will not help you personally get better connectivity, there is loads of potential in what Skylo is trying to achieve. For now, it will come as a boon for businesses and different industries that are prone to being in non-connected transit zones. Deep sea fishing boats, long haul trucks, and long-distance trains all traverse through regions where traditional connectivity is absent. With Skylo’s solution, one will be able to keep track of them wherever they are. 

Farmers too can benefit from this smart solution as they can keep a real-time check on weather forecasts and soil conditions. Even during the ongoing pandemic, the tech can be used in ensuring safe vaccine delivery to various stations around the country with continuous tracking.

Looking to the skies

The earth’s orbit has become the next battleground as telecom companies and startups vie to get the biggest slice of connectivity pie. Bringing internet to underserved areas around the world will not only help companies earn brownie points, but could also turn out to be a lucrative venture in the long run. 

One of the biggest names in this space is not surprisingly connected to the man synonymous with space – Elon Musk. Starlink, backed by SpaceX, has a constellation of over 1,300 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to beam internet. It is currently beta testing in North America, and is already in talks with the Indian government for pre-orders.  

OneWeb, a global consortium with backers like Airtel’s Sunil Bharti Mittal, has over 110 LEO satellites with plans to have a total of 648 satellites. Once in place, the company plans to offer high-speed low-latency internet connectivity in countries like India by mid-2022.

Another competitor in this space is Amazon with its ‘Project Kuiper’. There are plans in place to put over 3,200 LEO satellites in orbit. The e-commerce giant is currently in talks with the Indian government for regulatory approvals to operate in rural areas.