Swarm Technologies is one of several companies looking to populate low Earth orbit with communications satellites, setting itself apart with the sheer smallness of its devices — and of course with the notoriety of having defied the FCC and earned a fine. But investors are bullish, and the company has just raised a $25 million Series A round to put 150 of its tiny SpaceBEEs in orbit.
There are many communications markets to be served from space: Starlink wants to do mobile broadband; Ubiquitilink wants to eliminate “no signal;” and Swarm is taking aim at embedded devices, the so-called Internet of Things.
IoT devices don’t need high speeds or low latency; the data they produce can usually wait a few minutes, or even days. While they very well could be registered on your ordinary Wi-Fi network or even connect by a cellular connection, it’s easy to see that they would benefit from a separate form of connectivity more suited to their needs.
This is especially true when you consider how areas like farms and wildernesses are being outfitted with sensors to monitor soil, warn of poachers or lost hikers and otherwise provide some basic data on the huge swathes of land that are more or less off the grid.
“Swarm has developed something entirely new: a low-bandwidth, latency-tolerant network that is extremely inexpensive, low-power and very easy to integrate for things that need to be connected anywhere in the world,” said Sky Dayton, EarthLink founder and leading participant in the round alongside Craft Ventures, Social Capital, 4DX Ventures and NJF Capital.
The focus at Swarm now is on speed and cost reduction. Especially in space, there’s a strong argument to get something, anything in place so you can demonstrate the utility of your service, however limited, while others are still at the drawing board.
That’s what the $25 million will be dedicated to — expansion and in particular the deployment of a 150-satellite constellation over the next 18 months.
Of course the success of the company’s ambitions here depend much upon finalization, regulatory approval, manufacturing and launch schedules. But Swarm’s satellites really are small — so small that the FCC was leery about allowing them to be launched — so dozens may well be launched at a time.
The company has already launched and tested seven of its satellites; a representative told me that the design is final and that the 150 it plans to launch by mid-2020 are being made in its lab right now.