Satcom.Digital Interview w/Parth Trivedi: Non-Terrestrial Networks: The Future of Connectivity

Satcom.Digital caught up with Parthsarathi 'Parth' Trivedi, Co-founder and CEO of Skylo, to find out more about the company's solution

With the growing need for continuous coverage, both for consumers and businesses, satellite connectivity is becoming increasingly important in the market. One of the main challenges that this has had in the past is the additional cost of both extra hardware and the high service prices to access the satellite networks.

One company looking to solve this problem is Skylo, with their platform allowing for the use of your existing hardware for seamless connectivity between both terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks.

I recently caught up with Parthsarathi 'Parth' Trivedi, Co-founder and CEO of Skylo, to find out more about the companies solution.

Q: Can you provide an overview of the Skylo product offering?

A: Skylo is a software-defined non-terrestrial network service provider that partners with mobile operators and OEMs to provide an infill and out of coverage solutions for IoT and consumer devices. These devices will connect directly to satellites with no change in hardware or battery life.

Q: Being a software company, how does this differentiate you from the other solutions in this market?

A: Skylo does not provide hardware and has a software-based network, including a virtualized RAN and Core. This means that Skylo can rapidly scale capacity and features without having to go through long development cycles. This also means that customers can leverage the 3GPP standards protocols to obtain devices from any chipset maker and OEM that meets the necessary Release 17 NTN features - utilizing their existing relationships and low cost structures as enjoyed from the cellular ecosystem.

Q: By not operating your own satellites, does this allow you to be more reactive and flexible to market demands?

A: Yes; this also means that we bring to bear the highest performing satellite assets for the best customer performance. Also, satellite design, launch and operations is expertise unto itself. This allows those companies to focus on what they do best, and Skylo to relentlessly focus on providing an end to end service solution and technology evolution. 

Q: You are currently operating off Geostationary (GEO) satellites, do you see Skylo incorporating LEO satellites in the future?

A: Of course. We see LEO satellites as complementing GEO solutions, and our technology is agnostic between LEO, MEO and GEO. We are on GEO now because it’s the only constellation that’s available now that supports a standards-compliant approach, while rendering sufficient power to close the link to smartphones.

Q: How important is it that your solution is compatible with existing hardware / chipsets?

A: This is key. It’s important that customers don’t need to invest in new hardware and solutions and new spins of silicon, special antennas, or separate hardware SKUs. This allows for the lowest friction to enter the marketplace and the fastest time to market. The cellular industry has done a great job at having one phone with a single SIM that works globally, across a plurality of carriers. NTN should be no different. 

Q: You mentioned that you have a certification process for devices, what made you take this approach rather than let any device with the correct hardware on the network?

A: This is no different than what the mobile carriers do today. As the industry is in its infancy with NTN, we want to make sure that we take full advantage of the available capacity and ensure that all devices have an equal methodology for network access and have reliable, predictable performance when on the network. As a customer, you want to be sure that your specific phone will work on the network as expected. Over time, we may evolve to a PTCRB type of certification, but at the moment, Skylo is in the best position to ensure that customers can experience the network to its fullest by having a complete, end to end view of the process.  

Q: When thinking about connectivity, one of the use cases that always comes to mind is cellular, but could you also provide some examples of other use cases of your technology?

A: This should be viewed as an extension to cellular, but for when and where cellular doesn’t exist. For example, look at use cases for agriculture, energy, personal safety and even logistics / transportation. We are being approached by innovative companies looking to do payment processing over satellite - for direct from farm and out of coverage solutions. We think the maritime industry is going to also benefit from much lower cost access to connectivity through standards-based solutions.

Q: So, I have a compatible device and want to take advantage of the Skylo Network, how would I do this?

A: Assuming your device is already certified on our network, you’re welcome to work with any of our service partners for commercial service plans. As an example, if you’re an enterprise, you could go to a carrier that Skylo is a partner to, and receive hybrid cellular & satellite connectivity with the same SIM and under the same bill. 

Q: You show a relatively low monthly fee ($6 USD per month) to access the Skylo Network. Satellite connectivity is traditionally an expensive method of communication, how does your technology allow for this more affordable solution and do you have usage limits?

A: The $6 is more representative, and the actual costs will vary based upon actual usage.  We have been able to provide 1 - 2 orders of magnitude cost reduction by leveraging the 3GPP cellular standards for efficient communications coupled with our 85+ patents that ensure the highest efficiency and network capacity per hertz in the industry. 

Q: How does the Skylo Network integrate with the existing terrestrial networks?

A: Skylo uses 3GPP standards and is part of the GSMA. So, by leveraging these industry standards and best practices, we are able to integrate with terrestrial networks in exactly the same way as carriers integrate with each other today for roaming. We essentially appear as a wholesale roaming network operator to other carriers, and are able to ‘speak carrier’. We have integrated with several MNOs and MVNOs now and will continue to do so via standardized means.

Q: You recently announced an agreement with Viasat to make use of their L-Band, how pivotal is this in bringing direct-to-device to the mass market?

A: When people think about satellites, they immediately think global and over the oceans. It’s important that we be able to offer the ability to look at global solutions and help customers think about things like supply chain visibility over the oceans - where cellular cannot exist. This is extremely important as the industry moves from tracking ships, to tracking containers and then the pallet, and ultimately the package. In addition, people want to be covered wherever they go, whether it’s for safety & SOS reasons, or tracking, or just sending a text message saying that you’ll be ten minutes late. Our partnership with Viasat helps us provide coverage and capacity to cover all these applications, and we’re excited to scale our network together with them.

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