Skylo raises $37 million to scale up direct-to-device partnerships

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Skylo raises  million to scale up direct-to-device partnerships


TAMPA, Fla. — Skylo has raised $37 million to help nail down the partnerships it needs to enable more smartphones to connect to satellites for texting and other low-bandwidth services.

The funding round was announced Feb. 13, a year after the first Skylo-enabled smartphone was unveiled by Bullitt, the British ruggedized handset maker that has since run into financial issues.

Using standards widely adopted by the cellular industry, Silicon Valley-based Skylo has developed the ground infrastructure that satellites already in geostationary orbit need to connect to mass market devices.

Multiple carriers and original equipment manufacturers are currently testing the narrowband network for texting services, Skylo cofounder and chief product officer Tarun Gupta told SpaceNews.

According to Gupta, devices with a firmware upgrade to integrate with the network could send and receive texts via geostationary satellites with latency between five to 15 seconds.

Skylo announced last month that this standards-based capability is now available across the contiguous United States and Canada in partnership with satellite operators Viasat, Ligado Networks, and TerreStar.

A Skylo base station, which serves as a central connection point for wireless communications. Credit: Skylo

Early-stage investor Innovation Endeavors and the venture capital arm of chipmaker Intel co-led Skylo’s most recent funding round, which comes after the seven-year-old company emerged from stealth in 2020 with $116 million in capital.

Intel Capital managing director David Johnson is joining Skylo’s board as part of the deal.

Skylo intends to use the funds to grow a team of 53 people, strengthen marketing efforts, and expand its geographical footprint to support more partnerships and refine services for consumer, automotive, agriculture, energy, and transportation markets. 

“This round accelerates our carrier partnerships and supports all top device makers adopting our standards-based solution,” Skylo cofounder and CEO Parth Trivedi said in a news release.

The venture also provides services to remote Internet of Things devices and, in addition to smartphones, plans to enable satellite-based connectivity on watches and other wearables. 

Gupta said Skylo expects to announce a timeline later this year for enabling voice and data services on the network.

Rocky start

Bullitt unveiled satellite-enabled smartphones Feb. 24, 2023, capable of using Skylo’s networking platform to send and receive texts outside cellular coverage.

Unlike the standards-based service Skylo plans to roll out by the end of this year that would use a phone’s native SMS application, Bullitt offers the capability via a tailor-made app.

However, Skylo’s first direct-to-device partner has since folded after a planned restructuring failed, according to LinkedIn posts from former executives. Bullitt could not be reached for comment.

“I think that their financial issues was not the result of technology or customer traction,” Gupta said, “but rather that they entered a very crowded smartphone market which took a lot of capital.”

He said Skylo has recently certified another smartphone on its network that he expects to announce soon.

“We cannot comment on Bullitt’s status or news,” he added. “However, we can say that we continue to carry traffic for Bullitt and activate devices for their customers.”

New investors in Skylo that joined its recent funding round include early-stage company specialists Next47 and Seraphim Space, and the venture capital arms of auto giant BMW and smartphone and chipset maker Samsung.

Skylo announced a strategic partnership with Samsung in October to bring the service to the company’s 5G modems, and the venture also has chipset partnerships with Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Sony.

Viasat, Ligado Networks, and TerreStar recently joined an alliance of Mobile Satellite Service operators hoping to push the direct-to-device market to use their radiowaves, instead of frequencies from mobile network operators.

SpaceX, Lynk Global, and AST SpaceMobile have been forging spectrum deals with mobile network operators to enable direct-to-device connections from satellites being developed for low Earth orbit, promising lower latency services than geostationary spacecraft flying 35 times higher.

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