Hiber abandons plans for IoT satellite constellation

7 mins read

Dutch company Hiber is dropping plans to deploy an internet-of-things smallsat constellation, electing instead to provide similar services through a third-party system.

In a Sept. 24 letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the company said it was surrendering its market access authorization, effectively a license to provide communications services in the United States. It is also surrendering a license to operate 10,000 terminals that would have used those satellites.

“Hiber will not be further developing its authorized satellite system and is currently in the process of surrendering its space system license to the Administration of the Netherlands,” the company said in the filing.

Hiber had been authorized to operate a 24-satellite system, with four launched to date. The first two launched in late 2018 as payloads on PSLV and Falcon 9 rideshare missions. A third launched on another Falcon 9 rideshare mission in January 2021 and the fourth as a secondary payload on a Soyuz-2 launch in March 2021.

However, Hiber said in the filing that two of the four satellites are no longer operational. The other two, the company, have suffered technical issues that “prevent Hiber from deploying its anticipated commercial service.” The company didn’t elaborate on those problems but stated that “diagnosing and addressing the technical issues would be cost prohibitive.” The company did not disclose which two of the four satellites were no longer operational and which two had encountered technical issues.

A lack of operational satellites has kept the company from generating revenue, it said. In addition, the pandemic “has been devastating to Hiber’s ability to obtain additional investment to support construction of the remaining satellites” because its executives in the Netherlands have been unable to travel to the United States to meet with potential investors.

Hiber, though, did raise 26 million euros ($30 million) from the European Union’s European Innovation Council Fund and private investors in March. The company said at the time that it was working on its “in-house-developed satellite constellation” for IoT services. “The funds will be used to further expand the satellite network and grow its customer base,” the company said in a March 30 statement.

More recently, though, the company has called itself an “industrial IoT as-a-service startup” in statements, including one Sept. 13 announcing an agreement with energy company Shell to provide well monitoring services. Those services use “satellite technology,” the company said in a statement, but made no mention of Hiber’s own satellites.

Hiber said in its FCC filing that it is relying on other satellite networks to provide IoT services. “Hiber has pivoted its business operations and intends to provide Internet-of-Things services through leased capacity on a third-party satellite network,” the company stated. The company did not disclose that third-party network in the letter, or in a statement to SpaceNews.

“Historically, we have provided IoT connectivity solutions through both our own satellites and third-party networks,” Roel Jansen, chief executive of Hiber, said in the Oct. 6 statement. “After reviewing our operations and our customers’ requirements, we have decided to discontinue our own satellite activities and deliver connectivity exclusively through best-in-class third-party providers.”

Hiber acknowledged in its letter surrendering its license that it owes the FCC a default payment of $1.92 million, paid by a surety bond. The company asked the FCC to waive that payment, arguing it made a good-faith effort to deploy its satellite constellation, spending about 28 million euros in the process. If the FCC declined to waive the payment, Hiber asked that it be reduced by one third, reflecting the fact that it launched four satellites out of the minimum of 12 it needed to avoid the surety bond obligation.

Hiber was among several startups planning smallsat constellations to provide IoT services, seeking a piece of what they believe is a growing market for device connectivity, particularly in remote locations not served by terrestrial networks.

Others in the field are developing partnerships to provide service on other companies’ satellites in addition to launching their own satellites. Myriota, an Australian company offering IoT services by satellite, announced a partnership with Spire Global Sept. 22, where Myriota will use Spire’s constellation of smallsats to expand its network. The deal, Myriota said, will allow it “to quickly and cost-effectively scale its IoT services to meet rising global demand.”

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