3. Scoop: Funding for cell towers in space
UbiquitiLink has raised $5.2 million from Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Blazar Ventures, Axios has learned, bringing the commercial space startup's total funding to $12 million. Kim Hart, who writes the Axios Cities newsletter, reports.
Why it matters: Virginia-based UbiquitiLink is testing the first cell towers in space to provide satellite-powered broadband service — directly to consumers' cellphones — to rural and unserved areas. According to FCC data, 31% of rural residents don't have fixed broadband service.
The big picture: Big space players such as SpaceX, Viasat and OneWeb are launching low-Earth orbit satellites to beam broadband services around the world. Those services require costly terminals or antennas to be installed on the ground to receive the signal.
- UbiquitiLink's nanosatellites eliminate that expense by sending data signals directly to standard cellphones, said Charles Miller, UbiquitiLink co-founder and CEO, and former NASA official.
How it works: The initial service will provide a backup safety net for services like 911 in remote locations and emergency broadcasts.
- The company plans to partner with mobile operators to fill in gaps in their networks and in areas where it doesn't make business sense to build cell towers. Consumers would "roam" on the UbiquitiLink network when they lose commercial service at the edge of town.
Compared to what you'd find in urban areas, the initial connections are slower — download speeds of around 180 kilobits per second, which is in line with 2G speeds.
- "It's not perfect, but it's good enough for most," said Miller. "90% of the world has zero Gs. This is about the rest of us — the ones who've been left behind."
Yes, but: While the cost of launching satellites in space has come down, it's still an expensive undertaking that will require a lot more money to scale into a commercial service.
Go deeper: Read the full story from Kim on the stream, and sign up for Axios Cities newsletter here.