OQ Technology- The World’s first Global Satellite 5G IoT Operator

OQ Technology is the world’s first global satellite 5G Internet-of-Things (IoT) operator providing unrestricted cellular coverage for assets and machines anywhere in the planet- developed, developing, and non-developed countries.

To learn about their numerous offerings, Space in Africa had a chat with the founder and CEO of OQ Technology, Omar Qaise. 

Please, walk me through your background.

I am the founder and CEO of OQ Technology. I have a satellite communication background. I have worked for 15 years in the satellite industry in institutes and companies like the national aeronautics and space research centre in Germany (DLR), O3b and SES, the world’s largest satellite operator. Before that, I also worked at the European Space Agency (ESA). I started my career as a spacecraft engineer. Then at SES, I transitioned into business development- selling satellite services in oil and gas and logistics with markets in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. And that is where I got the idea that there’s a market need for the Internet of Things and machine to machine communication so that satellites are more affordable. And the solutions available are not adequate for narrow-band (NB-IoT) communication; most are for broadband. That is why I decided to create the company, OQ Technology, which looks to provide 5G Internet of Things and machine to machine communication through satellites beyond the cell towers and to connect 70-80% of the world without internet access through low earth orbit (LEO) constellation of nanosatellites.

OQ TECHNOLOGY is the world’s first global satellite 5G IoT operator providing uninterrupted cellular coverage for assets and machines anywhere in the planet. How have you been able to achieve this?

With 5G, we realised that there would be a transition in the telecommunication industry because several companies would introduce different applications. Primarily, 5G services are divided into three:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB): 5G technology will bring about faster, more uniform data rates, lower latency, and lower cost.
  • Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) – This entails connecting billions to the internet, partly because there is a growing number of low-powered sensors and devices connected to the internet. An estimated 24 billion devices and machines need to be connected by 2030. And the available 4G and satellite infrastructure are just not enough for this to happen, and that is why we have decided to address this market in rural and remote areas. What we are trying to build is to bring these services through satellites to every part of the world, without the need for terrestrial cell towers. In essence, we would incorporate the cell towers into the payload of our LEO telecommunication satellites.
  • Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC): this requires only a few milliseconds of communication, which is essential for many large scale applications like alarms, robots, drones, smart cars, etc. However, we can not use Geosynchronous satellites for this type of communication because of the latency of about 260 milliseconds. But by using the LEO constellation of satellites at about 500km, we can effectively address the latency issues.
The three 5G services – eMBB, mMTC, and URLLC. Source: OQ Technology

What we are developing at OQ technology is focused on these two parts- mMTC and ULLRC. In addition, our innovative satellite constellation scheduled for launch within the next two years will address these challenges.

Moreso, we have critically studied the standards of 5G, 4G and other global wireless technology standards issued by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a consortium of mobile operators and vendors worldwide. A technology came out in 2017 called the Narrow-Band Internet of Things (NB- IoT) that addressed the communication of low-powered devices and mobile networks. We examined the solution and looked at how we can incorporate such solutions on a satellite because we would still like to provide coverage for users who would frequently move from urban to rural areas. We looked at the technical challenges of addressing communication over an LEO satellite as cellulars because the cellular waveform is a highly scalable waveform with an effective spectrum and can address millions of users.

However, the challenge with cellular towers is that cellular waveforms fail when the user is moving at high speeds;  300 Km/h (fast train) is the highest possible speed in LTE (Long-Term Evolution).  Beyond that, there will be a noticeable offset in the signal’s radio frequency, making it hard for the sender and the receiver to synchronise. In other words, the time delay is minimal between the sender and receiver since waves travel at light speed. On the other hand,  the LEO satellites are around 500 km — 600 Km away in the sky, and the time delay of the signal between the sender and receiver is too long for the standard cellular system to synchronise and work.

How OQ enables a system to connect existing terrestrial devices to both satellite and cellular networks. Source: OQ Technology

These are some of the challenges that we hope to solve, and we have published patents in Europe and the United States of America on how to make NB-IoT work via satellites without changing the wireless waveform and standard or modifying the existing silicon of the chips and by using mobile compatible accessible frequencies.

Then we implemented the payloads and software that address these problems in our satellite, TIGER-1. Finally, we tested the satellite in orbit, and it was successful. Also, we launched our first constellation satellite two weeks ago, the TIGER- 2 (6U nanosatellite), which will provide innovative solutions to our customers. 

Tiger 2 Assembly. Source: OQ Technology
Would you mind explaining how your dual-mode satellite-cellular IoT modem and tracker work?

The satellite-cellular IoT modem works as a cell tower, with an innovative software-defined radio payload that we programmed via the Evolved Node B (eNodeB) layer. It covers a wideband range of S-band on both uplink and downlink and has many other unique capabilities.

The modem will host the OQ Technology proprietary NB-IoT software stack (direct-to-satellite), and our customers can access our low earth orbit satellite 5G IoT service using the modem. The IoT modem represents the first available 5G IoT non-terrestrial networks (NTN) modem discussed by 3GPP in Release 17.

OQ’s credit card-sized satellite 5G IoT modem. Source: OQ Technology

Then on the ground, we have the existing user already using the required cellular IoT service.

The only thing that we do is to make them work with the satellites. So for a user, this would appear as a seamless communication, just like using a regular cell tower. The modem is at its final stages of testing and development and will be available soon for orders. 

OQ Technology was recently granted an experimental license for accessing critical satellite 5G frequencies in Luxembourg. Do you have plans to bring this solution to the African market?

Yes, we have such plans. In fact, we are also working on our commercial access to multiple countries. Africa is a big market for us, so we have established a base of operations in Kigali, Rwanda. There are also several use cases, customers and countries that we want to cover in Africa with our services.

Which other products should the industry expect from you?

We have products that we are ready to deploy to the market. For example, we have the satellite 5G IoT modem and tracker that can monitor assets location wherever they might be on the planet. We also have a solution to collect data from satellites through wired or wireless means, and then it concentrates the data and sends it out either through cellular, satellite link or a hybrid model.

Many of the use cases that we are targeting are basic latency applications because, for now, we only have one satellite tasked with this. However, we will move our solutions to critical latency applications with more satellites we will put into orbit.

Our solutions apply to many fields and sectors, including 

  • Agricultural applications– Farms suffer globally from the lack of cellular connectivity. IoT-based smart farming involves monitoring the crop field with the help of sensors (light, humidity, temperature, soil moisture) that we can provide by integrating our module to your smart farming devices, which gives you access to our data platform for meagre cost and within record time;
  • Oil and gas industry application– detection of hazardous gases,  leaks in oil pipes, etc.; and
  • Tracking and Logistics sector – tracking of shipments, containers, etc.
OQ Technology has been involved in several projects in the industry. Can you list some of your partners? 

We have many international partners, including – the Luxembourg Space Agency, European Space Agency (ESA), Mohammed-Bin-Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) in Dubai, and many more.  We are also building several African partnerships and are looking forward to working with African space agencies, industry regulators, universities, space institutes, and other stakeholders. We have also submitted our contributions to the African Telecommunication Union (ATU) as a guest company. Especially on things related to the use of 5G in NTN in Africa and space projects.

We started our operations from Luxembourg in Europe, and then we expanded to Dubia and Rwanda. We are also planning an expansion into the US. So we are hoping to have a base of operation in every continent.

Different regions have their peculiarities as regards space policies and regulations. What challenges have you had to face while doing business in a new region?

Most of the challenges that we have faced has been on the regulatory side. However, the barriers to innovations in some regions are also astronomical. Access to the market is also very limited for startups because the space giants in many regions have eclipsed the smaller companies. 

However, in countries like Rwanda, for example, there’s an enabling environment that attracts innovations. 

But in general, we lookout for countries with a space presence and focus that aligns with our vision for the advancement of the global satellite telecommunication sector.

Can you highlight some of your milestones? 

At OQ Technology, we have recorded many high points since we started operating. We began our operations in Luxembourg in 2016. Since then, we have won multiple contracts with the ESA under the Luxembourg Space Agency national program, LuxImpulse. We also won a  contract through ESA Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) competitive program.

Also, in 2017, we were among the ten finalists in the Nokia Open Innovation Challenge for IoT and were invited to Finland to present our technology. We had created the world’s first universal plug and play IoT device that can provide connectivity leveraging LEO satellite infrastructure.

In 2019, we successfully carried out a comprehensive test of 5G NB-IoT technology in orbit using two nano satellites from GomSpace. And in 2020, OQ Technology opened two new bases of operation in Dubai and Kigali.

This year has also been very productive for us. OQ Technology in 2021 has won another contract with ESA for the in-orbit pathfinder mission (MACSAT) advanced 5G IoT mission. The mission is planned for launch in 2022 and will be a flagship for demonstrating advanced 5G IoT services in strategic satellite frequencies and for different end-users. The MACSAT aims to foster Luxembourg and European space industry partnerships and is supported by the Luxembourg National Space program (LuxIMPULSE).

What is your assessment of the African space industry?

Several African States have a history in space, and an increasing number of countries are vying to establish a space presence, but there is still a vast untapped market in the African space sector. Nevertheless, we have seen NewSpace companies emerge from Africa, creating satellite components, universities taking charge of satellite design and developments, several tech hubs and space accelerator programmes have been established by several global initiatives in different regions of the continent. 

However, to enjoy broader growth in the continent, there is the need to ease regulations for startups and create an enabling environment to drive the development of innovative solutions, both on the technology and commercial side.