Maria Kalama, Lacuna Space: “Were seeing a great opportunity in tracking“

08.10.20 09:20 AM By Ludovic Privat

Maria Kalama is the Director of Business Development at Lacuna Space, a company based in the United Kingdom and building a global satellite communication network using the - widely used in IoT - LoRa protocol.  She answered our questions a couple of weeks before the online conference & business networking event IoT Tracking Summit (October 20-21st, 2020) where she will be delivering a speech.

Maria, can you tell me a bit about yourself, how Lacuna Space got started and what is the core of your business?
I’m the Director for Business Development at Lacuna Space. I joined from a position in UK Government, whereby I managed a large portfolio of R&D investments in the space sector. That’s actually how I came across Lacuna Space! And I immediately bought into the founders’ vision for providing connectivity everywhere. But in a totally different scale and using open standards like everywhere else in the communications world.

The business started off in 2016, and our core activity is to provide connectivity services. But we do it very differently, using low cost small satellites and LoRa, which is becoming the de-facto standard for the Internet of Things. So there’s only a couple of small differences between devices on our satellite network and standard trackers. 

What is the size of the satellite constellation you are planning and what is the go to market plan?
Our plan is to offer near real time connectivity by 2025, we think we will need a constellation of about 240 small satellites to do this. We will have 24 of them launched by 2022 and at the minute we are completing the deployment of the initial constellation. We have devices transmitting from every single continent in field trials and mid 2021 we are starting commercial operations.

On the ground, we want our customers to be able to source devices from exactly the same channels as any wide spread network. So we’re currently working with a number of key device suppliers and distributors to include space ready versions in their offerings. We will also open source our reference designs, so literally anyone with some basic knowledge in electronics can include satellite connectivity into their sensors.

Let’s talk now about the vertical markets you are targeting, what are their specific needs?
We’re seeing a great opportunity in tracking, especially for applications where devices come in and out of ground network coverage. Fleet management or container tracking are good examples.

Our recent work with LoRa Edge has also demonstrated how to produce trackers, that combine WiFi or GNSS scanning and IoT connectivity on a single chip. So we’re able to track devices seamlessly from indoor to outdoor, even over satellite. And having batteries that last for over 5 years is a big plus for this market.

We also do a lot of work in the energy markets, monitoring critical infrastructure. The ability of satellite communications to provide end-to-end connectivity “off grid” is very important there.

Looking specifically at the location tracking market what are the key business trends you see developing today?
We’re seeing greater and greater simplification and if I dare say, consumerisation. Recent news of Amazon Sidewalk expanding is very exciting! Anyone can use something like Amazon Tile, to track their pet or wallet. It’s still the same underlying technologies, LoRa over 900MHz and the concept of community networks. But this is now available directly to consumers.  

We are also seeing demand for location tracking expanding to more complex supply chains but also to small businesses . So we get enquiries from tracking goods in a cold chain across continents all the way to managing small yacht fleets. This is largely the result of interfaces and data software platforms becoming more standardized and accessible by almost everyone.

To finish this interview, Maria, 

what is the goal of the company in the next few years ?
Getting hundreds’ of thousands sensors connected and start to see the global impact from the use of the data we transfer. For example, a large scale expansion of the carbon offset projects we have been working with a partner in Indonesia.
I am also a big fan of the simplification of technology. Together with partners such as The Things Network we are making it possible for every  member of that community network to use space and satellite communications. But it will be very exciting to open this up further, even to people without technical background. And expand mass market applications, towards how we use GPS in our everyday life. Without even thinking about the complexities of using a global constellation of satellites 20,000 km above ground.

Maria Kalama will be speaking at IoT Tracking Summit a global, online conference and B2B networking event taking place on October 20-21th, 2020. Check it out HERE.