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Iridium Buys Service That Uses L-Band Satellites for GPS-Like Positioning

Iridium satellite network in orbit
Courtesy Iridium

Published Mar 4, 2024 4:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

L-band satcom provider Iridium has reached a deal to acquire Satelles, a company that provides resilient navigation and timing to supplement GPS. 

The vulnerabilities of GPS are well known: the signal strength of the satellite service is low, and can be readily "spoofed" by terrestrial jamming. GPS spoofing has been spotted with some frequency in parts of the Black Sea and near some Chinese ports. 

Satelles uses the Iridium satellite network to broadcast its own timing and positioning signals. The signal strength in its STL service is about 1,000 times stronger than GPS, according to Iridium, and it is "highly secure," the firm says. 

Satelles' service has been in use since 2016, and its original target market is digital infrastructure installations that require precise timing services - like 5G base stations and commercial data centers. The world has about 10,000 data centers and growing, and they require time synchronization to operate, Iridium says. For applications like this, the Iridium signal is powerful enough to serve indoor receivers, eliminating outdoor antennas. There is enough potential in this market (and other applications) that Iridium thinks the business line will be worth $100 million a year by 2030. 

Maritime isn't the first market for Satelles' solution, but it could be the next. STL is also good at providing a hardened positioning signal, Iridium says - the other half of GPS' "positioning and timing" service. 

Iridium is working on miniaturizing the technology and making it less expensive, which would open up new positioning applications in road transport, autonomy, maritime and aviation. Existing Iridium partners - which can be found in all of these sectors - may be able to  integrate Satelles into their products as well. 

"This solution solves a problem for critical industries better than anything else," said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. "Acquiring Satelles makes perfect sense for Iridium and is consistent with what our strategy has always been, which is to take advantage of our unique network to do what others can't or do it better than anyone else can."

Iridium has invested in Satelles for years, and already had a 20 percent stake in the company. It is buying the other 80 percent for about $115 million.