The IoT manufacturer Swarm sent a notice to customers that it was not going to manufacture new devices. Instead, it will focus on integrating its low-power modems into Starlink’s plans to provide Internet service directly to mobile phones.
Swarm was founded in 2016 and acquired by SpaceX in 2021. Its co-founders still work for SpaceX. Sara Spangelo is the senior director of satellite engineering and helps lead SpaceX’s efforts to develop the direct Internet service to mobile phones. Ben Longmire also has a leadership role in satellite engineering.
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) make it possible to control appropriately equipped “Smart” devices in the home, often with an Internet connection and an app on a mobile device. Ring doorbells and Internet-enabled sweeping and mopping robots could be considered examples of “Internet of Things” devices. Your refrigerator ordering more milk when it notices that the milk is getting low is one proposed use for IoT technology. (Or, it could just add milk to your grocery list to make things more efficient.)
Even before being acquired by SpaceX, Swarm had plans to integrate satellite-based connectivity with its modems and IoT devices. This could add an additional level of reliability to the back end by allowing users to remotely control their devices even when they’re away from home and in an area where service is normally unreliable.
Swarm had planned to launch its own microsatellites for the job before SpaceX’s acquisition. Starlink could also have been a serious contender for providing that connectivity with its low latency and the redundancy that comes with having thousands of satellites in its constellation.
Large mobile phone companies like T-Mobile have already shown interest in using Starlink to fill gaps in their normal data coverage. Satellites can reach areas like mountain ranges in which it would be difficult to maintain a connection with a cell phone tower. Adding Starlink to cell phone services could become a literal lifesaver in situations where someone has an emergency but normally would have difficulty calling for help due to lack of cell phone service.
However, other companies like AT&T have objected to T-Mobile’s plan to integrate Starlink. AT&T filed a complaint with the FCC asking it to block the deal between T-Mobile and Starlink. It claims the deal could jeopardize its mobile and wireless broadband services.
Starlink itself has, of course, faced its share of challenges from other satellite Internet providers like ViaSat with regulators and judges as referees. Naturally, this earned the occasional sharp comment from Elon Musk, who said ViaSat just didn’t like competition.
However, Starlink got over this hump and Musk didn’t hold enough of a grudge to prevent SpaceX from launching a ViaSat satellite. SpaceX has gotten good at treating past rivals like any other paying customer when it matters. It did a similar thing for OneWeb when the UK-based competitor got caught in a bind due to sanctions against Russia.
Under SpaceX’s direction, Swarm is likely to weather the regulatory challenges rather well as it swivels from manufacturing IoT devices to providing satellite Internet service for mobile phones — naturally, using Starlink.