Astranis’ satellite backhaul business takes off as deal momentum builds

Start-up company Astranis may be a lesser-known player in the satellite market, but its broadband backhaul offering is increasingly gaining traction among operators looking to boost capacity for users in emerging and remote markets.

Founded in 2015, Astranis emerged from so-called “stealth mode” and launched its first test satellite into orbit in 2018. In 2019, it inked its first commercial deal with Alaska’s Pacific Dataport (PDI) to provide broadband backhaul for users in the state. In April 2021, it secured $250 million in funding to increase its total raised from private investors to $353.5 million.

At the time, the PDI deal was the only commercial agreement on the company’s plate. But Astranis CEO John Gedmark told Fierce a lot has changed over the past year. The satellite for PDI is now ready to ship to Cape Canaveral in Florida for a launch at the end of this summer and the company has deals in place to provide 10 more satellites to other customers, he said. These include two satellites set to go to Grupo Andesat to provide cellular backhaul in Peru, and eight other satellites for a company called Anuvu to provide in-flight Wi-Fi and maritime connectivity. The first satellite for Andesat is set to be launched in the summer of 2023.

Gedmark said it’s working on locking in more deals covering “multiple dozens” of additional satellites. It is primarily working with customers interested in gaining access to one or more of their own dedicated satellites though it is also in talks with some customers interested in sharing a satellite. Overall, Gedmark said the company is seeing a huge amount of demand for its technology among internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs).

“What we’ve been able to offer people that’s a little bit different is even for smaller countries or companies the opportunity to have their very own satellite that’s dedicated just for them and that’s providing a really significant amount of capacity,” he said. “That’s just not something that’s existed before. So, for customers who need that capacity and historically had to wait for one of these large GEO satellites to go up or some kind of other infrastructure build out, we’ve given them an opportunity to get a jump on it.”

In Peru, for instance, Astranis’ satellite will enable “at least 1,000 cell towers to start” to be upgraded from 2G to 4G by providing more bandwidth for backhaul at a lower cost, he said. Gedmark added that upgrade is expected to impact around 3 million people.

Each Astranis satellite can provide up to 10 Gbps of capacity. Gedmark said its customer in Peru is only about to get a "small fraction of that" today leasing capacity on existing satellite systems due to high costs. “We’re coming in at a, call it factor of three or a factor of four, cost decrease right off the bat for this capacity compared to what they’re paying today,” he stated.

Gedmark declined to comment on the Astranis' financials, but said it is “in a great position to go and execute for our customers. We have more customer demand than we almost know what to do with.”

“The deals are very much accelerating so stay tuned,” he concluded.