OQ Technology: Space Technology Startup Sets up in Saudi Arabia
OQ Technology Secures €13 Million in Funding with Wa’ed Ventures Investment
The latest European startup that has identified Saudi Arabia as its next big market, is OQ Technology. Wa’ed Ventures was a key investor in the space-technology startup’s €13 million Series A round, which closed in October 2022.
OQ Technology Founder and CEO, Omar Qaise, has been dreaming of space since he was a young boy growing up in Iraq. His insatiable appetite for all things space led him to Germany to study telecommunications and aerospace engineering on scholarship, followed by an MBA in the United Kingdom. He says that it was with sheer determination that he found his way into various space agencies and companies, holding roles like spacecraft engineer at the European Space Agency, and Systems Engineering Consultant for Lunar satellite missions at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
After working for several large space companies and agencies, Omar started to think about launching his own private space tech company. Global companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX were really shifting attention towards private sector companies taking a greater role in the space industry. Simultaneously, Omar was witnessing how countries with new space ambitions, like in Luxembourg, were suddenly building brand new space programs and agencies, seeing space as not only a very viable industry to diversify and grow the economy, but also an industry that helped bring top talent, capital and culture of innovation to a country as well.
From left to right Cyril Dufoing (Chief Technology Officer), Omar Qaise (Founder & CEO), Prasanna Nagarajan (Chief Innovation Officer)
The Mission to Provide Global 5G IoT Connectivity for Every Machine
OQ Technology was born in 2016 based on the bet that 5G IoT is the way of the future, and that 5G IoT required new technological infrastructure to be laid down globally that would allow internet connectivity in even the most remote parts of the world. IoT refers to the ‘Internet of Things’, which describes a network of physical objects – “things” – that are embedded with sensors, software and other technologies. This is what the Industrial Revolution 4.0 is about: sensors and robotics in our factories that help make them safer, more efficient and more intelligent. It’s not just Alexa and Siri connecting to your home sound system or turning on your next day’s alarm for you; it’s about sensors in cold storage trucks travelling across Africa distributing vaccines, that require internet connectivity to provide real-time temperature readings; it’s about sensors for dangerous gases in mining quarries in remote parts of the Australian outback, or sensors on shipping containers travelling the world, and being geotagged and tracked until it gets to their final destination; it’s also about being able to install CCTV security cameras all along your border, and being able to view that footage in real-time from half-way across the country. It is no surprise then, that today we have 4 times more machines connected to the internet, than we have people.
OQ Technology is working hard to ensure every machine that wants to get connected, can get connected. It is the first company in the world to provide direct-to-device 5G IoT connectivity. “In big cities, we have strong cellular network coverage, and we often take for granted that we have internet continuously,” Omar says. “But there are many rural areas around the world that don’t have internet connectivity, which is the problem we are trying to solve for.” Take, for instance, the pilot project Omar and the OQ Team completed in the Fall of 2021 with Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest Oil & Gas company, and one of the largest companies in the world by revenue. Omar explains, “Oil companies around the world own and manage hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers of oil pipelines – and these pipelines must be secured and constantly monitored for leaks and issues. Today, in many parts of the world, that involves individuals patrolling the terrain and monitoring the pipeline in person. It’s a dangerous job, that is simply not as effective as when its paired with CCTV cameras, and various gas or pressure sensors in the pipe itself.” This is precisely where OQ Technology comes in.
Photo courtesy of QQ Technology
OQ Technology has launched several nano-satellites, that are cheaper and smaller than usual satellites – often the size of a shoebox – that also fly much closer to the earth, providing 5G internet connectivity. In effect, these nano-satellites act as flying cell towers. OQ Technology has launched 3 satellites so far, with the aim of launching 7 more within the next year. Omar says the goal is to launch enough satellites in their network to provide real-time coverage to all IoT machines that rely on OQ Technology for their connectivity time. With a handful of satellites orbiting the earth, data from the various machines can only be uploaded twice or three times a day. As more satellites are launched, machines can upload their data more frequently, to provide immediate feedback to their customers.
Take the Saudi Aramco pilot project for example. OQ Technology placed several routers along the pipeline so that sensors and cameras could also be installed. But the current network of 3 satellites means that the data from these sensors and cameras are being uploaded to the cloud every few hours, versus constantly. This means that if a leak was detected, precious minutes could go by without much warning. This is primarily why OQ Technology closed its recent fundraising round, to build and deploy more satellites in the coming year.
From Saudi Arabia to Australia: OQ Technology's Plan to Connect the World
If you step back and think about it though, there are many applications for OQ Technology’s technology. The company has a vision to commercialize its application across various B2B industries, like Mining, Shipping, Agriculture, Oil & Gas, Transportation, and so much more. The company has forecasted US $400 Million in global revenues over the coming five years. Omar also says it’s a company that is inherently globally-minded, because space is one industry that requires collaboration across all of humanity. They recently were the first satellite IoT 5G operator to get licensed to operate in Australia, a large country that struggles with comprehensive internet coverage. The latest data shows that up to 11% of Australians are “highly excluded” from digital services. OQ Technology recently opened its offices in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, which it will add to its global network of offices now in Luxembourg, Dubai, Kigali, and Athens. With its patented technology, head start and funding, and large pipeline of clients such as Aramco, OQ Technology is on the right path to bring this innovative service to the global market.
Having opened their offices in Saudi Arabia in October, the OQ Technology team is still busy hiring and settling in. They plan on building a large satellite control center in Saudi Arabia that will serve the entire region. They also plan on hiring 300 Saudis over the course of the next 3 to 4 years to support that vision. Omar speaks excitedly about Saudi Arabia and coming back to his home region after decades away. “Often, people feel that they have to go to the USA to start a space company; but that’s not true anymore. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the Saudi government. It’s incredible how fast they are bringing the space tech industry to the forefront. Regulations have been thoughtfully developed by the Saudi Space Commission and Communication, Space, and Technology commission (CST), and I’ve seen remarkable advancements in the past few months that have taken many years in other places. It’s clear to everyone at OQ Technology that Space is top of mind for Saudis, and we want to be apart of that.”
Omar also speaks about the sense of pride he has, as an Arab, returning to the Arab world with a space technology company. “I’m proud that Arab nations are now accessing this field, as it was very difficult for me when I was younger. But the timing is now right, and I look forward to supporting many young boys and girls from this part of the world to get their dream jobs at space technology companies like ours.”
When asked what advice he had for the next Arab Space Tech Entrepreneurs, he said:
1. Don’t be intimidated, just believe in yourself.
2. Never take no for an answer. Where there is a will, there’s a way.
3. Choose a career in something that you are deeply passionate about; entrepreneurship is a tough path, and you must love what you’re doing to succeed.
Photo courtesy of QQ Technology & Nanoavionics