Entrepreneurs have begun crowdfunding efforts for everything from wind-powered phone chargers and comic books to bread mix and record albums. And now, thanks to a Moscow-based company called Yaliny, there's one to launch 135 communications satellites for global wireless phone and Internet service.
The effort follows the crowdfunding formula: Attract public backers who want to spend money to get perks when the products or services are ready. But it's more ambitious than the average crowdfunded project: Yaliny seeks to raise $1 million to begin the process of building and launching 135 communications satellites, setting up ground stations, and manufacturing $150 accessories that bring the wireless services to smartphones via a Bluetooth connection.
Central to the sales pitch is a service that will offer unlimited phone and data service for $10 a month anywhere in the world.
If the company is successful, it could reshape how people use mobile phones. With a Bluetooth-connected device handling data links, customers might be inclined to get lower-end data plans -- at least as long as they don't need 4G data-transfer speeds. And the current difficulties of international roaming could be greatly eased.
That could appeal to the current satellite-phone crowd, said founder Vadim Teplyakov, but the company hopes to sell to a much broader audience.
"First of all we'd like to provide our services for those who use satellite communications today. They're our natural customers," Teplyakov said. "Then we think our services would be very good for frequent travelers, who know very well what roaming is, and what 'no service' means because lack of cell coverage." After that, he thinks people who make a lot of international calls also will be interested.
But satellite communications is expensive and difficult. Motorola's Iridium satellite-phone effort was a spectacular failure, for example, thoughafter bankruptcy. Although the Iridium Go offers a Wi-Fi access point that taps into satellite-based Internet access, it costs about $1,175 and only offers enough network capacity for email, text messages, and "some apps."
In contrast, Yaliny promises combined upload and download rates of 2 megabits per second -- a useful if not blazing speed, and upgrades are planned once the network is up and running. The service isn't expected to be available until sometime after September 2016, however, and Iridium plans to upgrade its service in 2015.
Yaliny thinks it'll be able to outmaneuver the competition.
"Large corporations usually are not very quick, innovative or smart," the company said in an FAQ. "They do have money, but money is not the only ingredient, and definitely not the most important one."
That's not to say money isn't on Teplyakov's mind. The $1 million is only a starting point.
"That's not enough for an entire infrastructure. We have several iterations ahead, and now we're working on a hardware for prototypes -- a satellite prototype, a device prototype, and so on," he said. "That hardware is pretty expensive, so we launched a campaign on Indiegogo to ask for support. We could do that because we've been working more than a year on technologies, and know very well what we should do next."
Crowdfunding has been elbowing in on the turf of venture capitalist firms. It offers some advantages for those likeor that manage to get enough attention. One big one is money from customers that doesn't require a startup to give any company shares to a VC firm.
But getting attention and raising enough money is tough. So far, Yaliny has raised just $660.