Meet Omar Qaise, young Iraqi-born, Luxembourg-based entrepreneur who decided to disrupt the barely-disrupted tech sector of space and telecommunications. He is founder and CEO of award-winning startup OQ Technology which provides IoT communication solutions by developing low-cost satellite infrastructure to connect sensors, devices and measurement units which enable connectivity in remote areas. Fascinated by space for as long as he can remember, he was awarded a scholarship to study a Master’s in Communication Engineering at Aerospace Engineering University in Bremen, Germany, which led to a career in satellite telecommunication starting at the aerospace center in Oberpfaffenhofen before moving on to the European Space Agency in Darmstadt. Silicon Luxembourg caught up with Omar at Vodafone’s global innovation accelerator Tomorrow Street where the fast-growing startup is based.
(Featured Image: Omar Qaise, Founder and CEO of OQ Technology / Image Credit © OQ Technology)
Omar, can you tell us what brought you to Luxembourg and about the launch of OQ?
I moved to Luxembourg to work with SES where I could explore the business side of the industry and gain experience selling satellite services in the oil and gas market in the Middle East and Europe.
I noticed that in most other sectors technology was getting smaller and cheaper – just look at computers and mobile phones – and compared this to SpaceTech and satellites, which hadn’t been disrupted at all. Instead, there are huge satellites costing millions and only accessible to governments, defense or giant corporations.
“Now it’s the age of IoT and machines, and we need to connect them.”
CubeSats for earth imagery had arrived on the scene but rather than enter this mature market, I decided to focus elsewhere: telecommunication. I discovered we could add value in oil and gas, maritime and Industry 4.0 areas where customers are looking for alternatives to traditional and costly satellite solutions.
I approached the Luxembourg government with my idea, and after feasibility studies and a seven-million-dollar contract to build and launch our first satellite together (with partners GomSpace and EmTroniX), here we are today!
What is OQ’s mission?
To connect machines all over the world. In the 90s, the world focused on connecting people. Now it’s the age of IoT and machines, and we need to connect them.
Sounds like the famous Nokia slogan “Connecting People”, but for machines!
Exactly! We were actually one of the winners of the IoT prize at the Nokia Open Innovation Challenge last year.
“A demo should never just be for show. Development might be a lengthy process but it’s worth the time investment.”
What sets OQ apart from other networks dedicated to IoT comms?
Our main competitors are startups who want to create IoT constellations with satellites. To differentiate ourselves, we followed a completely different and drastic strategy. Instead of trying to cater for everyone, we chose to focus on the high-end market: oil and gas, military and mining. Specializing in this market means we guarantee optimum levels of security.
Unlike other startups that focus on assembly only, we have some IP in the technology. This means that even if the connectivity market becomes very competitive, we are still a technology owner.
We ensure that we launch products that will be representative of the final constellation, so our customers get an authentic sense of the quality of the product we will eventually deliver. Imagine testing one device and it works. Now imagine connecting thousands or even millions. Will it still work? A demo should never just be for show. Development might be a lengthy process but it’s worth the time investment.
Can you give us three examples of how OQ’s technology is used?
For the first example, imagine you’re an oil and gas company and you need to take some spectral or seismic measurements in a remote area and send this data back to your center. At the same time, however, you have other needs – voice communication or crew Skype calls, for instance. The fast and cost-effective solution is easy: send the data to us and free up capacity for real-time activity.
Now picture an oil pipe going through a desert, mountain or passing underwater. Normally, if you need sensors to detect leaks or gauge temperatures, enormous satellite dishes are placed every 20 to 50 kilometers along the pipeline. OQ has created small, battery-run, über-resistant IoT terminals that can be positioned along the pipe every meter if necessary!
Thirdly, our technology is used for container tracking. As there is no human visibility of containers during the export process, our devices monitor the products being shipped to ensure correct temperatures, for instance, and prevent damaged goods.
Who or what benefits most from this technology?
Companies looking for big data at more affordable prices, and mobile operators that want to extend their services to remote or rural areas.
Why did you choose Luxembourg as HQ for OQ Technology?
For me, Luxembourg is the only other country (aside from the US) that has shown so much support to the space sector. There is easy access to decision-makers, politicians and specialists. It’s small and incredibly efficient – this is exactly what a startup needs. And, of course, the recent launch of the LSA – Luxembourg Space Agency – has really put the country’s space ecosystem in the spotlight.
What trends can we expect to see in the next 20 years?
Cheaper satellite launch, revolutionary laser communication, private space missions and exploration on Mars.
Any plans to go to space?
If I become a millionaire, I’ll go straightway! I wanted to apply for Mars One some years ago…I really hope people go to Mars.