Satellite IoT and LoRa: enabling new IoT application opportunities
Data is central to IoT applications, and the insights derived from them. New methods of data collection enable new insights for decision makers, aiming for better and faster outcomes. Satellite IoT enables applications that are not feasible with terrestrial IoT alone and is a topic to watch as new networks and applications are launched. There are a growing number of use cases in tracking and logistics where distances are huge and where there is sparse terrestrial coverage. For more on this, see the new report ‘IoT for Logistics: Managing Supply Chains Everywhere’, available via free download at www.iotforlogistics.com.
Examples of industry sectors where satellite IoT is proving particularly effective include:
- Agriculture and Forestry. IoT helps to mitigate uncertainties in climate change affecting agriculture, through improving certainty with precision farming. Satellite data can complement data gathered through land-based sensing, including measuring the health of soils, examining the state of fields and crops, monitoring the status of livestock. Adjunct technologies in the mix include GPS positioning, computer vision, high resolution pictures.
Satellite IoT allows forests to be viewed from above. Detecting and tracking forest fires is a key application.
- Smart city/Environment. Satellite data can reveal where green spaces are changing and identify flood prone landscapes for example. Long distance monitoring and viewing reveals critical environmental conditions like flooding and geologic movement.
- Mining/Oil and Gas. Mining operations are often located in areas where there is little or no cellular coverage, limited accessibility of underground areas and the coverage of traditional radio waves is weak. Satellite IoT can ensure communications at all times, help mitigate risks and increase safety, and detect theft of vehicles and equipment. This is also true for monitoring Oil and Gas operations and pipelines.
- Transportation and Logistics. Less than 20% of the Earth’s surface has terrestrial connectivity, with some estimates putting it closer to 10%. Where there is a need for real time data when assets are transported over sea and land to remote locations, satellite tracking is the only option.When tracking shipping, much of the sea is outside the scope of cellular networks. Satellite tracking not only tracks the movement of ships but can also be used in other areas, such as detecting illegal fishing. For transcontinental railways, satellite affords a single system that works trans-borders, allowing operators to know the condition and location of rail cars and contents over networks spanning hundreds or even thousands of miles.
Cellular IoT is already well established for tracking land-based applications and LoRaWAN is now becoming more widespread for these as well. Recently, it has come to the fore as a technology for satellite IoT as well.
- GEO and LEO networks . A low earth orbit (LEO) satellite orbits typically between 160 and 1,000 kilometres above the Earth. LEO satellites have a much smaller field of communication with Earth than a satellite at greater altitude. They also have a faster rotation around the earth. By contrast, GEO (Geostationary orbit ) satellites orbit at some 36,000 kilometres above the Earth, which means that a single satellite can provide coverage to one third of the Earth. Having a satellite constantly overhead makes GEO satellite-based systems a key enabler of many critical time-based use cases.
GEO offers closer to real time operation compared with LEO. The GEO satellite is always overhead and available, so the only time delay is getting the signal to the satellite and back again. For LEO, although the satellites are closer to the Earth’s surface, they are orbiting at speed so there is a delay in locking onto an available satellite, both for transmit and receive. If there are not very many satellites in the constellation, then it can take quite a while for the next one to come in range.
- LoRaWAN is the open-source network architecture standardised for LoRa devices and developed by the LoRa Alliance, now recognised as an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Standard under Recommendation ITU-T Y.4480 “Low power protocol for wide area wireless networks.” Compared to other terrestrial connectivity technologies such as 4G cellular and fibre, LoRa offers rapid deployment over a wide area, reducing both capital and operational costs. It offers advantages over some cellular technologies such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), whose devices consume more power, and which therefore need more frequent battery replacement. LoRa also offers the key demands of IoT users – two-way communications between devices and the data processing facility, low power consumption, end-to-end data security, mobility and localisation services.According to the LoRa Alliance, LoRa is spreading rapidly across the globe, with 166 LoRa networks currently in operation (2022).
EchoStar brings LoRa to satellite
EchoStar Mobile in November 2022 launched a service which offers two-way connectivity through a GEO satellite fixed over Europe. The GEO satellite antenna comes in three sizes: 3.7m, 5m, and 6m (ca 18 feet) , depending on the ground location from the satellite. This means that the device antennas on the ground can be very small, which makes them very portable. What is more, because essentially the same LoRa is used for terrestrial as for satellite communications, dual mode operation using LoRa is available. The only difference is that the LoRa link to the satellite uses the S Band. EchoStar has a licence to use the S Band, which is very weather resilient.
EchoStar services bring several competitive advantages:
- Seamless coverage across all Europe, the UK and parts of Scandinavia, bypassing country borders with no service gaps. This means no roaming agreements are needed compared with cellular.
- EchoStar’s LoRa service dramatically reduces the traditional cost of satellite connectivity for low data rate applications. This means that handing off to a ground-based LoRa network is a simpler multimode operation. A terrestrial LoRa network can penetrate buildings, so a continuous LoRa based asset tracking service can be provided, ranging from international coverage down to within a building.
- EchoStar operates its satellite connectivity in the S band, which is highly weather resistant, hence suitable for wet conditions in Europe.
- Bi-directional capability allows for communication back to the device to update firmware, and change configuration without costly despatching of experts to site.
- Real-time data allows for immediate situational awareness, regardless of the location of the asset.
The dual-mode design allows customer to leverage existing networks to be utilised alongside the terrestrial LoRa-enabled network, so existing investments remain workable while also allowing an expansion of the sites monitored.
For more details on this. including use cases, see the new report ‘IoT for Logistics: Managing Supply Chains Everywhere’, available via free download at www.iotforlogistics.com
Therese Cory, PhD
Senior Analyst, Beecham ResearchNews | Blog