Bridging Connectivity Gaps With IoT-Enabled Satellite Solutions

Source: Field Technologies

A conversation with RĂ©mi Lorrain, Global LoRaWAN Network Director at Semtech


Q: How does IoT-enabled satellite connectivity differ from other popular sources of connectivity, such as cellular or Wi-Fi?
Lorrain: In areas of the world without cellular or Wi-Fi signals, satellite IoT using low power wide area networks (LPWAN) technology has the power to fill those connectivity gaps – especially when you think about remote areas that need particularly long-range connectivity bands that Wi-Fi or cellular cannot provide. IoT-enabled satellite connectivity is typically easy to install within existing infrastructure and is an affordable solution compared to cellular and Wi-Fi. Also, the business model viability is a challenge to roll out cellular or Wi-Fi networks in remote areas. 

The technology bridges terrestrial networks with worldwide IoT satellite connectivity and fills these gaps enabling a signal for all. Rural areas with no available terrestrial networks now have connectivity for individuals working in these hard-to-reach places. Connecting satellites to IoT devices across vast remote areas across the globe establishes a continuous flow of coverage for IoT applications, which require global coverage from land to sea to air. Satellite connectivity is the complementary piece to terrestrial networks to enable coverage “hungry” use cases like logistics, transportation, agriculture, or environmental monitoring.

Q: Why is IoT to satellite services so important across field services? 
Lorrain: To put things literally, field services workers are in the field. They’re not working in offices or at home where cellular or Wi-Fi networks are always easily accessible. Field services workers are often working out in rural or remote locations where finding a traditional connectivity signal can be tricky, unreliable, or even impossible. That’s where satellite comes into play. IoT-enabled satellite connectivity using an LPWAN standard provides lower power transmissions that don’t drain power sources as quickly as alternative signal options and also alleviate the need for large power systems from the beginning while offering a stable connection from nearly any hard-to-reach location. Field service workers in utilities or agriculture have been monitoring critical infrastructures like irrigation systems, plants, or water supply pumps in very large areas, leading them to physically intervene to prevent technical defaults. For instance, in the far end of Argentina, a field service worker may have to travel more than 100 miles to verify equipment spending 10 hours to and from.

Because IoT sensors can now benefit from satellite IoT connectivity in a cost-efficient way, the field worker’s life has dramatically changed as they can focus on value-added activities instead of permanently traveling to large territories to check the health of remote equipment. Wireless, IoT-enabled satellite solutions can send data in small bursts in a long-range and low-power form, which is ideal for field services workers who need regular and frequent status updates for a stream of measurement.

Q: How will it specifically impact asset tracking? 
Lorrain: When you think of it, asset tracking is the perfect use case for satellite connectivity. Satellite connections via the IoT are well-suited to support services where terrestrial networks don’t exist. So, take for example, cargo containers being shipped across various land and sea environments. There’s no cellular network that covers such a broad spectrum of locations. So, when looking to track goods, shipments, or even animals that travel long distances – satellite is the answer. IoT networks are now able to track and trace an asset during its whole journey. For example, we can track when an asset is shipped on a boat by offering a private IoT network back-hauled by satellite. Then when it arrives in a port, the status is sent via connection of a local, private IoT network. Furthermore, when it crosses a country line using highways, a public IoT network notes this location. Then finally, when the asset reaches a remote or suburban area, switching to IoT satellite can confirm the asset is delivered. IoT technologies enable roaming between those different types of IoT networks.

Moreover, when a truck travels between point A and point B, say between several European countries, the shipping company would need to pay a variety of fees for multiple cellular carriers along the route to ensure uninterrupted service. With an IoT-enabled satellite connectivity solution, transportation and logistics companies can take out the middleman and work with one sole point of connectivity. Roaming now becomes a seamless experience.

Q: What about the utilities sector?
Lorrain: Cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity is very much targeted at connecting people for social reasons, but that leaves out a vast population of businesses and objects that need consistent metering and communication to keep operations efficient and afloat. The utilities sector is a great example of satellite connectivity because of a couple of key factors. 

Typically, power plants, oil and gas pipelines, and the like are set in rural areas, set far from everyday life. Due to the remote location of these facilities, consumer-facing connectivity options might not be suitable in these applications. Secondly, utilities applications must be monitored at all times to ensure efficient activity and to detect any potential leaks, which could be dangerous if left undetected and unaddressed.

With IoT-enabled satellite connectivity, utilities applications can be consistently monitored with a reliable signal 24/7. With this reliable signal, utilities workers can be confident in the continuous flow of data they’re receiving from the plant. So no matter where these utilities plants or the workers supporting them are, combining satellite technology with IoT devices and LPWAN solutions, professionals can be confident in their asset connectivity at all times.

Q: Semtech recently made some announcements related to this topic – can you explain? 
Lorrain: We have been working hard to increase global connectivity for all. We recently announced the release of a software upgrade for our LoRa® integrated circuits that significantly increases network capacity via new data rate, Long Range Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (LR-FHSS), robustness to interference and enables a low power and reliable direct data links from sensors to satellites – the core of what we’ve been discussing with you today. We are already seeing after a few weeks, fast adoption of the technology by satellite market leaders.

Eutelsat Communications, TrakAssure, and Wyld Networks also have announced joint initiatives to bring seamlessly integrated and interoperable terrestrial and satellite LoRaWAN® IoT connectivity (using LR-FHSS) to customers across the globe. Through platform integrations, innovative sensor and hardware design, collaborative service delivery, and compelling pricing, the companies are targeting the global supply chain, including container logistics and related asset tracking, as the first and anchor applications. 

Another interesting project to mention is EchoStar Mobile, which has designed a single pan-European S-band network leveraging LoRaWAN (using LR-FHSS data rate) that provides bidirectional, real-time connectivity to sensors using LoRa with no additional infrastructure required. EchoStar Mobile’s seamless coverage and network leveraging LoRaWAN ensure that users across Europe, the U.K., and Scandinavia do not need cumbersome roaming agreements to achieve ubiquitous service continuity across geographic regions, making it ideal for mobile customers or those customers with widely distributed sites.

Earlier this year, we highlighted a collaboration with Lacuna Space to further increase the coverage and resilience of LoRaWAN connectivity. The collaboration helps accelerate IoT adoption in places without cellular or Wi-Fi signals through the enablement of our LR-FHSS device. LR-FHSS is unique as it takes up less room on the network, which enables long-term use while maintaining low power consumption capabilities enabling affordable and simple satellite IoT platforms. 

Q: How can technology like this impact the greater good of society?
Lorrain: As we look to the future, accessibility to innovative technology and connectivity will be the key to unlocking a smarter and more secure planet for all. These latest developments are exciting – showing a demonstrable capability of bridging the connectivity gap with worldwide satellite signals to offer low-power ubiquitous connectivity to all across our planet.
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