The internet of things (IoT) is proving to be hugely transformative when it comes to operating remotely. Using IoT, businesses can set up devices equipped with SIMs anywhere in the world, and seamlessly monitor them and implement actions from their base of operations. That's the theory anyway.
The reality is that such long range IoT, and IoT in remote or developing areas, is often hampered by a lack of cell tower coverage. In order to bridge the gap, cell phone providers and other private companies have harnessed satellite arrays to provide IoT anywhere across the world, on land or at sea.
How satellite IoT works
In a direct configuration setting, Satellite connectivity can either be used as the sole signal provider in locations and situations where it is the only possible way of forming a connection and transmitting data, or as a back up system to keep coverage constant if terrestrial IoT connections (such as cellular, or LPWAN) drops off.
These hybrid terrestrial satellite systems have a low cost thanks to the use of terrestrial-only IoT devices, with the satellite-connected terminals providing the coverage. And while it is possible to connect low-data devices such as sensors directly to the satellite system, the use of data to power ratio means that it can prove expensive relatively quickly.
When using a backhaul configuration however, the satellite connects to a tower which then uses other suitable wireless communication technologies to connect the IoT devices.
In most cases where devices are situated in remote locations, the chances are that they are off-grid, or would have to rely on an unreliable power supply. That's why it's best to ensure the devices can use renewable energy like solar power, and are designed for low energy usage.
Low power devices are well-suited to utilising Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which are perfect for the narrowband requirements. LEO does require steerable antennas, as the satellites move. The other option is a geostationary orbit (GEO) unit. These need large antennas on the terminals, and will need directivity in order to avoid interference with nearby satellites.
The benefits of using satellite IoT technology
It has already been established that satellites allow IoT technology to reach devices in areas that would otherwise be hard to connect with. That's not the only benefit that satellite technology brings to IoT though.
- Cost-effectiveness – because there is no need to keep terrestrial and satellite communication options separate, consumers and industrial users be able to take advantage of a reduction in running costs.
- Low latency – IoT using 5G relies on low latency, which is why most satellites return data with a latency of just a few milliseconds.
- Wider range – Whereas terrestrial connections can cover a range of short to medium distance. Satellites however, can cover a whole continent worth of IoT devices. As the use of IoT scales to include ever-more devices, space-based 5g networks will help to ease congestion.
- Greater reliability – This rise in IoT usage is going to mean that reliability becomes a hugely important metric. Using a satellite network will increase stability, so that applications such as remote asset monitoring can take advantage of an always on connectivity.
- Transformation of infrastructure – Transport infrastructure will be a major beneficiary of satellite-backed IoT. The use of broadband connections on trains, maritime vessels and cargo vehicles is on the rise, with satellite communications making it possible.
- Enabling smart cities – Smart cities rely on up-to-date data to allow administrators to boost sustainability. Satellite IoT lets smart grids extend into more rural areas which traditional, terrestrial networks would not be able to reach.
- Increased safety for offshore work – Operators of offshore sites, such as oil rigs, can use IoT sensors to improve safety and monitoring for their employees.
IoT is being used in more and more ways in even the most remote and unreachable parts of the world. The ability to use satellites to carry the signal, rather than relying on cell towers and the coverage they provide, is a huge step forward that could prove transformative to many industries and bring about a more rapid growth in numerous technologies.