What’s the role of satellite connectivity in an IoT world?

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT Connectivity Hub

The European Space Agency (ESA) recently launched the Hispasat 36W-1 into space. This satellite begins the update of a platform that aims to renew the services offered by many operators. This is just an example of progress towards a connected world, no matter the barriers, something that is essential for the creation of an ecosystem suitable for the IoT. Yet it is not the only satellite in orbit whose mission is to provide satellite coverage where cellular networks do not reach. More and more companies are focusing on mixed networks that are capable of reaching anywhere.

Satellite connections to reach anywhere

Satellite connections cover places that are completely impossible to cover by other physical means. It also unloads the network to avoid the saturation of the lines, or when bandwidth is limited. Under both circumstances, satellite connections play a fundamental role in an interconnected world that is ready for the Internet of Things. The areas that will benefit the most from this are undoubtedly the commercial and industrial sectors. However, users will too, albeit to a lesser extent. Asset tracking is one of the longest-running sectors with satellite connections. For example, a container crossing the ocean can only be monitored using this kind of technology. Due to the improvements in satellite constellations, we can now make the connection in both directions, which allows us to act remotely in case of emergency. This provides logistics companies many more possibilities to mobilize all types of products and monitor their status.

Satellites are also essential in scientific monitoring or production tracking in remote locations. Users can expand their use of services of all kinds, such as recreational, healthcare or professional, anywhere in the world, something that all connected objects take advantage of. Currently, mixed coverage and satellite connection coverage are targeted by large companies. Telefónica, for example, is working to provide connection services on trains and other means of transportation. Remote sites are another target, making it possible to lower costs and improve the quality of services. According to Northern Sky Research, by 2023 there will be more than 5.8 million M2M and IoT connections. In line with this report, satellite connections are still finding their niche among consumers, while industry is much more advanced.

The future of satellites in an IoT world

At the same time that satellite connections are changing the way we use the IoT, their presence is also affecting the M2M market that uses this type of connection. Thanks to substantial improvements in technologies used on land, satellite connections are allowing for increased operative efficiency of the sector, which sparks greater interest on the part of companies. This, in turn, leads to improvements and the creation of new use cases, which forces operators to seek better capabilities and more efficient hybrid solutions. It also necessitates the simplification of access to satellite technology, antennas and other technological factors that allow satellite connections to be used in all types of devices.

Currently, IoT satellite connections remain marginal compared to other traditional systems. But with the expansion of frequencies-assisted services in the Ku and Ka bands, thanks to the current improvements in satellite technologies, the M2M and IoT sectors will see significant growth. In addition to the potential for services, increased use of these bands will create new opportunities. For example, it will allow for more daily use cases, such as in connected cars or domotic homes in places that are difficult to reach. Experts predict that we will see this potentiality peak within the next decade.

Transport is still making the most of satellites

Although users will be able to access a whole new range of services, the industrial sectors will remain the biggest beneficiaries of this technology. And among them, transportation is the model that has the most experience and where this type of technology sparks the highest expectations. In the words of Mohammad Marashi, VP for Innovation and Service Architecture at Intelsat, improving the tracking system in asset monitoring could help save up to $13 billion a year in large container shipping by 2025.

Improvements in satellite connection services and the development of associated technologies, as explained during the last SATELLITE 2016 show, could allow operators to increase transport efficiency, generating a positive impact of between $4.5 and $9.3 billion by 2025. Along with transport, producers of raw materials such as mining and fuel will see a substantial increase in the efficiency of their sensor systems, which, together with more efficient transport, could lead to new opportunities and increasing revenues in these sectors.

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Telefónica IoT Team