5G is poised to revolutionize IoT due to a number of advantages over previous iterations of terrestrial networks. 5G’s ultra-high speed (10 times faster) and low latency make it optimal for mission-critical IoT applications. 5G’s increased capacity and enhanced reliability enable a significantly larger number of devices to connect to the internet, paving the way for the development of even more sophisticated IoT applications.
In addition, 5G’s network slicing enables the construction of virtualized network segments that can be optimized for particular IoT use cases, thereby improving the performance and efficiency of IoT deployments. However, 5G was predominantly designed to improve network coverage in densely populated urban areas.
Currently, only 8% of the earth’s surface is covered by 5G networks, while terrestrial networks cover 15%. Let’s investigate the expanding role of satellites in the future of 5G and how near this future is to becoming a reality.
Satellites Enhance 5G Networks.
Satellites could ultimately complement 5G networks in three primary ways:
- Increasing coverage to include rural and isolated areas
- Creating job losses
- Additional haulback
While connectivity is about more than just coverage, the primary benefit of incorporating satellites into 5G networks is global coverage. In contrast to traditional mobile networks and fiber connectivity, which rely on infrastructure, satellites can provide connectivity anywhere on Earth.
Additionally, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites can provide low-latency, high-speed connectivity. As LEO satellites are positioned between 160 and 2,000 kilometers (99 and 1243 miles) above the Earth’s surface, they can provide latency as low as 20 milliseconds, comparable to that of terrestrial networks.
Therefore, satellite connectivity can be used to administer time-sensitive applications such as remote surgery or autonomous vehicles, where delays can have severe consequences. In addition, the increased bandwidth could enable 5G networks to accommodate the increasing data traffic and number of connected devices.
Even though these benefits are reasonably well understood, only 2% of the global satellite connectivity market in 2022 will be derived from satellite IoT revenues. So, what has altered? Cost and complexity, the two most prevalent obstacles to the adoption of satellite connectivity, are changing.
Affordable Satellite Connectivity
Satellites were once considered an expensive last resort, but in recent years the satellite communications industry has experienced remarkable growth and innovation. The cost of launching satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has significantly decreased from $85K per kilogram in 1981 to just $1K per kilogram in 2020.
This trend has been aided by the creation of nano- and CubeSats that are smaller and lighter. As a result of their diminutive size, nanosatellites provide less coverage, so a greater number of them are required to attain global coverage. Swarm’s global coverage is sustained by a constellation of 150 nanosatellites, as opposed to Iridium’s network of 66 satellites.
In addition, the satellite communications industry has become increasingly competitive, with a number of new companies entering the market in the past few years. Many, however, are still in the process of launching their nanosatellite or CubeSat networks. Consequently, a number of these service providers will be unable to provide real-time data or, in some cases, genuinely global coverage.
Astrocast and Sateliot, for instance, have 18 and 12 nanosatellites in orbit, respectively, with intentions to expand their constellations to 1,000 and 250 satellites, respectively. Some of these operators may only be able to deliver IoT data once per day, which may not be suitable for all use cases. In these instances, businesses must determine the frequency of transmissions required for their endeavor and choose a satellite network that can accommodate it.
Interoperability Possibilities & Obstacles
Many satellite operators require consumers to use proprietary equipment to access their networks at present. This necessitates the purchase of a dedicated satellite transceiver, which is not always simple to integrate with existing systems. Some devices will support your preferred messaging protocol; in other cases, consumers will need to manipulate their data to enable satellite transmission.
Interoperability has long been a topic of discussion in the communications industry, but it wasn’t until 2017 that a formal working group recommended integrating non-terrestrial networks such as fiber and satellites into 5G technology.
There are optimistic developments in the direct-to-device space in 2023, such as Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X75 chipsets that leverage Iridium’s satellite network and eliminate the need for a sim card or additional hardware to leverage satellite connectivity.
However, the proliferation of wireless connectivity options complicates interoperability for IoT deployment connectivity. 5G NR (New Radio), NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things), and LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) are a few examples.
As interoperability capabilities must be built into satellites prior to launch, satellite network operators are essentially required to select the protocols and/or standards they assume will be around for the foreseeable future. In fact, it is not uncommon for terrestrial networks to discontinue particular generations of service, as is currently occurring with 2G and 3G.
In addition, there are still a number of obstacles and limitations to be addressed, including regulatory issues such as spectrum allocation.
Future: Hybrid, Pervasive Coverage
Increasingly, terrestrial and satellite IoT network operators are cooperating to provide hybrid connectivity solutions. Kinéis and Deutsche Telekom, for instance, have partnered to provide hybrid cellular-satellite solutions, where Kinéis’ KIM 1 module is certified by Deutsche Telekom and can be used by its customers.
In addition, numerous satellite IoT devices, such as the RockREMOTE Rugged, can utilize both cellular and satellite connectivity. Separate sim cards are required for both cellular and satellite connectivity, and devices will use terrestrial connectivity when it is available and transition to satellite connectivity when terrestrial coverage is unavailable.
In addition, new technologies are emerging that provide terrestrial and satellite connectivity through a single Radio Frequency (RF) chipset. The LoRa Edge LR1120 is an example of this, as it supports Sub-GHz LoRa, SATCOM S-band, and 2.4 GHz Lora.
Ultimately, dependable connectivity is essential for the success of any IoT deployment, and satellite technology is already being utilized in a variety of applications, including precision agriculture, logistics, and healthcare. Continued investment and collaboration in this area are essential for satellite-based IoT networks to reach their maximum potential.
Source: IoT for All