Top three questions about satellite connectivity for IoT

Learn about the role of low earth orbit satellites in delivering outage-proof connectivity.
Pat Wilbur
June 4, 2024
Aerial view of a container ship sailing in sea transporting cargo goods internationally around the world.

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about satellites in the news, and that’s got you thinking about “what does it mean for cellular IoT device connectivity?" Before we hop right into answering the top questions we get, let’s start with a quick refresher on satellite technology.

Historically, satellite communication required large, directional antennas that demanded significant power and precise alignment to maintain a stable connection at high orbits (>6,000 miles from the earth’s surface), making it costly and requiring a complex infrastructure.

Now, the landscape has dramatically changed with Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that orbit much closer to the Earth (100–200 miles from the earth’s surface). This proximity allows for the use of smaller, less expensive devices with simpler antennas, which are more suitable for IoT applications. These LEO satellites are revolutionizing the satellite communication industry. Let’s explore why.

Why does satellite connectivity matter for IoT?

Due to their lower altitude, LEO satellites can provide lower latency connections, which is critical for real-time applications. The reduced distance also means that the power requirements for communication are lower, enabling smaller and more energy-efficient devices. This is particularly impactful for the IoT ecosystem, where reliable and flexible connectivity is paramount. With modems now capable of operating off of satellites, an interesting fall back scenario using cellular and satellite for outage-proof reliability is emerging. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for IoT devices that operate in diverse environments, from urban areas with dense cellular coverage to remote locations where satellite is the only viable option.

What are the best use cases for satellite connectivity?

Interestingly, satellite connectivity is the inverse of cellular. Densely populated urban areas where access to the sky are perfect for cellular. In remote areas, like oceans and remote geographies, the potential applications for satellite-connected IoT devices is significant:

  • Energy and maritime industries: With vast amounts of ocean travel, these industries face challenges with en route and in port tracking and connectivity for their sensor-enabled vessels. IoT devices provide critical data on vessel location, cargo conditions, and environmental factors, ensuring safety and efficiency in operations. Adding satellite connectivity to these connected devices ensures outage-proof reliability.
  • Smart farming: Many commercial farms measure in the thousands of acres, extending across varied geographics. Smart farming and the move to autonomous operations relies on fast and reliable connectivity can be challenging. Satellite connectivity can enable real-time monitoring of vehicles, soil conditions, weather, and crop health, even in areas with no cellular coverage.
  • Transportation: Land-based connectivity for trucking remains an issue in remote and mountainous regions. Satellite connectivity can help fill gaps where connectivity is poor and provide a back-up scenario to ensure continuous data transmission and monitoring, particularly as autonomous trucking becomes a reality.
  • Public safety: The hybrid connectivity model offered by the combination of cellular and satellites can enhance the reliability of smart city applications, like traffic management systems, environmental monitoring sensors, and public safety networks. The redundancy offered by satellite connectivity, ensuring continuous operation even during terrestrial network outage.

Can I use both?

One of the most exciting developments is the ability to use the same radio frequencies for both cellular and satellite communications. This dual-use capability, enabled by advanced radio and antenna technologies, allows IoT devices to seamlessly switch between terrestrial and satellite networks.

  • The concept of hybrid connectivity—using both terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks—is becoming increasingly relevant. Recent standards, such as the 3GPP Release 17, 18, and 19, have addressed non-terrestrial use cases, including enabling 5G connectivity from space.
  • While LEO satellites and advanced radio technologies have improved capacity, they weren’t built to handle large numbers of devices. Terrestrial networks, particularly those using millimeter-wave frequencies, offer higher efficiency in densely populated areas by shortening the transmission range and increasing device density. The line-of-sight requirement for satellite communication means that devices need a clear view of the sky.
  • As the hybrid approach grows in usage with programmatic switching of devices between cellular and satellite connectivity, new use cases will emerge.

Exciting opportunities for innovation

As we look to the future, the integration of satellite connectivity into the broader IoT ecosystem will likely become more seamless and sophisticated. The ongoing advancements in satellite technology, coupled with improvements in radio and antenna design, will continue to expand the capabilities and applications of satellite-connected IoT devices.

Moreover, as the cost of deploying and operating satellite networks decreases, more widespread adoption is expected. This will be particularly beneficial for industries and regions where traditional terrestrial networks are impractical or cost-prohibitive.

In conclusion, satellite connectivity is poised to play a critical role in the future of IoT. By providing a versatile and reliable communication solution, it enables IoT devices to operate effectively in a wide range of environments, from bustling cities to the most remote corners of the globe. As technology continues to evolve, the potential for satellite-connected IoT devices will only grow, offering exciting new opportunities for innovation and efficiency in numerous industries.

How Hologram can help deliver outage-free connectivity for your organization

Helping ensure that your business has outage-proof connectivity is our top goal. Our new Hologram Dual-Core SIMs offer the highest levels of cellular IoT reliability. These SIMs feature two fully independent mobile cores on each SIM that seamlessly switch to a backup core in the event of an outage. Plus, we contractually commit to guaranteed uptime commitments plus 24/7 support to resolve any issues quickly.

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