Emerging Trends | Infrastructure | IoT | Satellite
May 14, 2019

The Internet of Things through novel low Earth orbit satellites

By Nicholas Spina, Director, Launch and Regulatory Affairs, Kepler Communications

Nearly three decades have passed since humanity started to envision the framework for modern global non-geostationary satellite communication networks.

While history had these systems heavily focused on telecommunications, our world has progressed to not only connect humans by way of voice and video but machines, devices, and other “things” by way of data.

Most of us will associate the information Internet of Things (IoT) with a thermostat in our home, or the ability to receive a message when the doorbell rings. Within industry, IoT is the intersection of sensors, connectivity, and powerful data analytics that promises to improve efficiencies across a variety of industries.

“Through direct support from ITU, Kepler and other small satellite operators have become increasingly engaged with the national and international regulatory framework.”

The reality of data blindness

Consider the transportation of temperature-sensitive medication on an ocean liner from a pharmaceutical company to a disaster relief area thousands of kilometers away. The medication is required to remain within its strict temperature bounds along the multi-week transatlantic journey, or risk spoilage.

A lack of en-route temperature data means that the pharmaceutical company is unaware if their products have spoiled, logistics companies are unaware that a new shipment is needed, and the healthcare provider on the receiving end is unaware if their upcoming shipment of life-saving medication will be ruined.

Ultimately, this data blindness blocks the ability to act.

The root cause of this lack of data is not an inability to measure, but an inability to connect to the measurement device because there does not exist a globally unified and affordable connectivity network.

“Governing bodies that mandate the terms under which satellite networks can gain access to spectrum therefore have an obligation to ensure a fair, open, and competitive regulatory environment that works for both incumbents and new entrants.”

These connectivity challenges are repeated across industries and applications; AECOM, a global construction company, is unaware of the location of all its tools and equipment; Porsche is unaware if its vehicles have been damaged during shipment; Deutsche Bahn is unable to determine if its shipping containers have been breached during transport.

Satellites — key to building the framework for a global IoT infrastructure

Regardless of the application, building the framework for a global IoT infrastructure results in positive socioeconomic economic externalities, and the simplest means by which this can be achieved is through the use of satellites. Governing bodies that mandate the terms under which satellite networks can gain access to spectrum therefore have an obligation to ensure a fair, open, and competitive regulatory environment that works for both incumbents and new entrants.

Is the current regulatory framework for satellites outdated?

With traditional satellites taking a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and deliver into service, next-generation small satellites are delivered at 1/10th the time, and 1/100th the cost. Unfortunately, the regulatory framework that these satellites must abide by was developed for — and typically caters to — traditional satellites and their development cycle.

When a global satellite IoT service could be offered for USD2/year/device, but has a significant probability of facing substantial regulatory barriers, it goes without question that each of us must ask ourselves how we can facilitate such a development rather than stranglehold it by way of incumbent filings and regional rulings.

With such a drastic change in technology, we must subsequently ask ourselves whether rules of priority and protectionism for spectrum allocations continue to be the best method by which innovation and investment can be encouraged in the realm of spaceborne infrastructures.

Moving large datasets, with small satellites

Kepler Communications is an example of a novel company that has secured investment to employ small satellites in the delivery of a global connectivity solution, for both low and high data rates. While it would be reasonable to assume that IoT is associated with small amounts of data, the same principle can apply to moving large amounts of data.

With Kepler’s first-generation satellites in orbit, clients have the ability to move large datasets through their existing VSAT terminals, new flat panel antennas, or any Ku-based steerable antenna. Starting late 2019, clients will also have the ability to move small datasets through a device no larger than a cell phone, which includes a six-year operational battery life.

Through direct support from ITU, Kepler and other small satellite operators have become increasingly engaged with the national and international regulatory framework. Starting with the Santiago de Chile ITU symposium and Workshop on small satellite regulation and communication systems held in Chile in 2016, and again with the World Radiocommunication Seminars of 2016 and 2018, and the various working groups building up to WRC-19, the diversity of systems, wealth of knowledge and general understanding of these new systems has been flourishing.

In 2018, a group of small-satellite operators started the Commercial Small-Satellite Spectrum Management Association (CSSMA) to help share knowledge across new operators and ensure that the interests of these operators are represented in relevant forums.

“Given the apparent ubiquity and progressive development of terrestrial-based IoT deployments, one might ask whether satellites play a significant role in facilitating our ‘data age’?”

Today, the association has several operators working on providing IoT-related connectivity in the mobile satellite service (MSS) bands, each facing their own regulatory challenges. In considering such systems, we should note that the majority operate below 650 Km, typically leading to their natural deorbit within around five years. Consider for a moment that the aforementioned results in a new constellation with novel technology every five years, and contrast this to regulation that has closed innovation in specific MSS bands until 2027.

The answer for the ’data age’ — novel purpose-built non-GSO satellite networks

Given the apparent ubiquity and progressive development of terrestrial-based IoT deployments, one might ask whether satellites play a significant role in facilitating our “data age”? Be it sensors in the middle of the ocean, global asset tracking, utility grid monitoring, autonomous mapping, polar research, health monitoring for deployed military assets, the list is endless.

When answering this question, ask yourself: What type of network would grant you the ability to do all of the above, globally, without any blind spots, moving large and small datasets, and with a single station? The answer is simple: novel, economic, rapidly replenished and purpose-built non-GSO satellite networks.

*This article is one of several commissioned by ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau to be published in the recent ‘Evolving satellite communications’ edition of ITU News Magazine.Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

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The Internet of Things through novel low Earth orbit satellites

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