A developer’s guide to satellite IoT: Standards and support

A developer’s guide to satellite IoT: Standards and support
Tim Last is vice president and general manager, Internet of Things at Iridium.

For today’s generation of technology application developers and engineers, choosing a communications partner can be a daunting task. With the pool of potential connectivity partners more varied than ever before, the seemingly simple act of picking a partner to help bring a new connected device or application to market comes with its own set of challenges. In addition, due to the ubiquitous nature of the web, applications can be developed quickly and deployed easily to almost any market you choose via the ease of cloud-based services. However, can the same be said of the communications partner or path you choose?

The boom of the satellite IoT market is bringing assets and connected applications to almost every conceivable market and is creating endless possibilities for innovation. For developers, it is an opportunity to extend their applications and solutions with next-generation capabilities and the ability to reach the 80-plus percent of the planet currently not covered by cellular or other terrestrial communications infrastructure.

But where should a developer new to the satellite IoT world begin? Integrating satellite technology into new devices or existing cellular applications is no small undertaking, and between incumbent satellite machine-to-machine (M2M)/IoT providers and NewSpace satellite startups, there are plenty of potential partners to choose from. Regardless of the path chosen, there are a few crucial factors all developers should consider before choosing a satellite integration partner. These must-have factors include:

Flexibility and support getting to market

As a developer, having a supportive integration partner is critical to your success, especially if you are working with satellite technology for the first time. Ideally, your potential integration partner will offer resources like developer kits and services such as dedicated support teams and 24/7 help desks to guide you through the integration process.

Having access to an ecosystem of partners who can help supply or complete your solution is key. A vast partner network diversifies your team and broadens available skillsets. Whether you need help developing specific hardware antenna technology; setting up a web-based back office; building cloud-hosted infrastructure or creating OEM–built hardware, your partner network can make all the difference when bringing new IoT technologies to fruition.

When it comes to satellite IoT solutions, hardware size, weight, and power (SWaP) are often key differentiators, especially when determining use case, form factor, power duty cycles, and cost requirements. Smaller, lighter, and lower power terminals offer unmatched ease of use to the end user, and increased flexibility to the developer. That is why you will want to seek out a satellite communications (SATCOM) partner with small form factor hardware and versatile core technology to ensure an easy and streamlined development phase, helping bring new products and services to market as efficiently and successfully as possible.

It is important to ensure that your satellite partner offers a full range of embedded technologies and developer kits to allow you to create the best possible cost of ownership for your solution or enable the lowest level of integration for optimised solution packaging. Thus, if a company is slowing your process down, or if its core technology limits your ability to innovate, then it is time to look elsewhere.

Accessibility and reach

Every SATCOM provider has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and one area where there are large differences is coverage. For many, it is surprising to learn that not all satellite companies can deliver connectivity to the entire planet. Many SATCOM companies claim to offer global coverage, but in actuality, there are still areas of the world left without connection.

For instance, take the polar regions. Currently, Iridium is the only commercial SATCOM company that can deliver connectivity to the entire planet, including the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Because of its unique network architecture, comprised of 66 crosslinked, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, the Iridium® network casts a reliable net of global connectivity across the earth’s entire surface. When developing a new solution, these details are vital. Having access to the same, high quality connectivity anywhere on the planet is a huge advantage that not all satellite providers can tout. For instance, satellite networks in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) may reach much of the planet, but do not provide the same quality or signal strength everywhere.

Because of their fixed location in GEO, these networks align themselves with the equator, making signal strength depend on a device’s “look angle” or view of the sky and require more power than satellites orbiting closer to the Earth. Depending on the type of technology you are trying to develop, this factor has the potential to make or break your success and ultimately impact the end user experience if not considered.

Reliability and latency

It is one thing to have the option to connect, but it is another for that connection to work when it is needed most. For some SATCOM providers, especially those operating over higher spectrum bands like Ka-and Ku-band, factors such as inclement weather and physical obstructions can cause signal degradation leading to spotty or no coverage for end users. Signal reliability is extremely important when considering integrating with satellite, and if not prioritised, can lead to serious consequences.

For instance, take the wearable technology industry. If you are developing a personal emergency beacon for the adventure travel community, a key component is a connection that supports emergency communications in varying locations, topographies and weather conditions. For this type of application, characteristics such as global, mobile and reliable connectivity are paramount since it can be used for safety and emergency response purposes. In this case, satellite connectivity delivered over L-band spectrum is ideal because of its weather resilience, providing outstanding reliability even in adverse conditions. In addition to L-band, SATCOM connectivity provided from LEO stands out with low latency communications, making real-time communications possible when combined with a crosslinked constellation architecture, no matter how remote the location. These are just a few examples of how reliability and latency can impact the overall efficacy and success of a new satellite IoT technology.

The pace of innovation and need for constant connectivity pose new sets of challenges to today’s global businesses and organisations, motivating many to venture into new territory, such as SATCOM. By partnering with the right satellite technology company, new entrants and development teams can learn the ropes and not only overcome these challenges but also uncover new business opportunities not previously available when relying solely on cellular infrastructure.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located 5G ExpoIoT Tech ExpoBlockchain ExpoAI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

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2 comments on “A developer’s guide to satellite IoT: Standards and support

  1. Paul Hill on

    Another consideration is the size and type of antenna. At 1.6GHz Iridium offers easily integrated and very small patch antennas that can be duel tuned for both Iridium and GPS. An advantage developers must consider from a size, weight and convenience standpoint.

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