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What is a satellite network? And is it right for your business?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is exciting because of the possibilities it offers to bring important information to the surface more quickly than a system which depends on human intervention. In this way, we can use real-time data to deliver efficiencies, support new business models, and see actionable results. 

However, this network of connected devices absolutely depends on those devices’ ability to connect and exchange data with other IoT devices, edge devices and the cloud.

The challenges of connectivity

In areas where there is good cellular network coverage and high-speed broadband as well as locations where Wi-Fi coverage is effective, the IoT can live up to its promises.

However, some of the most compelling IoT use cases are situated in areas where cellular network service is patchy, high-speed broadband connection is non-existent and Wi-Fi coverage is interrupted or does not cover the necessary distances.

This is especially true for IoT applications of logistics, which need to cover large and changing geographies, for agricultural IoT use cases which need to operate in rural areas without other connectivity options and energy IoT applications, such as monitoring in offshore wind, oil and gas installations, where coverage and conditions are even more challenging.

Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) solutions, such as LoRa and SigFox, are often touted as a solution for meeting connectivity requirements in rural or remote areas. However, even these solutions are limited by scale, typically covering around 10 to 15 kilometres. On large farms or remote applications, 15 kilometres might be only a fraction of the distance required.

Satellite networks are one option for connectivity which answers these some of these geographical and connectivity challenges. 

What is satellite connectivity?

Satellite networks offer connectivity in areas where there is no cellular or broadband coverage. They depend on Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which orbit around the earth between 200 kilometres and 2,000 kilometres from the earth’s surface.

There are more than 2,068 “nano” satellites orbiting the earth (according to August 2022 figures). Some of them are no bigger than a shoebox. They are relatively low cost to produce, launch and maintain. 

Although LEO satellites have a narrower field of communication with earth than geostationary satellites, they have a fast rotation around the earth. Typically, they travel at 7.3 kilometres per second, with multiple revolutions per day. This means that a particular LEO satellite will be above a given spot on the earth’s surface at least once a day. For use cases which require more regular data collection, a constellation of LEO satellites will be required.

How does satellite connectivity work?

First, your IoT devices need to be equipped with satellite communication terminals. This allows them to be connected directly to the orbiting satellites without the need for terrestrial infrastructure. 

Collected data from your IoT device is processed and packaged for transmission using your selected frequencies and protocols (e.g. MQTT IoT messaging protocol). The satellite receives this data and then relays it back down to ground stations on the earth’s surface. 

From there, it can be delivered via terrestrial networks to local or cloud storage and/or applications for display, recording and analysis. Billing is based on the number of data packages sent and/or received via the satellite network.

Is satellite connectivity right for your business?

If you want to gather data from devices where there is little or no coverage by broadband or cellular networks, satellite is an obvious and effective solution. 

Satellite connectivity can be used to provide connectivity with 100 percent global coverage for your IoT applications. Or it can be used to simply fill in the dead spots where terrestrial networks are not available.

Satellite connectivity can also be a great option for building redundancy into IoT solutions in which 24/7 real-time connection is essential.