Satellites will drive IoT connections

In an age of instant information, connectivity must be effective, affordable and always on. 

Especially when the Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting billions of devices and “sensorising” almost everything. From pipelines to assembly lines to logistics and consumer electronics. As sensors actively transmit data across systems, the biggest need of the hour is speed, quality and affordability of connectivity. 

While most retail consumers are dependent on mobile service providers for connectivity, cellular networks will choke as devices begin to ride their bandwidth. These networks were not designed for IoT. Moreover, cellular networks are best in urban areas but are not as effective in rest of the places. 

IoT is increasingly shifting to satellite-based connectivity solutions. The world’s largest connectivity providers are now focusing on IoT solutions. These include Iridium, OrbComm, Inmarsat, Globalstar and Vodafone IoT. 

In some ways the satellite broadcast revolution which beamed TV signals to million of homes over the last few decades are now moving to the IoT. 

Satellite IoT has become a strong market segment by itself. A recent report by research firm NSR says that the market will grow to $11.5 billion in this decade. “Transport  and cargo has been the main market driver traditionally...agriculture and construction market segments see the strongest increases driven by partnerships with heavy machinery makers, but other segments, like energy and maritime, will also contribute to the future revenue pie,” says the report. 

A shift within this market is towards small satellite constellations. Elon Musk promoted SpaceX has recently its third batch of 60 Starlink satellites. Apart from IoT, Musk’s objective is to control the world’s internet connectivity which will ride on satellites. Swarm Technologies has received approval from US regulator Federal Communications Commission to launch 60 miniature satellites to create an ever-present network and connectivity to devices across the world. “Small satellite IoT constellations will disrupt the market longer term. Lower cost satellite architectures, with lower total cost of ownership for end users, will drive new customers to these services,” NSR says. 

Satellites bring connectivity to virtually every part of the world. This has important implications for logistics, shipping and transportation sectors. Ships, trains and trucks can be connected to their organisations even when they are in locations without cellular connectivity. 

However, the cost of satellite-based connectivity is still not affordable for many companies. One kilobyte of data can cost a dollar while for cellular services it is a fraction. A Silicon Valley startup by an Indian technologist is offering an affordable solution. Parth Trivedi, CEO and Co-Founder of Skylo Technologies has developed low-cost hardware and solution that is ideal for Indian and emerging market conditions. Skylo has transformed a satellite receiver dish into a portable printed circuit board-based device combined with IoT connectivity. 

Skylo is working with BSNL and the Indian Railways to place the Skylo Hub satellite connectivity device on coaches. Sensors placed in the coach will communicate information about their condition to the Skylo Hub device which will in turn instantly relay the data using satellite connectivity.

Officials managing each train will get real-time information and advance alerts about potential maintenance and failure issues. This is part of the smart coach initiative of the Railways. 

Low-cost, high-speed and ever-present connectivity can be a reality with new satellite technologies which are rapidly changing the communications sector. Both government services and enterprises can benefit in from such breakthroughs as most of the country gets connected with satellite IoT. 

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