Unlocking the true potential of IoT with low cost satellite communications

05 April 2023

Eric Ménard, VP of strategy & business, Astrocast

Eric Ménard, VP of strategy & business, Astrocast

With an expected 5.2 billion connected devices by 2025, IoT is now a fundamental component of both government policy and corporate strategy. The ability to track, monitor, record and analyse through an extraordinary array of hugely innovative sensors has already transformed many businesses and industries. But, to date, the true power of IoT has been constrained by the limits of fixed and wireless connectivity: just 15% of the planet is currently covered by affordable, accessible IoT connection.
If organisations are to truly harness the power and sophistication of IoT, connectivity must extend around the globe. It needs to be both affordable and accessible – yet the only alternative to wireless networks has been satellite IoT at a price point that cannot be justified by most businesses or use cases. Until now.

Driving value

After two years of pandemic disruption, businesses need to be able to achieve and demonstrate true innovation in supply chains that support new efficiency paradigms and deliver tangible shareholder value.

Post COP26, environmental protection has risen the corporate agenda – and companies must prove their sustainability strategies to avoid the risk of greenwash accusations. Agriculture is under pressure to resolve the twin challenges of climate change affecting growing seasons and the estimated need to produce 60% more food by 2050 to feed a world population of 9.3 billion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The continuous connection of IoT has a key role to play in both enabling the required innovation and proving its value. From connected vehicles to industrial equipment tracking and environmental monitoring, increasingly sophisticated IoT sensors are already embedded within global infrastructure. Yet with 85% of the world not covered by cellular technology, IoT is simply not an option for vast numbers of organisations. Without global coverage, the true power of IoT to enable fundamental change will never be realised.

Cost effective SatIoT

With the arrival of low-cost satellite IoT (SatIoT), assets can now be deployed cost effectively around the globe.

Farmers benefiting from SatIoT can be found globally – particularly in Kenya and South Africa, where large herds of livestock are located in regions that have no reliable cellular network access. In these cases, connectivity to a SatIoT-based collar enables farmers to track livestock remotely - tracking movement patterns and enabling the creation of geo-fences to detect when livestock has drifted into areas they should not be.

The compelling cost model is just one part of the equation. This is a new market for systems integrators and one that raises a new set of challenges as well as opportunities. By default, many IoT solutions will be deployed in remote locations – from mines to farmland, ships to oil platforms – which means minimising the need for human intervention wherever possible.

Device size, power consumption and reliability are priority concerns. Small devices offering low power consumption is a vital component, as battery life is extended. What is the weight and cost differential offered by smaller antennas? What is the viable battery life? These are vital issues to consider before embarking upon a strategic SatIoT initiative. Ensuring the device is only transmitting when the satellite is in range, rather than continuously, radically increases battery life, especially in applications that do not require constant information updates.

“Access to cost effective SatIoT is already innovation. The ability to work seamlessly with existing cellular IoT solutions, ensuring accurate tracking and monitoring as assets transit between connections, is transforming visibility of global freight assets.”


Innovative thinking

Access to cost effective SatIoT is already inspiring extraordinary innovation. The ability to work seamlessly with existing cellular IoT solutions, ensuring accurate tracking and monitoring as assets transit between connections, is transforming visibility of global freight assets. In addition to improving efficiency and reducing the financial losses associated with product damage and wastage, this global tracking has an even more powerful potential: addressing the huge proportion of vaccines that are damaged, lost or stolen in transit. SatIoT can not only provide confidence in the integrity of the cold chain; but also identify areas of elevated risk, allowing the protection to be prioritised in the right areas.

Bidirectional IoT also has a significant role to play. The ability to send commands back to assets, rather than just receive data, is hugely powerful and enables an array of new use cases, including remote management of equipment. Farmers can command silos to release food, open gates or manage irrigation systems, without any need for expensive and often hard to source human interaction. Utilities companies can control water management systems in line with flood prevention strategies. With information seamlessly integrated with existing analytics, AI, or machine learning solutions, organisations have the power to not only use this data to improve understanding but also immediately respond and use the new insight to inform timely commands to remote assets.

Complete solution

Low-cost SatIoT is opening a new world of opportunities – from measuring pipeline flows, to tracking migrations, and monitoring the delivery of food, water, and vaccines to remote villages. It is also helping to reduce the digital divide in many rural and farming areas across the world, especially in rural African communities. Moreover, SatIoT is enabling organisations to not simply embark upon innovating thinking, but confidently and rapidly assess the impact and achieve continuous improvement. Critically, it will play a vital role in supporting the next generation of value driven business strategy, environmental change, and government policy.