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Internet of Things March 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Guy Garrud

Satellite Internet

Why is this topic significant?

Next-generation satellite-based internet services could offer viable alternatives to cellular networks and wired internet connections in many regions.

Description

In February 2019, SpaceX applied to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to operate as many as a million ground stations to communicate with the company's planned fleet of satellites. This follows the FCC's approval of SpaceX's plan to launch 11,943 satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) as part of the company's planned Starlink system. SpaceX intends Starlink to provide internet access around the globe.

Other companies are also looking at providing internet services by means of fleets of LEO satellites. Laser Light Global Limited is developing a hybrid network of medium-Earth-orbit satellites and terrestrial optical-fiber networks. LeoSat has a constellation of 108 LEO satellites and plans to achieve worldwide service by 2022. Likewise, Telesat has plans to launch as many as 512 satellites into LEO with the ultimate goal of providing "fiber quality throughput" internet access anywhere on the planet.

Implications

Satellite internet services are not new, but they typically are expensive and offer connection speeds comparable to those of dial-up modems. The next-generation satellite-internet options that companies such as SpaceX envision are much more ambitious in terms of the area they cover, data throughput, and latency.

Current satellite-internet offerings make use of satellites in geostationary orbits, but some companies envision instead a fleet of hundreds of small satellites in low- and medium-Earth orbit. The advantage of low-Earth-orbit satellites is that the overall communication distance between a user on the ground and the satellite is much smaller (less than 2,000 miles) than it is for a satellite in geostationary orbit (more than 22,000 miles). The smaller distance can reduce latency but, more important, also enables ground-to-satellite and satellite-to-ground communication with lower energy signaling equipment. LEO satellites can also enable better coverage at higher latitudes than geostationary satellites can. However, low-Earth-orbit satellites circle Earth many times per day, meaning that unlike with geostationary satellites, users on the ground cannot use simple satellite dishes for transmitting and receiving signals and instead require the use of more complex equipment such as phased antenna arrays.

Additional challenges exist in that low-Earth orbit is one of the most crowded regions in space, and increasing the number of orbiting objects dramatically increases the risk of accidental collision either with other satellites or with the more than 170 million pieces of space debris orbiting Earth. Operating in very low orbits (as SpaceX is planning to do) also drastically shortens the service life of satellites because they have to expend fuel to counter atmospheric drag.

Impacts/Disruptions

Current-generation satellite-internet services target several lucrative markets, in particular, serving offshore businesses such as those in the oil-and-gas sector, cruise ships, and airliners. Instead of pursuing this low-hanging fruit, companies that are exploring new fleets of internet satellites are looking at providing internet access for a large number of users in rural areas with poor connection coverage. This is a very different business model—one that relies on establishing a large user base to fund the high costs of launching, maintaining, and replacing a large number of satellites. IoT applications could form an important market for satellite internet, providing a link from a local hub to the internet in areas that are too remote for a robust wired connection.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Telecoms, oil and gas, space launch, satellite design and manufacture, shipping, logistics, agriculture

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

California's Regulatory Push

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a consultant with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

The US state of California recently enacted two new laws that will affect IoT devices and data management in the state. Although the laws relate only to businesses that operate or sell products in California, the laws could lead to similar legislation in the rest of the United States.

Description

In June 2018, California's governor signed the California Consumer Privacy Act into law. The digital-privacy legislation will force companies to give consumers "increased awareness" and control over the personal data they collect about them. The law resembles the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in May 2018, but is less extensive and does not have the same enforcement power as does the GDPR. Key privacy protections include the right of consumers to know what information companies collect about them and whom they share the data with, the right to tell companies to delete their information, and the right to have the same quality of service regardless of data-privacy preferences. The law goes into effect on 1 January 2020.

In addition to data-privacy legislation, California's governor also recently signed into law legislation that will affect the cybersecurity of Internet of Things devices. Under the law, manufacturers that sell in California devices that connect directly or indirectly to the internet must equip devices with "reasonable" security features to prevent unauthorized access. One of the only concrete aspects of the law is a requirement to eliminate default credentials and passwords for devices. Devices must come with unique passwords or force users to create a new password when they set up the device. This law also goes into effect on 1 January 2020.

Implications

California's data-privacy law has many similarities to the GDPR, which "European Union Shaping Global Data Management?" in the October 2018 Viewpoints covers. Although the law mostly targets companies that collect vast amounts of consumer data, such as Google and Facebook, the law will also affect consumer-IoT companies and possibly companies that use connected devices in public spaces. California's IoT-cybersecurity law is a more novel piece of legislation that attempts to tackle the dangers weak cybersecurity practices pose. Weak practices not only can compromise the security of the device's operator but also can disrupt other internet users. Malicious hackers can exploit weak practices to recruit devices into botnets to perform a variety of potential cyberattacks. A notable example is the Mirai botnet that attacked domain-name-system provider Dyn in October 2016. The automated malware recruited consumer devices, such as internet-protocol cameras and routers, into the botnet by exploiting default usernames and passwords.

Impacts/Disruptions

Although the California data-privacy law is not as sweeping as is the GDPR, the law shows that interest in data privacy is growing around the world. Although some cybersecurity researchers and experts have criticized California's cybersecurity law for being too vague and not far-reaching enough, other cybersecurity researchers see its enactment as a good first step toward addressing a difficult and ever-changing issue. California is often a legislative forerunner in the United States, and other US states or the US federal government may adopt variants of California's privacy and cybersecurity laws in the future. IoT-device manufacturers will need to start adopting practices to ensure compliance with emerging laws and regulations.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Compliance and verification services, technology law, internet services, IoT devices, big-data platforms, cloud services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: