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Internet of Things November 2023 Viewpoints

Satellite IoT Progress

By Gary Eastwood

Overview

In recent weeks, a number of satellite companies have announced their strategy of partnering with operators and MNOs in the rapidly growing field of satellite IoT. Examples include SpaceX (T-Mobile), Skylo Technologies (O2 Telefonica in Germany), Sateliot (Telefonica in Spain), and the merger at the end of September of OneWeb and Eutelsat.

Description

As well as its partnership with T-Mobile in the US, SpaceX has also recently expanded coverage across Australia with Optus. Likewise, Skylo—a fast-growing satellite company—recently announced a promising partnership with O2 Germany, while Sateliot has now signed up more than 50 MNOs to its services despite having launched only two low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites (although it plans to launch a further 60 within the next 18 months). And OneWeb's prolonged merger with Eutelsat, announced in July 2022, finally got the go-ahead on 29 September.

Incumbent satellite providers, such as Inmarsat, Iridium, and Globalstar, have already launched services, mainly for maritime and mobile applications, and provided 4 million L‑band spectrum devices to the market. However, they are facing strong pressure from newer, start-ups that are benefitting from the technological advances made by cubesat technology (using a range of UHF, VHF, S‑band, and Ku‑band services).

Cubesat offer new satellite companies a lucrative opportunity as they don't have to take on the high levels of capex that incumbent satellite network operators faced, and so allows them to offer lower cost services and the use of lower power ground sensors and modems. In turn, the newer satellite providers are increasingly partnering with operators in order to gain spectrum, and to explore new use cases together. This trend will continue to shake-up the satellite IoT for some years.

Implications

One of the turning points for the satellite IoT market was the inclusion of standards for non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) in 3GPP Release 17. This allows IoT devices to connect directly to satellite networks. Now, this inclusion is filtering through the ecosystem, with chip makers, such as Qualcomm and Mediatek already demonstrating 3GPP NTN chipsets. And in March, the Federal Communications Commission in the US proposed a regulatory framework for direct-to-device satellite IoT. Together, these have pushed the satellite IoT industry to promising levels.

The move towards standardisation also means that new satellite companies can start to make the most of the opportunity by partnering with terrestrial network operators. By doing so, satellite providers can leverage mobile network partnerships, adopt standardised technologies, and differentiate services against competitors in a crowded field. As noted, GSM standards are already being deployed in chipsets, while standards are also being introduced into satellite technologies. While these partnerships may take time to filter through into real-world, commercial services, the satellite IoT industry is certainly in the midst of a significant shift, which ultimately could allow organisations to have 100% visibility into their global device estates.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • Satellite Internet

    Satellite-broadband services such as those from SpaceX and OneWeb are making progress and could disrupt existing broadband services. Internet connectivity via satellites could also open up new Internet of Things and sensing opportunities in remote regions, where fixed lines and cellular networks are impractical or unreliable.

  • Standards Development

    Many information and communications technologies require standardized specifications to function and to allow interoperability among products and systems. Standardization efforts often become convoluted as competing industry consortiums, technology ideologies, and even geopolitical interests exert their influence.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: High.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: 5 to 10 Years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • Information/Telecommunications
  • Infrastructure/Utility
  • Internet of Things
  • Sensors/Electronics
  • Military

Relevant to the Following Explorer Technology Areas