Proprietary data protocols, the true enabler of SatIoT

With the advent of cost-effective satellite-based IoT (SatIoT), systems integrators (SIs) are racing to meet the huge pent-up demand for global solutions that enable asset tracking across the 85% of the planet not covered by cellular networks. They develop fully connected IoT solutions, which track mobile assets as they move, seamlessly connecting to a variety of networks including Cellular, LoRaWAN, Sigfox and Satellite. Additionally, many believe that a one-size-fits-all approach is a good one and dependent on future 3GPP standards – but is this really a safe bet for IS?

While it is technically possible to use current terrestrial protocols to communicate with satellites, it is far from optimal in terms of performance. The IoT is incredibly sensitive to cost and power consumption, and any degradation could quickly derail the IoT business model. Marginal differences in performance, such as battery and/or device life, can also significantly alter the feasibility of any business case. This makes building smart devices that can seamlessly switch between numerous technologies – each highly optimized for specific conditions – the most robust approach.

Proprietary data protocols are therefore a central element of the SatIoT development model. To succeed here, however, organizations and IS must explore the use of proprietary data protocols that have been designed specifically to optimize every aspect of the SatIoT component.

Optimized deployments are less expensive, more reliable, and better performing, especially in key areas such as power consumption, which can make or break an IoT deployment. Excessive power consumption dramatically reduces battery life. This leads to costly battery/device replacement, which, for example, is impossible for goods in transit and extremely difficult in remote locations. A device that uses a generic network standard for SatIoT will use up to 10 times more power than a device that uses SatIoT with an optimized data protocol and chipsets.

Moreover, it is not possible to simply add a SatIoT connection to an existing device, even using the same network standard such as LoRaWAN. These are not plug and play situations. Devices will need a new antenna or radio frequency (RF) front end to connect to the satellite. Therefore, it makes much more sense to use optimized data protocols and devices with a chipset optimized for SatIoT. For example, devices must be small enough to be used on livestock – including compact, flat antennae that won’t get caught in vegetation – and rugged enough to withstand years outdoors without needing to be replaced.

Enabling two-way communication is also essential – this allows devices to be upgraded remotely, thus extending life in the field. It also enables innovative IoT applications, such as creating virtual livestock fences, eliminating the need for costly and resource-intensive labor to install and maintain fences in remote areas. The use of proprietary data protocols is ultimately not an obstacle to deployment but an enabler. System integrators can use it to create solutions that use multiple networks to track items around the world.

A recent deployment for shipping containers moves seamlessly between an array of various connectivity solutions, including Bluetooth, cellular, LoRaWAN, and satellite, as needed. Organizations can choose to change the primary network at any time – ensuring that the device connects to SatIoT rather than cellular in certain high-cost regions, for example, to achieve greater certainty in the base of operational costs.

The key to long-term success is ensuring that the SatIoT deployment model supports rather than undermines the IoT business case. How often should the device communicate with the satellite? What is the power consumption? What is the battery life? Is the antenna design suitable for the purpose? Does the solution support two-way communication? These are the key considerations that will affect the cost, viability, and business benefits of deploying SatIoT – and optimal performance can only be achieved through the use of dedicated, optimized data protocols.

For now, full integration is the long-term dream, but over the next decade standards will emerge. To maximize the power, potential, and economic benefits of SatIoT today, using dedicated proprietary protocols will remain the best way to develop a strong and achievable business case and accelerate IoT deployment.

Fabien Jordan, CEO of Astrocast

See also: Demonstration of JoeySat via 5G beam-hopping satellite to LEO, via Florida

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