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The Internet of Space: Non-Terrestrial Network Path Emerges for Satellite IoT
October 28, 2020 Blog


Authored by: Nancy Friedrich, Industry Solutions Marketing, Aerospace & Defense, Keysight Technologies

With so much attention placed on 5G non-terrestrial networks and enhanced defence capabilities, it is easy to forget about the satellite Internet of Things (IoT).

Also sometimes called the “Internet of Space,” this next wave of connectivity is predicted to enable many new applications while improving existing ones. In addition to consumer technology and services, aerospace defence applications and capabilities stand to greatly benefit.

With 5G, satellite IoT gains range, power, and speed. Early satellite IoT has so far comprised lower earth orbit (LEO) networks, which specifically target IoT applications and services. Yet the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has pursued a vested interest in how non-terrestrial networks can augment the 5G infrastructure. It has also partnered with the European Space Agency on the Satellite for 5G project.

Although non-terrestrial networking is a boost for mobile broadband, it also can fill a necessary gap for machine communications.

Specifically, it could satisfy requirements for massive machine type communication (mMTC). The 3GPP has included plans for service for mobile IoT. If these capabilities indeed extend to previously underserved areas, the rewards could be substantial.

One large application example is a smart city or even a smart larger town in a more rural area. Such locales may want connected and intelligent meters, lights, and more. The eventual goal of most “smart cities” is for everything to be connected, with city infrastructure communicating to driverless or assisted vehicles, for example. To cover a wider or more populated area, satellites will likely form a constellation to support sensor networking.

The potential benefits of mMTC also extend to aerospace defence applications. With the ability to collect millions of devices within a few kilometres, you can utilise a 5G network to collect and share sensor data.

According to an article from Finabel – the European Army Interoperability Centre, “With a smartwatch and wearable devices, it will be possible to have lots of information to share about soldiers: from their vital parameters, such as heart rate, blood pressure and fatigue, up to their geographical position…then you could even get to use augmented reality devices similar to Google Glass, a bit like those already supplied to pilots, but with real-time data transmission.”

When it comes to rolling out this technology, different approaches are being developed and demonstrated to verify what is currently viable. In MediaTek’s field trial, for example, data was transferred through Inmarsat’s Alphasat L-band satellite in Geostationary Orbit (GEO). With this bi-directional link from an NB-IoT (narrowband IoT) device to a GEO satellite, the possibility of worldwide IoT coverage became more possible.

It also proves the potential for a hybrid approach that incorporates both cellular and satellite networks. The results of MediaTek and Inmarsat’s IoT field test will be contributed to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)’s Rel-17 standardisation work on Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN).

As 5G makes much more information available, mMTC will increase the ability to leverage sensor data. As a result, warfighters will have increased situational awareness and more data ranging from the status of their soldiers to insights from equipment. Expect 5G to greatly impact the information gathered on the battlefield.

At Keysight, we cover the satellite development and deployment cycle from inception through deployment. We also support 5G design and developments. Visit our Space/Satellite and 5G sites to find out more.