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How Satellite NB-IoT is Useful for More Than Just IoT

By Svend Holme Soerensen | December 8, 2022

    IoT visualization. Photo: Via Satellite

    With the highly anticipated Release 17 from 3GPP, narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is now on a fast track to becoming the first technology to bridge the worlds of telecom and satcom. But will this limit standard 5G NTN services to be IoT-related only, until we move on to future releases? Not likely, since recent development and analysis indicate that NB-IoT will also be capable of supporting other features – such as texting, voice communication and multicast firmware updates.

    The satellite industry is moving from traditional user cases towards IoT-oriented solutions, and as thousands of new satellites are launched into space, this tendency will gain momentum.

    This next generation of satellite constellations based on 5G architecture will not only create solid growth in the satellite industry, but also play a new and vital role in the implementation of future 5G cellular networks.

    These networks will effortlessly encompass hard-to-cover user locations such as airplanes, ocean-going ships, and long-distance train routes, in addition to remote, sparsely populated areas of the world where roll-out of terrestrial networks until now has been far too expensive for the given business cases.

    As such, satellite technology is the most cost-effective extension of terrestrial networks, and the 3GPP organization is currently taking great strides towards a proper integration of satellite and terrestrial networks based on 5G standards.

    With the 3GPP release 17 in which NB-IoT connectivity will be expanded into space, mobile user cases oriented towards coverage of remote areas have become one of the main applications that can be deployed. Built on the 3GPP standards for 5G, NB-IoT is a secure, low power, wide-area data network technology. It provides both system and spectral efficiency and can support connected device battery life of up to ten years across many user cases.

    Thoroughly integrating 5G NB IoT with the 3GPP standard is crucial as this provides a guarantee that the technology will be available in any country, worldwide. In fact, NB-IoT (and LTE-M) are the only standards that 3GPP plans to support for LPWA user cases.

    The power and flexibility of future NB-IoT networks will lead to the deployment of new, innovative solutions previously unsupportable – and even unimagined. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the NB-IoT user cases enabled by satellite technology.

    For years, commercial satellite communication has primarily been limited to the support of emergency services in special scenarios. Previously, satellite communications required the use of expensive satellite phones, but now, phone manufactures are teaming up with the satellite industry to bring texting features via satellite connectivity directly to consumer smartphones.

    The texting feature is currently being presented as a way to send emergency messages, for example when hiking in mountain areas, sailing offshore or in case of accidents in other remote areas.

    Another simple and effective way to communicate when every second counts, is the emergency push-to-talk feature that satellite-based NB-IoT also offers. In situations where a terrestrial network is out of reach, this feature enables people to take turns in conversations via different devices – even ordinary smartphone via satellite in remote areas.

    Historically, push-to-talk has often been the norm in fields such as public safety, security, construction, transportation, and manufacturing. It is a popular technology because it is easy to activate, allowing the operator to focus on the job at hand.

    There is a massive requirement for digitization which promises to revolutionize a wide range of uses in rural, remote, or inaccessible areas. Whether it’s an emergency, mission-critical situation or simple sensor surveillance, NB-IoT makes it possible to establish automatic or manual push-to-talk communication channels creating new user experiences.

    Software updates have become a key part of our connected day-to-day lives. It usually requires no more than a touch of a button to keep apps on our smartphones up to date. But in other cases, updating is not that simple.

    Modern cars are increasingly evolving into smartphones on wheels, and they consist of a multitude of components that sometimes require software updates, which is a very time-consuming task if carried out manually at workshops using data cables.

    Not only is this a costly affair for the manufacturer, it’s also time consuming and frustrating for car owners. And this problem stretches far beyond the car industry. Just think of all the offshore wind farms in remote areas at sea. Manual updates would be most inefficient in these scenarios. A far easier alternative is wirelessly transmitted firmware updates via NB-IoT.

    Svend Holme Soerensen holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Aalborg University, and currently he is product director at Danish GateHouse SatCom. In this position he is responsible for a product portfolio consisting of several satcom waveforms, including 3GPP standardized 5G protocol implementations for non-terrestrial network communication. Mr. Soerensen has been passionately engaged in telecommunication and data networks for his entire career of more than 35 years, previously working for companies like Motorola Siemens and Bosch in management of 2G, 3G and 4G cell phone development. For further inquiries: [email protected]