5G for IoT: New service takes reach of networks into space

IoT 5G Satellite
Sheila Zabeu -

July 31, 2023

Telefónica, through its Telefónica Tech and Telefónica Global Solutions (TGS) divisions, and Sateliot are developing a service that will integrate Sateliot’s new satellite network with Telefónica Tech’s terrestrial NB-IoT networks to ensure connectivity to IoT devices wherever they are, including maritime coverage.

The aim is to complement Telefónica Tech’s offerings with a global satellite service using Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations – which operate at an altitude well below traditional geostationary satellites – providing 5G NB-IoT connectivity. In addition, being compliant with 3GPP standards, the service will allow NB-IoT devices to seamlessly connect to existing terrestrial networks and the new satellite network.

“At Telefónica Tech, we continue to advance our connectivity portfolio with the most innovative services on the market. We are convinced that this type of solution will help us consolidate our position as a reference in IoT thanks to our Kite platform and other innovation projects based on virtualisation and the deployment of networks in the cloud. 5G satellite connectivity offers standards-based solutions to IoT customers who require wide coverage using the same NB-IoT devices the industry is already working with,” explains Carlos Carazo, Director of Technology and Technical Operations for IoT and Big Data at Telefónica Tech.

The architecture designed by Telefónica Tech, TGS and Sateliot natively integrates the satellite network with nodes of the Kite network, a managed connectivity platform for IoT over which it is possible to control and monitor power lines in real time, remotely through a web portal or via APIs.

In Sateliot’s view, taking the reach of 5G networks into space is paving the way for mass access to connectivity everywhere on the planet.

The new 5G satellite connectivity service does not require the use of devices other than those already employed in NB-IoT connectivity. It is expected that areas of activity such as agriculture, shipping, wind and solar farms and livestock will benefit most, as they need coverage in remote areas.

The intention is to start the first pre-commercial pilots later this year. However, the new service has already been successfully trialled, extending with satellite coverage Telefónica’s cellular network via standard GSMA roaming. A regular SIM card, provisioned on Telefónica Tech’s Kite platform, was used in a cellular IoT device, seamlessly switching it to Sateliot’s network. The test was witnessed by the European Space Agency and successfully demonstrated how a standard roaming connection can be authenticated by Telefónica on Sateliot networks.

The test also featured the implementation of ‘Store & Forward’, a two-step authentication method developed and patented by Sateliot, designed for roaming with mobile network operators and adapted to non-terrestrial networks in low earth orbit (NTN LEO).

“Sateliot has achieved a major milestone by successfully demonstrating the integration of LEO and NTN (non-terrestrial networks) with Store & Forward roaming capabilities, along with two-step authentication in a 5G cellular network,” says Antonio Franchi, Head of Strategic Space Programme for 5G and 6G at the European Space Agency. According to Franchi, this is a major breakthrough in the field of satellite IoT services and the successful integration of these technologies paves the way for the digitalisation of the world, revolutionising the way we harness satellite resources for the benefit of global connectivity and communication.

More about ‘Store & Forward’

The Store & Forward technology is part of a Sateliot 5G network with satellite access that stores data when the satellite is not in a position to connect with a ground station and forwards it as it enters the coverage range. This is a feature of Sateliot particularly relevant for delay-tolerant IoT services, as its constellation is at an early stage and the number of satellites is still limited.

Some case studies where the application of Sateliot is important are maintenance of private water wells, millions of dollars in reduced maintenance and repair costs for shipping companies, assistance to livestock farmers in the fight to combat poaching and improve herd control, and high-precision crop monitoring system for farmers around the world.

“This is the culmination of years of studies and developments of the Store & Forward two-step authentication procedure, which gives Sateliot a unique position to extend roaming to delay-tolerant NB-IoT NTN applications. We are facing a game-changer in future 3GPP networks, which will reduce costs by relying on low-density constellations and reduced terrestrial infrastructure and minimise impacts on space and time to market. It is very exciting to see where we are and what we have achieved. The IoT industry is clearly moving towards standards, and we are excited to contribute to that,” says Marco Guadalupi, Chief Technology Officer at Sateliot.

Sateliot is launching the first LEO satellite constellation based on the 5G standard, enabling commercial cellular NB-IoT NTN devices to connect from space. This is also an achievement for terrestrial cellular telecoms, which merges seamlessly with satellite connectivity. According to Sateliot, its technology and the ability to use low-cost commercial devices (under $5) to connect to satellites opens up many possibilities in the largely untapped mass IoT market in remote areas.