IoT and satellites, a promising partnership

Satellite hologram
Sheila Zabeu -

October 02, 2023

The Internet of Things (IoT) and non-terrestrial network (NTN) technologies – which use aerial or space-based means to transmit data – are driving the satellite services market, which is expected to be valued at $124.6 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade. The figure will be fuelled by the growing adoption of services based on satellite constellations aimed at low-latency, high-performance network applications and the increased coverage of terrestrial networks, according to a study by ABI Research.

“Satellite communication services have seen a new wave of enthusiasm and convergence with terrestrial networks seeking to go beyond their coverage zones and reduce the digital divide. We are witnessing a growing trend among operators using software-defined satellites and multi-orbit solutions to meet the connectivity demands of the future,” says Andrew Cavalier, analyst at ABI Research.

Satellites are old favourites when it comes to communicating large telecoms infrastructures, but not for mere mortals with their personal equipment or small and medium-sized companies from a variety of sectors. Now the scenario has changed, with satellite network technologies guaranteeing coverage in areas that terrestrial networks cannot reach. What’s more, NTN satellite networks will be able to work with IoT and IIoT (industrial IoT) devices en masse in sectors such as automotive, health, agriculture, public services, transport and public security, among others.

In line with the growing interest in satellite communication in recent years, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a group that brings together seven telecommunications standards development organisations, recently released the Release 17 specification with new advances for 5G networks, but also with two new standards, New Radio NTN (NR-NTN) and IoT-NTN, which should lay the foundations for communication between satellites and mass-market personal and business equipment.

In the particular case of IoT, the marriage with satellite communication seems perfect in low-complexity use cases, where data transmission is not periodic and the ability to save energy is desirable for low data rates and communication with high Quality of Service (QoS), emphasises ABI Research.

These applications cover fleet management, condition-based monitoring and asset tracking, where satellite communication services can offer more reliable connectivity in remote areas. In supply chains, for example, transported assets can go unmonitored in situations where transport vehicles lose connection when they are out of range of mobile communication towers. If they are using satellite connectivity, coverage is guaranteed.

Opportunities beyond IoT

Within the NTN mobile network market, there are three main segments: NB-NTN, unmodified NTN and 5G NR-NTN. The first satellite-connected NTN devices will be of the NB-NTN type and will prioritise low data rate text messaging and the Push-to-Talk (PTT) feature for emergency coverage outside terrestrial networks. The ABI Research report cites the recent case of a family in distress during the Maui wildfires who were rescued thanks to the iPhone 14’s satellite emergency services.

NB-NTN details

Unmodified NTN devices, on the other hand, use satellite communication without the need for NTN System on Chips (SoC), relying only on 5G NTN UE software to guarantee connectivity. Gradually, the market will switch to native NR-NTN solutions to enable higher data rates and Internet access. This should generate new use cases for consumers and businesses in general.

ABI Research predicts that by 2030 there will be more than 175 million NTN mobile connections worldwide. This will represent US$16.3 billion in revenue generated by the end of the forecast period or a compound annual growth rate of 76 per cent between 2022 and 2030. Despite having more connections globally, the revenue from the NB-NTN standard will be surpassed by NR-NTN, given the better performance of the latter compared to the former and therefore more price ranges.

ABI Research - NTN world Markets