LoRa-satellite combination will expand IoT adoption in Europe

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Connectivity between Internet of Things (IoT) devices can be implemented in several ways, divided into two main categories – wired or wireless. The choice between both depends on several factors, frequency and volume of data that will travel between the IoT network, coverage to be achieved, available power sources and signal propagation conditions, among others.

Wired systems, for example, can be time-consuming and costly to deploy. Wireless solutions, on the other hand, such as Wi-Fi-based solutions, are suitable for short-range access but are less suitable over longer distances.  Cellular systems such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, which offer wider coverage, depend on contracts with operators.

A solution recently presented by EchoStar Mobile promises to bring together the best of two worlds in terms of connectivity for IoT networks: LoRaWAN and satellites. It is an early adopter programme for a service targeting IoT applications in the transport and logistics, agriculture, oil and gas and utility sectors, with coverage for the European territory, which will combine wired and wireless technologies.

“LoRa standard connectivity is the basis of 45% of today’s global IoT networks. It is perfect for connecting ‘things’ with low power consumption, but its reliance on terrestrial connectivity restricts its application. By offering satellite connectivity, EchoStar Mobile’s solution will be the first two-way real-time LoRa service with remote and mobile capabilities that will serve millions of devices in Europe,” explains Telemaco Melia, vice president and general manager of EchoStar Mobile.

As a standardised, open source, low-power wireless networking protocol, LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) is recognised as being ideal for connecting battery-powered devices. Compared to other terrestrial connectivity technologies,such as fibre optics, the LoRaWAN standard offers rapid deployment over wide areas, reducing capital and operational costs. However, less than 20 per cent of the Earth’s surface has terrestrial connectivity, EchoStar Mobile points out. Terrestrial connectivity services, such as those based on the LoRaWAN protocol, are unlikely to expand significantly beyond the current level of deployment. This is precisely where EchoStar Mobile’s solution, which combines low-cost terrestrial LoRaWAN with satellite systems with broad geographic coverage, comes in.

Several satellite services are currently offered, but almost all use proprietary technology, which creates extra complexities and costs to integrate a group of satellites into the IoT solution.  The EchoStar Mobile LoRa Transceiver, on the other hand, in addition to connecting to the satellite network, operates with the ISM-band LoRa terrestrial networks. Fundamentally, the dual-mode feature allows IoT solution developers to use a single technology in their design for both terrestrial and satellite modalities without having to perform costly integration with the satellite hardware.

As an example, EchoStar Mobile cites a vehicle tracking solution that uses a terrestrial network when the vehicle is located in an underground car park, but when it leaves via a remote delivery route with no terrestrial service available, the solution switches to the satellite network. This ensures reliable data transfer between the LoRa devices and the control and information processing centres.

Coverage area

EchoStar Mobile’s solution provides LoRa coverage in Europe, the UK and Scandinavia for mass IoT applications, ensuring LoRa-compliant access to customers’ IoT devices via the company’s EchoStar XXI satellite. IoT sensors, such as those measuring temperature or humidity, send data to an EchoStar Mobile LoRa® module, which in turn uses licensed S-band frequencies to send the data to EchoStar Mobile’s satellite. From there, it is sent to the Internet via a satellite gateway ground station and LoRa®-compliant network infrastructure.

By using licensed bands, the EchoStar XXI satellite can receive signals in conditions where unlicensed bands would have difficulty doing the job. Furthermore, improvements in the LoRa standard achieve higher data transfer rates, increase network capacity and are more robust against interference. The S-band, meanwhile, covers frequencies between 2 GHz and 4 GHz, ideal for mobile communications, including satellite communications. Unlike some other bands, such as Ku and Ka, the S-band offers significant resistance to signal fading caused by rain, snow and ice. This means it can maintain access availability during changes in weather conditions, often experienced in Europe.

The EchoStar Mobile LoRa early adopter programme will be conducted throughout 2022, with commercial availability expected by the end of the year. For information on participating in the programme, click here.

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