In this article, we’ll explore the wireless connectivity options available for IoT devices in the USA, including the differences between NB-IoT and LoRaWAN. We’ll focus on how satellite connectivity and LoRaWAN can work together to maximize coverage, connectivity, and cost control.
Why choose Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) as a wireless solution for IoT devices?
If you need to transmit data wirelessly between sensors and gateways over a large area, you have the choice of cellular or LPWAN connectivity. However, cellular is expensive, power-hungry, and carries the risk of technology being retired. Additionally, only 15% of the Earth’s surface is covered by cellular networks (source: World Economic Forum).
LPWAN technologies have significant advantages, such as long battery lives, low cost, and long range. Although LPWAN can only transmit small amounts of data, it’s adequate for many IoT applications, such as environmental monitoring, asset management, tracking, and metering.
Within LPWAN there are many technologies and standards; we’ll just cover off the most popular choices here.
LTE-M is a wireless communication technology that’s mostly used in the USA. It provides high data rates, making it suitable for mobile applications. It’s also great for cross-border communication.
NB-IoT, on the other hand, transmits less data but consumes less power compared to LTE-M. It’s more widely available outside the USA and is generally less expensive. However, it requires roaming agreements between different telco providers, making it less effective for mobile use cases. Unlike LoRaWAN, NB-IoT communicates directly with the cloud, making networking easier. It also has the longest wireless reach, with devices able to communicate wirelessly up to 22 km. However, its stability is limited in rural areas with limited cellular or wifi connectivity.
LoRaWAN is a wireless communication technology that’s commonly used for stationary scenarios such as soil moisture sensors, water levels, gas/oil pipeline monitoring, and glacial melt. It combines the LoRa physical layer standard with the MAC layer and application standards. It can be used for some mobile IoT applications such as fleet monitoring and animal tracking because public networks cover large geographic areas. LoRaWAN networks are operated by telecom operators, but private networks can also be set up inexpensively. It offers relatively stable coverage in rural and remote areas, without depending on cellular or wifi, and can wirelessly connect devices up to 16 km apart.
LPWA connection share by technology, 2020-2025
By 2025, it’s anticipated that on a global scale, NB-IoT and LoRa will have 84% of the share of LPWA connections (Statista).
Where does satellite IoT come into play?
LPWAN technologies must be able to transmit their data to the cloud even when operating in remote areas where cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is not available. These areas may include mountains, oceans, deserts, and forests, which require a mechanism for data backhaul.
One solution to this problem is using LoRaWAN data backhaul via satellite connectivity. For instance, sensors in a water treatment plant can transmit data using LoRaWAN to a gateway or hub, which receives and optimizes the data payload before transmitting it via satellite when cellular connectivity is unavailable.
The Iridium satellite constellation, which comprises 66 satellites in Low Earth Orbit, can provide worldwide coverage, making it an excellent choice for this purpose. The sensor data is returned to a ground station and forwarded to the desired application service, database, or dashboard. However, a geostationary satellite network such as Inmarsat could also be used if the gateway or hub has line-of-sight to the satellite.
A customer of Ground Control’s uses this method to capture sensor data from a remote reservoir in Wales, UK. The automated monitoring system detects potential equipment failures and alerts engineers to minimize unplanned maintenance visits. Logistical challenges, time, and cost implications made cabled solutions unfeasible. Therefore, satellites were used to backhaul LoRaWAN network data.
Where else can you see satellites and LoRaWAN working together?
Satellites and LoRaWAN technologies are used in various fields, including agriculture, mining, transportation and logistics, environmental monitoring, oil and gas, and renewable energy.
In agriculture, these technologies are used for a wide range of applications, such as monitoring soil temperature, moisture levels, nutrients, and water quality. In mining, they are used to monitor tailings storage facilities, resources, and pipelines. In transportation and logistics, they can be used to track end-to-end supply chain and prevent vehicle theft.
Environmental agencies use these technologies to monitor deforestation and ocean plastic, while in the oil and gas industry, they are used for pipeline and offshore site monitoring. Finally, in renewable energy, these technologies are used for solar array and wind farm monitoring.
Our top satellite terminals for LoRaWAN data backhaul
If you’re looking for satellite coverage and your use case is static and not in the polar regions, there are several options available. Emerging satellite operators like Astrocast and Sateliot with a small number of satellites might be able to provide the coverage you need. In addition, Inmarsat’s BGAN M2M service with its geostationary satellites is a reliable and affordable option. The Cobham Explorer 540 or the Hughes 9502 are good choices, both of which can be solar or battery-powered.
For static and mobile applications, the Iridium satellite network is a robust and truly global option. Iridium offers two airtime options for IoT data: Short Burst Data (SBD) and Certus 100. SBD is a message-based platform that can transmit payloads of up to 340 bytes up and 270 bytes down. If you need more capacity or an IP-based solution, Certus 100 offers both with an IP transmission option at 22/88 Kbps or a message-based option (called IMT) capable of 100kB/message.
The RockBLOCK Plus is a good option for SBD devices, while for Certus 100, the RockREMOTE (for use within an enclosure) or RockREMOTE Rugged is recommended.
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