NTN Path Emerges for Satellite IoT
With so much attention placed on fifth-generation (5G) non-terrestrial networks and enhanced defense capabilities, it is easy to forget about the satellite Internet of Things (IoT). Also sometimes called the “Internet of Space,” this next wave of connectivity is predicted to enable many new applications while improving existing ones. In addition to consumer technology and services, aerospace defense applications and capabilities stand to greatly benefit.
With 5G, the satellite IoT gains range, power, and speed. The early satellite IoT has so far comprised lower earth orbit (LEO) networks, which specifically target IoT applications and services. Yet the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has pursued a vested interested in how non-terrestrial networks can augment the 5G infrastructure. It also partnered with the European Space Agency on the Satellite for 5G project. Although NTN is a boost for mobile broadband, it also can fill a necessary gap for machine communications.
Specifically, it could satisfy requirements for massive machine type communication (mMTC). The 3GPP has included plans for service for mobile IoT. If these capabilities indeed extend to previously underserved areas, the rewards could be substantial. One large application example is a smart city or even smart larger town in a more rural area. Such locales may want connected and intelligent meters, lights, and more. Yet the eventual goal of most “smart cities” is for everything to be connected, with the city infrastructure communicating to the driverless or assisted vehicles, for example. To cover a wider or more populated area, satellites will likely form a constellation to support sensor networking.
The potential benefits of mMTC also extend to aerospace defense applications. With the ability to collect millions of devices within a few kilometers, you can utilize a 5G network to collect and share sensor data. According to an article from Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre, "With a smartwatch and wearable devices, it will be possible to have lots of information to share about soldiers: from their vital parameters, such as heart rate, blood pressure and fatigue, up to their geographical position...Then you could even get to use augmented reality devices similar to Google Glass, a bit like those already supplied to pilots, but with real-time data transmission."
When it comes to rolling out this technology, different approaches are being developed and demonstrated to verify what is currently viable. In MediaTek’s field trial, for example, data was transferred through Inmarsat's Alphasat L-band satellite in Geostationary Orbit (GEO). With this bi-directional link from an NB-IoT device to a GEO satellite, the possibility of worldwide IoT coverage became more possible. It also proves the potential for a hybrid approach that incorporates both cellular and satellite networks. The results of MediaTek and Inmarsat's IoT field test will be contributed to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)'s Rel-17 standardization work on Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN).
As 5G makes much more information available, mMTC will increase the ability to leverage sensor data. As a result, warfighters will have increased situational awareness and more data ranging from the status of their soldiers to insights from equipment. Expect 5G to greatly impact the information gathered on the battlefield.
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