The birth of NewSpace, the emerging commercial space industry, has been created by startups with global ambitions focused on solving unaddressed problems with small low earth orbiting (LEO) satellites, commonly referred to as nanosatellites. Traditional satellite players are set for disruption, because nanosatellites are able to deliver significantly lower cost connectivity when only limited data speeds and capacity are needed, which is ideal for the Internet of Things (IoT). New space IoT connectivity players that can solve the affordable and reliable global connectivity challenge will enable massive transformation of industries and geographies where no internet connectivity exists today.
Emerging NewSpace IoT connectivity ecosystem
The space industry is abuzz with some 5,000 nanosatellites expected to be launched by 2025. Applications specific to IoT are growing rapidly as new use cases are identified across all industries and geographies. There are two main approaches to enabling IoT connectivity from sensors to nanosatellites: direct to satellite or via a terrestrial gateway (see Figure 1). In both cases, a ground station is needed to receive data from the nanosatellite. The frequency of satellite pass-overs will determine the end-to-end upload and download duration. Services will be non-realtime for some time to come.
Applications outside of traditional fixed and mobile network coverage in agriculture, maritime, mining, and construction present the most significant opportunities. New space IoT allows these industries to connect to the internet for the first time to digitalize operations and enable development of new business models. These use cases can be deployed globally, accelerating technology transfer into less developed markets.
For example, remote monitoring and automation in agriculture enables improved skilled labor utilization, while measuring water tank levels and soil moisture can optimize irrigation, and embedded sensors in livestock enable sophisticated management solutions.
Figure 1: New space IoT connectivity options
Experience from telecommunications networks would suggest that standards-based solutions for connectivity to sensors and devices are likely to benefit from global scale economics and reach.
For communications to nanosatellites (either direct or via terrestrial gateways), proprietary interfaces will be needed to demonstrate the feasibility of these new solutions and to create a new market for IoT using nanosatellite for backhaul. These proprietary interfaces will be needed to ensure tight interworking within the IoT connectivity ecosystem and to implement essential intellectual property as a point of differentiation.
In time, the interface between satellite and sensor or terrestrial gateway may be based on open standards once the market reaches maturity and there is sufficient will within the industry to establish new specifications. At this time, players that are able to quickly adopt or pivot to these standards-based solutions will be more likely to scale globally and capture significant share.
Recent startups adopting solutions via terrestrial gateways include Fleet Space Technologies (Australia), Blink Astro (US), Astrocast (Switzerland), Kepler Communications (Canada), Lacuna Space (UK), Sky and Space Global (Australia), and Swarm Technologies (US). Examples of direct to satellite startups are Myriota (Australia), Hiber (Netherlands), and Helios Wire (Canada).
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