The concept of internet everywhere has been promoted as nextgen technology arriving in 2021. Advancements in narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and satellite NB-IoT are moving closer to that goal. Basic narrow-band connectivity allows for users in remote locations such as farmers to connect with the internet. Here’s a deeper look at how satellites from space can help people on Earth access higher quality internet.
New Innovative Satellite Technology
Proof of concept satellite NB-IoT systems have now been demonstrated by Skylo Technologies based on geostationary satellites. These small satellites connect with small earth-bound hubs that cost less than $100 each to make. The company has raised over $100 million in funding from the SoftBank Group while partnering with India-based telecom firm BSNL.
A different type of satellite constellation is being developed by Spain-based Sateliot and Denmark-based GateHouse using small satellites functioning as base stations in low orbits around Earth. OQ Technology claims to be the first smallsat 5G IoT operator to deliver uninterrupted cellular coverage anywhere. In the United States, Ligado Networks is working on similar technology. China launched two satellites in May 2021 and has plans to expand the constellation in the next few years.
These developments, however, are working around limitations of the current 3rd Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) standards, which were updated in October 2020. The 3GPP, based in France, encompasses various standards organizations that affect mobile telecommunications. The same body has developed and maintained various internet connectivity standards such as 4G and 5G.
Aiming for Global Internet Coverage
The idea of global connectivity is a giant leap forward in the evolution of the internet. Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX has developed a satellite internet service called Starlink with the goal of delivering continuous global coverage by September 2021. Starlink is building about 1,800 smallsats for low orbit around the earth to be used in the near future. In the bigger picture, Starlink will eventually expand its constellation to 12,000 satellites.
The Starlink project will ultimately cost around $10 billion. But the payoff will be that beta services will be offered in 11 countries. Musk announced in May 2021 that the company had already received over 500,000 preorders to join the internet service. If all goes well, SpaceX plans to have 42,000 Starlink satellites by May 2027.
Early adopters of the Starlink service have paid $99 per month plus $499 for a kit that includes a WiFi router, tripod, and terminal for connecting with the smallsats in low orbit. Once the full global service is launched, users will be able to access internet speeds up to 209.17 megabits per second.
While NB-IoT has been tested to meet 5G latency requirements, satellite internet that complies with 5G requirements is still in its infancy. The factors that will affect the further development and refinement of 5G satellite internet for global coverage include the following:
- Size of the satellite
- Satellite link budget
- Altitude of the satellite
Energy savings alone make NB-IoT ideal technology for satellite networks that meet 5G requirements in the quest for global internet coverage. Another reason for businesses to pursue this solution is that it provides continuous service to remote areas. Furthermore, satellites from space are now able to track lost vessels.
The advent of satellite NB-IoT technology is set to be a game-changer when it comes to global coverage for low bandwidth applications. With SpaceX being the most prominent, several companies plan to capitalize on this new technology to improve internet reach and speed. As a result, these satellite providers will help launch massive new sectors and niche markets by bringing continuous internet connectivity to millions more people and businesses.