For IoT applications which require ubiquitous connectivity, even in the most remote areas, satellite may be necessary to fill the coverage gaps. LTE-over-satellite will have a growing role in the IoT, say supporters of this approach, one of which is French chip supplier Sequans.
The company has announced a partnership with defense contractor Lockheed Martin to develop LTE-over-satellite solutions, which will allow 4G devices to connect to geostationary satellites where necessary.
Sequans has modified its existing 4G IoT chips for the satellite use case, while Lockheed Martin developed the communication specifications, to help the cellular and satellite technologies talk to one another more smoothly. This, claims the partners, enables smooth interaction between the two networks, even before 5G is deployed (satellite inter-connectivity is included in the next release of 5G standards).
According to a recent forecast by Northern Sky Research, which specializes in the space and satellite markets, there could be 5.8m IoT connections via satellite globally by 2023. This would extend the traditional business for satellite providers, supplying LTE backhaul in temporary or ultra-remote networks, to a potentially larger base of users. And the ecosystem should be stimulated in the 5G era because of the 3GPP work.
Sequans’ CEO, Georges Karam, told FierceWireless: “We can envision a mobile device that communicates via terrestrial network in urban areas and then switches to the satellite when there is no terrestrial coverage. If the two systems are using LTE we can then have the same chipset switching from one to other network based on best availability.”
Last year, Sequans was selected to provide its IoT modem chips by Ligado (formerly LightSquared), the US company which is building an IoT-focused hybrid satellite/LTE network in its mobile satellite spectrum. After many setbacks including a spell in bankruptcy protection, the operator now hopes to roll out LTE-M and NB-IoT technologies in its 40 MHz of nationwide spectrum in the L-Band (1525-1559 MHz) and combine terrestrial wireless with its existing mobile satellite activities to support broad-coverage M2M applications on a B2B basis.