Constellation of IoT Antennas to Provide Global Coverage

Will there ever come a point when 100 percent of the globe has cellphone coverage 100 percent of the time? Probably not. At least, not in the near future. Wireless networks that share information can broaden the range of coverage only by reducing bandwidth. Currently, only about 10 percent of the globe has the kind of coverage needed to make calls or check email.

But what about global Internet of Things (IoT) coverage? Is it possible, or even desirable, to provide low-bandwidth coverage for remote areas? The answer to both is yes. Targeting industries such as shipping, security and pretty much any area that involves “stuff tracking,” companies around the world are working toward getting IoT coverage for the 90 percent of the globe that is not currently connected.

One such company is the Switzerland-based Astrocast. It recently announced a partnership with Leaf Space to gain access to ground stations. This will help Astrocast on its mission to bring IoT to the entire globe. The real magic will happen in space, where Astrocast plans on launching a 64-satelite network of antennas on eight orbital planes. The “nanosatellites” are much smaller than regular satellites. Their low-bandwidth but broader range network means quantity of antennas is more important than size. This is the model that makes the project affordable and even profitable.

So, where are these profits going to come from? Which stakeholders will benefit from wireless coverage in the middle of the ocean? The shipping industry will likely be a big customer. If, for instance, IoT trackers could be placed on every shipping container in the world, then it would be much easier to track containers that have been lost, stolen or sustained damage. Users could even be notified if the door to a shipping container was opened when it wasn’t supposed to. Astrocast also cited maritime, oil and gas, mining, supply chain and logistics, transportation, utilities, and agriculture as industries that could benefit from the network.

“There are numerous businesses operating remotely that simply don’t have access to key IoT capabilities because those services don’t currently exist in those regions,” said Fabien Jordan, Astrocast co-founder and CEO, in an interview with IotEvolutionWorld. “The Astrocast network will be a game changer for these enterprises, and Leaf Space’s ground station capabilities will be a key component of our solution.”

There are other applications as well. Consider Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the Boeing lost on its way from Kuala Lumpur in 2014 and the most expensive aviation search operation in history. IoT sensors on the aircraft could have alerted the airline immediately that there was a problem. Perhaps a rescue party could have made it in time to find the survivors. At the very least, the wreckage would have been found.

What’s next for Astrocast? At the moment, the company is planning to deploy its 64 nanosatellite network in stages, with the first plane planned for 2019. Deployment phases will continue throughout 2019 and into 2020. There are, however, competitors. Canada-based Kepler Communications, Australia-based Fleet and French maritime-tracking company CLS are all trying to stake a claim in space-based IoT, each with their own, distinct satellite plan.

Regardless of who wins this mini space race, we can likely see the global network come to fruition some time around 2022.