Widespread IoT adoption hinges entirely on return on investment (ROI). For every dollar invested in IoT, stakeholders need to know how this technology is making them more profitable and agile. As technological advancements drive down hardware costs, Direct-to-Satellite IoT (DtS-IoT) has become more popular for companies interested in getting started with IoT. In this article, I’ll explore what Direct-to-Satellite IoT is and some of its use cases as well as when Direct-to-Satellite might not be the best option.
To start, what exactly is DtS-IoT? Direct-to-Satellite IoT systems enable devices to transfer short messages to and from anywhere in the world using secure networks of satellites that orbit the Earth. This works really well in places where cellular networks don’t have great coverage or where wired connections don’t make sense - for example, deep underground (think mining operations) or the far-flung fields of a commercial farm.
So why is this important? Automated data collection combined with analytics empowers businesses to have a complete picture of what is going on with their operations and use that data to make better, faster decisions. The falling cost of DtS-IoT means that these technologies are no longer available only in areas where cellular signal is strong or wired connections are possible. Digital transformation in rural, remote, or inaccessible areas is more feasible than ever.
In addition, Direct-To-Satellite IoT gives you the flexibility to update different firmware configurations as needed out in the field. Direct-To-Satellite IoT primary use cases include wide area remote monitoring, smart agriculture, asset tracking, and the marine space.
One really powerful example of Direct-to-Satellite IoT can be seen in the marine space. Imagine you own a boat. By leveraging DtS-IoT, you can keep an eye on your boat in real-time and from anywhere including where your boat is in the world and to receive alerts when something is wrong.
In the same way DtS-IoT is used for vessel tracking, it’s also playing a critical role in transport and logistics. Traceability of large freight across the ocean is only possible because of Direct-To-Satellite IoT.
Businesses can now better understand how items are moving throughout their supply chain and better plan their operations. A manufacturer who knows ahead of time their raw materials will be delayed can inform customers and ensure that there are no surprises, leading to an overall better customer experience.
One last example of Direct-To-Satellite IoT adding tremendous value to businesses can be seen in the renewable energy space. Wind farm owners have a difficult time maintaining their fleet of turbines. The turbines are usually located in hard to reach areas for maintenance teams. Direct-To-Satellite IoT does not require any cumbersome network infrastructure to be installed and allow wind farmers the tools to determine the health state of their fleet at any given time. Identification of early damage to turbines can save wind farm owners millions of dollars each year.
DtS-IoT is great for a ton of applications, but there are a few key use cases where it just doesn’t make sense. Indoor positioning, for example, is definitely one of them.
Indoor positioning is the ability to understand the path of “things” as they move through a predefined environment.
One use case for indoor positioning can be found in grocery stores.Grocers are interested in understanding which section of the grocery store customers are spending the most time in. Indoor positioning allows you to track customers throughout their visit and generate a heatmap of the floor layout.
This is a great opportunity for grocers to increase sales by being able to strategically place items such as produce that is about to go bad. The grocery store eliminates food waste and the customer gets a steep discount on food.
Direct-to-Satellite IoT just doesn’t meet the accuracy and precision requirements for tracking or locating objects indoors. Regardless of the use case, this technology requires line-of-sight to a satellite, meaning that even building roofs can prove an obstacle to accurate readings.
Have you ever tried to use GPS while inside of a building? It doesn’t work well for the same exact reason. Signals from satellites are easily attenuated and scattered by objects in their path and, on top of all of this, don’t forget that you also need to be able to determine your direction and orientation for indoor positioning.
For indoor positioning to be useful, you need reliable and accurate location information in real time. If you were to stand next to the hardware used for DtS-IoT, you wouldn’t want your location information to jump to a different location within the same building.
The low cost, secure, and bi-directional communication of Direct-To-Satellite IoT has enabled it to achieve product-market fit for many use cases. While it is hopeful to imagine using Direct-To-Satellite IoT for indoor positioning, the reality is that the accuracy and precision requirements cannot be met.