Industry Insights

Low Cost Satellite IoT and its Applications

Satellite IoT is exploding as costs continue to fall, but is it really right for your application or solution?

James Schaefer
October 6, 2020

As established in the article “Satellite LPWAN”, satellite connectivity tends to excel in coverage, but struggles with throughput. As a result, many satellite IoT applications feature relatively simple data, low report frequency, and high valued assets. Additionally, satellite makes the most sense when other connectivity options aren’t available. This means that many satellite IoT deployments occur in remote areas like the Australian outback or the middle of the ocean. Places that traditional infrastructure and cellular networks can’t reach. Two great examples of satellite IoT applications are water tank level monitoring in the Australian outback and boat tracking on deep sea trips.

The Australian outback is hot, remote, and sparsely populated. It also has a significant population of cattle. These cattle have to get their water from somewhere, and in this particular instance, their water is sourced from water tanks placed around their ranges by the farmers that are raising them. 

Cows are expensive commodities, and in such a water scarce area an empty water tank, if missed, can be fatal. That's why tracking the level of water in these water tanks is an emerging industry. If the level of water in these tanks can be tracked to prevent water shortages, the health and safety of the cattle can be better guaranteed. This setup is essentially ideal for satellite IoT. Expensive assets (cattle), simple data (just tank level), and remote locale make for an ideal satellite IoT application. 

All it takes to ensure the water supply for the cattle is to set up an alarm such that any time the water level in a given tank drops beneath say 50% the farmer receives an alert. This queues the farmer up to either refill the tank, or check why the tank isn’t filling automatically. Fill level could additionally be tracked as infrequently as once a day to ensure that fill level is relatively stable or functioning as expected. With data usage possibly in the low kb per month, the cost of the application is driven by the hardware.

One of the most remote places in the world is known as Point Nemo, a location in the Pacific Ocean that is nearly 1700 miles from the closest land mass. Oceans are incredibly vast places and it can be difficult to get information across that huge, empty space. But even with that difficulty, it can be important to get messages through - for example, from a ship on a deep sea trip to a mobile device, to let stakeholders or loved ones know where their boat is.

The peace of mind that comes with knowing the location of something as expensive as a boat (and the people on that boat) is hard to put a price on. That said, the application itself is very much like tracking the water for cattle in that the data does not need to be transmitted constantly, and the data itself is relatively simple, consisting solely of location. More complex boat tracking solutions that use cellular networks already exist, but as they have become more commonplace, satellite has been layered along with them rather than having just one or the other. This allows for a low cost satellite application that when paired with a more complex cellular solution can be even more full featured than either on their own.

Satellite has grown explosively over the last 10 years as more and more constellations are launched that provide low cost connectivity options in unheard of locations like the Australian outback and the middle of the ocean. Satellite connectivity has a solid value prop in that it can work anywhere, and as costs continue to fall it makes sense for more and more applications.

James Schaefer

VP, Product Innovation

James's responsibilities include identifying patterns of problems that can be solved by new Leverege Platform features, designing and building those features, and helping his fellow engineers use them in applications. When he isn't heads down in a new database software or learning a new templating language, James enjoys rock climbing, hiking, and brewing beer.

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