Telefónica to launch 5G-based satellite NB-IoT for hard-to-reach enterprise venues
Telefónica is looking to offer a 5G-based dual-mode terrestrial-and-satellite service for NB-IoT connectivity. Its digital services business, Telefónica Tech, and managed services division, Telefónica Global Solutions (TGS), are working with Barcelona-based satellite telco operator Sateliot to run Release 17-level IoT data over both ground-based and low-earth orbit (LEO) cellular RAN systems, to provide global coverage for low-power tracking and monitoring apps.
The first pre-commercial customer pilots are planned for the end of the year, said Telefónica. The move comes as the cellular IoT market, in the process of migrating LTE-based NB-IoT and LTE-M systems into new 5G infrastructure as part of the developing 3GPP specs for massive machine-type comms (mMTC) specifications, tries to keep pace with the non-cellular low-power wide-area (LPWA) IoT networking market, led for satellite compatibility by LoRaWAN.
The new Release 17 version of 5G, the third instalment of the 5G NR standard – just frozen in terms of functionality, about to be stabilised in code, set to be available in devices and networks some time in 2023 – has defined a work stream for all flavours of 5G in non-terrestrial networks (NTNs; in other words, satellite-based extensions of ground networks). This covers NB-IoT – even as the cellular community continues to struggle to build a head of stream around an NB-IoT ecosystem back on earth.
Telefónica said it is “testing” Sateliot’s new LEO satellite constellation. LEO satellites orbit at an altitude of between 500 and 1,000 kilometres. It is unclear, immediately, how many satellites, if any, Sateliot already has in space, but the market has exploded in recent times with new startups and old familiars; as reference, Eutelsat, among the pioneers of satellite IoT with LoRaWAN, has three satellites in orbit, and a near-term schedule for 25.
The draw for these companies is that, by connecting standardised IoT technologies such as NB-IoT and LoRaWAN, as opposed to bespoke proprietary tech as previously, they can drastically reduce the cost of satellite IoT services – to the point, in the case of LoRaWAN, they are comparable with conventional terrestrial IoT services – and make the whole concept of IoT viable on a global scale.
The Telefónica plan, like better-developed LoRaWAN propositions from the likes of Eutelsat (offered via the likes of Wyld Networks, in conjunction with Senet), is to new 5G-based NB-IoT devices will connect directly to satellite-based NTNs without the need for new hardware, such as antennas, modules, or gateways. The service is intended to be a seamless extension of terrestrial gear, the logic goes.
Telefónica’s proposed satellite NB-IoT architecture, designed with Sateliot, integrates with its own managed IoT connectivity platform, called Kite. A statement said: “The customer can control and monitor their power lines in real time and remotely from anywhere in the world through a web portal or via APIs.” It will go after NB-IoT contracts in the “agriculture, shipping, wind farms, solar farms, and livestock” sectors, it said.
Carlos Carazo, tech and tech-ops director of IoT and big data at Telefónica Tech, said: “These types of solutions will help us to consolidate our position as a benchmark in IoT thanks to our Kite platform and other innovation projects based on virtualisation and the deployment of the network in the cloud. 5G satellite connectivity… provides a standards-based answer [for] IoT customers who require full coverage using the same NB-IoT devices.”
Jaume Sanpera, chief executive and co-founder at Sateliot, said: “[Our] purpose is to make IoT… available everywhere and to everybody… [via] our unrivalled satellite constellation based on [the] 5G standard and [by]… pricing it at a fraction of current satellite connectivity… Early-access [is open to] IoT service providers to be among the first to profit from the service… We see a huge market demand. The revolution… is becoming a reality.”