3G/4G limits to IoT adoption for Environmental Monitoring
IoT-connected devices are expected to reach the 20 billion mark by 2020. Remote sensor networks can already track an astonishing, growing range of data sets, given sufficient internet infrastructure.
Remote environmental sensors can measure a wide range of environmental qualities. Water quality in estuaries to water consumption in smart cities, air pollution at industrial sites, geo-structural data in construction or energy.
Lack of 3G/4G coverage remains a significant constraint to the installation of environmental sensors in remote areas.
A recent study by Bain & Co. found that the IoT industry was poised to double in size by 2021, to $US520 billion. For remote environmental monitoring, the benefits availed and the uptake observed have already proven game-changing.
This staggering growth would have been higher if 90% of the World did not remain without internet or 3G/4G coverage. Environmental monitoring often applies to remote natural assets.
So how do we make it cost-effective for farmers, miners and environmental actors to measure thousands of small data sets, over vast spaces without internet? Bringing IoT to remote environments, and bridging that gap in terrestrial networks?
Myriota and low-cost, 24/7 satellite coverage for environmental IoT
The answer to this huge pent-up demand may come from affordable, shoebox-sized, low-orbit nanosatellites. Developed by Myriota, a tech start-up in Adelaide born out of The University of South Australia’s Institute for Telecommunications Research. Nothing less than low-cost satellite IoT connectivity everywhere.
Myriota recently released their developer toolkit, which should accelerate faster still, mass adoption of their technology. It comes with an API, a satellite simulator, Github info, mounting brackets, antenna and development board.
What are nano-satellites you might ask, and why do we need them?
To realize the quantic IoT leap forward availed by Myriota’s low-orbit nano-satellites, we need to contrast it older satellite technology.
Traditional satellite connectivity and IoT limitations
At face value, traditional satellites represent the perfect solution to fill the gap left open by remote environments with no internet infrastructure. Ubiquitous, they can establish a link anywhere, into any remote sensing connected network, any time. Why innovate?
Here is the clinch: Cost.
Traditional satellites, still the only solution for many remote sites, are not mass-adopted because sending data into high-orbit is exorbitant. Costly in financial and energetic terms, requiring large local power supply and storage. This adds to the capital cost of the monitoring system, which can only be justified for remote sites vitally important to monitor.
And two Australian tech start-ups have been paying attention. One manufacturing an IoT friendly nano-satellite the other one, an IoT ready datalogger that will soon integrate with nano-satellites…
Like Sigfox or LoRa gateway strapped to a satellite
(The team at Myriota will roll their eyes at this non-technical description, and tell you that their receiver has many, many moving parts. And technology that LoRa or Sigfox don’t. But it works for us at a conceptual level).
Enter Myriota and MIoT. Myriota markets a near-orbit satellite modem. MIoT manufactures the Captis cellular dataloggers range, running on Telstra’s NBIoT network and with plans to integrate with Myriota.
In these two lines are the two key disruptors, each bringing one new ingredient, bridging to a radically new proposition. The advent, arguably for the first time in history, of the first cost-effective global, big data network for environmental sensors.
Direct-to-orbit IoT communications.
(Dramatic pause to let that all sink in)
Field loggers (like the Captis datalogger) send data from sensors direct to Myriota’s low orbit nano-satellites. They are fairly inexpensive to build, small-sized, orbiting at 800km only. In polar orbit, they rotate around the earth every 90 minutes providing coverage every four hours. They can acquire and relay data signals from hundreds of thousands of loggers at a time.
Myriota technology and the nascent “IoT everywhere” industry
Low-orbit, low-cost satellite platforms are offering more and more options, at a lower cost, and higher data transfer efficiency. Myriota hitched a ride (paid one) on Elon Musk’s Falcon 9. Their nano-satellite is the size of a loaf of bread.
When SpaceX took their shoebox-size nanosatellite in orbit last year, it also took 63 nano-satellites from 34 organisations.
Contrast what that avails, that kind of financials and dynamics, with a traditional satellite launch. Sending just one, nearly 1-Ton colossus, high into space, compared to 64 nano-sats 800km high. A lot of the sea change around environmental IoT satellites is contained in these numbers and their associated financials.
Myriota’s nano-satellites IoT connectivity may change environmental dynamics by an order of magnitude (or two?) compared to just 10 years ago.
They also recently received $15Million from Boeing venture capital. It was the first time that Boeing’s VC arm invested outside the US. Some pretty clued-on people are paying attention, and keep validating the model.
Myriota are leading, and fitting into, a very rapidly changing landscape for the satellite industry. Remote environmental monitoring satellites are obviously only one aspect of that ongoing revolution in space systems performance and accessibility.
Cutting-edge dataloggers will imminently be able to integrate with low-orbit satellites for two-way communication. At low-cost, even compared to some traditional environmental monitoring tools.
Pro’s & Con’s of nano-satellite IoT everywhere for remote environmental monitoring vs. traditional high-orbit satellites
- Data transfer capability is limited to tiny packets of 24 bytes.
- One-directional data transfer only. (Though the same limitation applies to high-orbit satellites).
- Environmental data, for a specific area, can only be sent every 4 hours. A few caveats on this point though:
- Every 4 hours remains a massive upgrade on “never” monitoring any data obviously, for want of a viable solution.
- Sending environmental data 6 times a day already satisfies a wide array of environmental compliance programs.
- If a geostationary, high-orbit satellite can cover an area without interruption at all, it is prohibitively expensive. Only covering one area has obvious commercial limitations: That technology can only have a limited amount of clients per satellite. This leads to under-utilisation of this expensive high-orbit satellite. Making the whole high-orbit sat proposition all the more prohibitively expensive.
- Data transfer packets are tiny but perfectly sufficient for most environmental data types.
- Data packets are tiny, which is actually great as their technology only uses the bandwidth needed. No need to pay for unused bandwidth spectrum, as for most terrestrial internet.
- Their nano-satellites orbit the Earth every 90 minutes providing uninterrupted coverage.
- Low power requirements, long battery life. Their transmitter is tiny (20mm x 32mm) which gives exceptional longevity.
- Low capital and ongoing communications costs.
- Optimised data transfer flow: Myriota's systems don't require a ground-based tracking satellite. The dataloggers can “talk” straight to the low-orbit nano-satellites, removing an entire step.
- High scalability: Data acquired by the nano-satellite and sent to ground stations are processed by cloud-hosted software. Data is accessible by users, through traditional APIs.
Once the Myriota chipset has been integrated into a generic datalogger (like the MIoT Captis device), the implications for remote environmental monitoring are profound.
Soil, climate, water and groundwater will be able to be sensed in real time at any place on the globe, vastly expanding understanding of our natural environment.
We’ll keep you up to date with progress on the development of the Myriota powered Captis device as information comes to hand.