IoT Tech Updates

Satellite IoT: The Rise of Commercial Satellite Applications

The entry of satellite-based IoT promises to be a game changer for companies whose core operations are mainly based in remote locations, says Omkar Nikam.

By Omkar Nikam

The satellite industry has been leveraging various commercial opportunities from a variety of industrial sectors. One of the emerging satellite applications, the Internet of Things (IoT), is set to grab a significant chunk of markets such as transportation, forestry and automobiles. According to government sources, there are currently more than 2.5bn people and approximately 20bn human-made objects connected to the internet. These objects include everything from cars to manufacturing plants.

The satellite IoT market has taken off on a downstream level, while the upstream level is about more innovative and commercial approaches for the downstream market.

This decade saw the entry of new upstream space companies such as Hiber, Astrocast, Kineis and OQ Technology, with satellite IoT as their core application, while traditional satellite companies like Iridium and Inmarsat are already using their current assets for satellite IoT applications, and Eutelsat recently decided to launch an IoT-dedicated constellation of four nanosatellites. According to Riot Research, the global satellite IoT market will grow to more than $5bn in 2025. This gives a broader picture of why many companies are investing in satellite IoT applications.

The satellite IoT market is still emerging. With respect to increasing demand for connectivity in market verticals such as oil & gas, agriculture and forestry, there is an appropriate space where satellite IoT will play a major role in the coming decade. For example, OQ Technology, a Luxembourg start-up, is developing satellite IoT solutions mainly focussed on the oil & gas industry. One of its unique approaches is to fill the gap in tracking issues related to pipeline leakages. This will increase the productivity of fossil fuel companies and help them reduce losses. There are numerous other applications, in various industrial segments, where satellite IoT can be of utmost importance to increasing productivity.

Demand for satellite IoT applications is set to increase, since terrestrial service providers are currently unable to maximise their coverage due to infrastructure constraints. With the scale of commercial satellite IoT applications, the satellite industry has the opportunity to direct its communication assets towards unexplored markets where satellite IoT will be in high demand.

The year 2019 showed how the satellite communication market has to evolve in the coming decade, especially with respect to declining satellite TV revenues. Both satellite operators and service providers had to bear a considerable amount of revenue loss due to the reduction in the number of satellite TV subscribers in various parts of the world. Though there is still a potential opportunity for satellite operators to explore the OTT and IPTV market, along with cloud services, satellite IoT is a huge incoming opportunity for the satellite industry as a whole.

The automobile, financial and energy sectors might be the markets where satellite IoT will play a key role in product/asset monitoring and delivering appropriate alerts to service providers. Vodafone has already deployed commercial satellite IoT services using Inmarsat’s broadband global area network (BGAN). According to the company, there are currently more than 50m IoT connections, with approximately 250 types of devices, connected to Vodafone’s IoT connectivity platform. Innovative products like flat-panel antennas (FPA) in the satellite communication market are also going to raise the commercial value of satellite IoT applications, especially in the automobile sector. Satixfy, Kymeta, Alcan Systems, Phasor and Isotropic Systems are some of the well-known FPA developers in the satellite communication market.

The future looks promising. This said, the satellite industry has to hit the right spot to make satellite IoT a sustainable asset for both operators and service providers. Though there are still many facts to be analysed with respect to market supply, such as the entry of numerous satellite IoT companies, overall market demand shows that satellite IoT applications will play a major role in multiple industrial segments.

The satellite communications market is the commercial core engine of the space industry. With satellite IoT, the communications market is expected to grow, as the satellite manufacturing and launch vertical are presenting low-cost opportunities for start-ups targetting the upstream market. The downstream market flow is also consistently evolving through innovative approaches to amplifying satellite services. M2M and 5G technologies are set to change traditional satellite services, with satellite IoT as the key application.

Satellite IoT is slowly shaping itself to fit into various market verticals. While it is still developing, the satellite industry has the opportunity to observe and analyse the future challenges and opportunities for the satellite IoT market.

Omkar Nikam is a market analyst with Orbital Gateway Consulting (OGC) in Strasbourg, France. He works on satellite communication, Earth observation and satellite navigation consulting projects.