News Feature | February 10, 2017

Inmarsat, Actility To Launch Global Low-Power IoT Network

By Jof Enriquez
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq

On-Orbit Satellite RF Measurements

Satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat and Internet of Things (IoT) network solutions provider Actility are launching a global network of land-based, low-power IoT devices connected to a satellite communications network.

Wi-Fi and cellular networks can connect IoT devices to the internet, but Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) are considered more suitable to interconnect devices and sensors with low-power batteries; however, they require very long range, low-bit rate communications. LPWANs offer cheaper data subscriptions than traditional cellular networks, making them attractive to business and government organizations.

There are several LPWAN market leaders and emerging technologies — including LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network), Sigfox, and NarrowBand IOT (NB-IOT) — that are competing for deployment in an increasing number of countries.

While those LPWAN networks are localized, Inmarsat and Actility's ThingPark LoRaWAN-based network spans the globe. Their goal is to provide customers with an end-to-end solution to connect IoT assets and achieve business needs anywhere in the world.

"The network will utilize LoRaWAN-based connectivity on the ground and satellite connectivity as the network backbone. The integrated platform provides an end-to-end solution that transmits site-specific data to applications in the cloud for analysis," according to DigiTimes.

The two companies last year inked a partnership that combines Inmarsat’s global L-band satellite connectivity platform with Actility’s ThingPark IoT management platform to deliver an integrated solution for IoT customers worldwide. Actility now is part of Inmarsat’s Certified Applications Provider Programme (CAPP).

“Actility has worked on many large-scale nationwide LPWA network deployments, but this is bigger: we’re fantastically excited about being part of the first truly global IoT network in partnership with Inmarsat,” said Actility CEO Mike Mulica in a news release.

Inmarsat and Actility described three use cases -- asset tracking, agribusiness, and oil & gas -- for their IoT network.

The agribusiness application involves tracking LoRaWAN sensors on cattle on a remote ranch in Australia. Whenever an animal is behaving erratically, nearing the perimeter of the ranch, or at risk of getting lost, the sensor can alert the ranch manager to take action. Employees can easily pinpont the location of stray cattle using the sensors' information.

A second use case describes how sensors at a palm oil plantation in Malaysia can relay data about reservoir level and soil moisture, so workers know which plants need watered and can achieve maximum crop yield.

A third application is on oil platforms with little or no cellular coverage, where a LoRaWAN system streams data that can help identify equipment that might soon fail. A central SCADA (Supervisory control and data acquisition) system can use that data to adjust settings, reports PC World.

“These three early applications are indicative of the industrial IoT market in general: businesses don’t need an off-the-shelf IoT solution for Agribusiness or Asset Tracking; they need a specific solution for a specific problem,” said Paul Gudonis, President, Inmarsat Enterprise.

More than 24 billion IoT devices will be installed globally in 2020, and the vast majority of these will fall into the small, low-power category catered to by competing LPWANs. The total number of IoT devices running on LPWANs will reach 700 million by 2021, according to Business Insider.