The Internet of Things has largely been an earthbound phenomenon. That could be about to change.
IoT in space- Space may not be the final frontier for the Internet of Things, but evidence is mounting that it could be the technology’s next golden opportunity. While we’re still a ways away from the IoT in space becoming a commercially viable mainstream technology, a variety of companies are pushing the envelope in two significant ways.
First, companies are working to realize the promise of satellite-powered networks that would bring the Internet of Things everywhere on earth. Second, vendors — and NASA — are exploring actual IoT applications and use cases beyond Earth’s atmosphere, in satellites and rockets.
For a better view of how the IoT is making its way into outer space, let’s train our telescope on both instances.
Space-based IoT networks
It’s long been a goal to use satellites to provide simple, low-power, low-cost, IoT-friendly networks for remote users outside of the coverage areas of standard terrestrial networks. But due to the distances involved and other factors, traditional approaches to space-based IoT networks have tended to be expensive, power-hungry, and complex, limiting the economic benefit of the technology.
That hasn’t stopped companies from trying, though. Last month, cloud leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) struck a deal with satellite provider Iridium to “bring internet connectivity to the whole planet.” The deal calls for them to develop a satellite-based network called CloudConnect, designed specifically for IoT applications.
Similarly, earlier this month, U.S.-based Orbcomm, which provides satellite IoT and machine-to-machine communications services, announced it will work with Asia Pacific Navigation Telecommunications Satellite (APNTS) to provide its services in China.
Also in October, SemTech and Alibaba Cloud agreed to develop an IoT network in China using small satellites in low Earth orbit — reportedly just two of many companies looking to build such networks. The IOTEE Project (Internet of Things Everywhere on Earth), for example, has been funded by the European Union to provide IoT LPWA services from space.
It’s unclear whether it’s the right time for these efforts to come to fruition. There is a market available: It turns out that despite their rapid proliferations, conventional terrestrial networks cover only a small percentage of Earth’s surface. There’s often a need to track assets — vehicles, ships, even livestock — in areas that don’t have coverage, and where building coverage may not make economic sense.