One of the huge challenges for the IoT is the availability of network connectivity.
Many IoT applications depend upon the emerging Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) protocols that enable battery powered IoT devices to operate for years from a single charge.
LPWAN network coverage is becoming readily available in cities and populated areas, but in rural and remote areas, coverage is not available yet. Critically, the disparity in the availability of connectivity is likely to remain worse for the IoT than it is for mobile phone networks.
The economics of satellite technology has undergone vast changes in the last decade and it is now viable to provide low-cost connectivity at a global scale from space. This enables us to extend the connectivity of terrestrial LPWAN networks to places that it can not currently reach, and is unlikely to reach in the future. Alternatively, seen from a global perspective, we will fill the gaps between terrestrial LPWAN networks to provide seamless end to end coverage.
IoT connectivity over satellite is not new – there are several companies providing services but these tend to be relatively high cost and require expensive and power hungry ground modems. These also have to be installed and maintained. This can suit many use cases, but there are many, where the power available and amount of data to be transferred is so small that it is not suitable.
Lacuna Space is providing IoT connectivity from satellites based on the LoRa® technology, developed by Semtech Corporation. This is already being used in over 100 million devices around the world - more than any other technology.
What is different about Lacuna’s approach is that we connect directly from very low-cost devices and sensors, directly to the satellite with LoRaWAN®, thereby eliminating the need for an expensive modem. The sensors and devices transmit extremely low-power signals, so they can be battery powered for years from a single charge.
This approach works really well for small data packets so it is ideal for use cases such as remote environmental monitoring, sending temperature of soil moisture data or meter readings. It is also ideal for tracking the health of moving assets, for example food in a ‘cold chain’, or remote assets. Same for remote assets, for example, if a machine requires maintenance. We liken the service to ‘Tweeting for Devices ’.
Our terminals or end user devices include low-cost mass-market chips as well as open sourced designs and firmware. We also use standard interfaces for the network integration and device management. This gives the freedom to our customers to develop the terminals and network integration in whichever way they prefer: On their own, through our recommended network of partners or with anyone within the huge LoRaWAN® ecosystem.
Lacuna is currently performing many trials and use cases with real-users: examples include the tracking of endangered animals in a national park in Africa, and monitoring wildfire plumes in the USA. Towards the end of this year, we will be going live with the system with several industrial scale users.
We are always keen to collaborate with everyone in the technology ecosystem that can help us advance our vision for a world of connected devices everywhere!