Iridium Messaging Transport (IMT) is designed to simplify the development of satellite IoT services.

Iridium Communications Inc. recently announced the service introduction of IMTSM, a two-way cloud-native networked data service optimized for use over Iridium Certus® and programmed to make it easier to add satellite connections to existing or new IoT solutions.

IMT provides an IP data transport service unique to the Iridium® network, designed for small-to-moderate-sized messages supporting satellite IoT applications. Integrated with CloudConnect and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the new service can reduce development costs and speed time to market for new Iridium Connected® IoT devices. IMT has been highly anticipated by Iridium’s partner ecosystem and is currently available for the Iridium Certus 100 service with introduction on Iridium Certus 200, 350 and 700 planned for the first quarter of 2023.

As a connectionless messaging service for Iridium CertusTM modules, IMT aligns with current established server-device message constructs using hubs, Pub/Sub or queues, depending on application platforms. The IMT service can be used by a customer application that is ‘store and forward’ or has small amounts of data traffic that does not require a persistent connection between servers, utilizing an Iridium Certus terminal. Whether it’s machine-to-machine (M2M), e-mails, weather updates, transactions, or group communications, IMT enhances two-way messaging to and from anywhere in the world.

IMT is utilized with the Iridium CloudConnect model of server-side message processing, regardless of the underlying over-the-air and ground systems technologies and protocols. The Iridium CloudConnect service combines Iridium IoT capabilities with AWS cloud services extending customers’ IoT reach to the more than 85 percent of the earth that lacks terrestrial coverage. IMT utilizes industry-standard protocols and technology for managing and delivering messages in the cloud, including MQTT, HTTPS and WebSocket (WSS). This makes IMT an easier, faster, and less expensive protocol to develop with, supporting users with countless advantages to design applications that are scalable and easier to distribute to other platforms.

Among the first products built with IMT available are the RockREMOTE by Ground Control and STREAM+ by MetOcean Telematics. The RockREMOTE offers a reliable and flexible solution for industrial IoT applications including oil and gas, mining, utilities and renewables, and transport & cargo. It has a built-in MQTT application that allows developers to submit and receive data payloads across the MQTT protocol. Users can send and receive messages, pictures, to and from anywhere in the world utilizing this IMT implementation over the Iridium Certus 100 service.

STREAM+ allows users to send and receive files and messages securely. Designed for field applications with size, weight, and power constraints, STREAM+ offers a range of industry standard protocols, features, and inputs simplifying integration and installation for end users and reducing development costs and overall time to market.

Unique in the satellite industry, Iridium Certus is the only broadband service that provides reliable, weather-resilient connectivity for on-the-move internet, high-quality voice, email, live-action video and IoT data transfer. Through its constellation of crosslinked satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Iridium is the only communications company that offers truly global coverage and is ideally suited for IoT applications.

ST Engineering iDirect plans to bring more of its technology to some of the satellite network business plans developing around the world in the coming year. However, it has been an interesting time for the company. Its former CEO Kevin Steen recently left to join OneWeb Technologies, and Ka Hoe Low took the helm as interim CEO of ST Engineering iDirect. He is also president of the Satcom Global Business Area (GBA) for ST Engineering.

Low, who joined the company in 2016, has mentioned that the satellite sector is in the midst of an exciting transformation and that he believes that trends within the industry provide very strong opportunities for growth.

“We are looking at a surge in satellite capacity, driven by the advent of new, large constellations in multiple orbits. This is coupled with the falling price of capacity and an explosion in demand for connectivity. In addition, technological advancements such as virtualization and the cloud are preparing the ground for 5G infrastructure that will create a network of networks, of which satellite is a critical part,” Low said. “As a ground segment provider, we will offer end-to-end network orchestration in a multi-orbit, multi-constellation, space-terrestrial world. We are an integral part of the fabric that will knit everything together and we have a unifying role to play.”

The last 12 months in the satellite industry have been characterized by huge deals involving the likes of Viasat and Inmarsat, Eutelsat and OneWeb. Low believes the ground segment can benefit from industry consolidation.

“The industry is innovating very quickly, and consolidation could be beneficial if it results in satellite operators that have the scale and reach to invest in new constellations with the capacity and capabilities that will drive strong growth in new use cases and end-user demand. As the provider of technology to enable these new constellations, ground segment players will benefit from this,” he said. “On the ground segment side, there could also be an opportunity for consolidation, where it makes sense. For example, on the terminal side, where there are many new entrants creating a more fragmented market.

In the last couple of years, ST Engineering iDirect has made quite a few investments and acquisitions. It acquired Newtec and Glowlink in 2019 and made an investment in IoT startup HiSky last year.

The expectations are high on the ground technology side of the industry to harness the wave of capacity launching to orbit. ST Engineering iDirect made headlines this year with its ‘New Ground’ initiative. Low said he believes that things are changing significantly, and that satellite is indeed at a point where it can break out of its niche and become an integral part of the much wider connectivity fabric.

“For us, New Ground is a broader spirit of innovation and focused collaboration across the entire ecosystem inspired by a new spirit of innovation that embraces everything new space, new ground, telco, and IT to shape the future of connectivity,” he said.

Low cites one example, how ST Engineering iDirect took a leading role in forming the DIS standards group, which has now merged with DIFI (Digital Intermediate Frequency Interoperability Consortium) to push that collaboration forward. As a member of DIFI, ST Engineering iDirect is involved in partnerships with other ecosystem players to develop an open digitized standard for the satcom industry. Low believes this new standard will enable all manufacturers to build interoperable technologies that work in both open and closed network topologies, digitizing the interface between modulator/demodulator, modem, and radio frequency (RF) components.

Low believes that cloud-enabled satcom is going to be pivotal to the future of satellite communications. He believes there has been a gradual move away from large CapEx-heavy teleports to cloud-based platforms which enable businesses to be much more agile, flexible, and scalable and to access the cloud from any location, ultimately allowing faster time to market and revenue. He talks of how satellite architecture technology continues to advance and to create a natural evolution that has graduated from broadbeam and high throughput satellites (HTS) toward the use of dynamic and highly flexible payloads that are in sync with the power and scalability of the cloud.

Low said: “ST Engineering iDirect strongly believes that initiatives led by like-minded companies are pivotal to sharing ideas and innovation. Such alliances can push our industry forward instead of holding us back from what’s possible. Impactful collaboration is built on sharing goals, knowledge, skills, and experience and ultimately, sharing success. We have 35 years experience in serving our customers’ needs. We know what their requirements are, and how to meet them. The satellite industry has every reason to be optimistic about the future.”

Microsoft and Viasat said on Dec. 14th that they will partner to find solutions for bringing internet access to 10 million unserved or underserved people within three years.

Viasat is the first satellite operator to join Microsoft’s Airband initiative, which aims to deliver connectivity to a quarter of a billion people by the end of 2025 through a mix of technologies.

Microsoft set up Airband in 2017 and said the initiative had enabled high-speed internet access for more than 51 million people globally — about 20% of its goal.

In addition to telcos, Airband seeks to facilitate connectivity-enabling partnerships among equipment makers, local and regional energy access providers, nonprofits, and governmental and non-governmental organizations.

“Microsoft and Viasat will jointly review options to co-invest on a project-by-project basis,” said Evan Dixon, Viasat’s president of global fixed broadband.

The companies will first look at projects that could leverage Viasat’s fleet of existing satellites in geostationary orbit, including its upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation.

However, Dixon said Viasat will also explore solutions from low Earth orbit in its search to deliver “broadband in the most productive and cost-effective manner.”

Half of the 10 million people the companies are partnering to reach are in Africa, where they said Viasat’s support would help expand Airband’s work for the first time to Egypt, Senegal, and Angola.

Only 40% of Africa’s roughly 1.4 billion population is currently online, according to data from the United Nations.

“Working with Viasat, we will use satellite to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity,” Teresa Hutson, Microsoft’s vice president of technology and corporate responsibility, said in a statement.

“Together, we will be able to rapidly scale and expand Airband’s reach, exploring a wider pipeline of projects and new countries where we haven’t yet worked.”

According to Microsoft, Airband has helped connect nine million people in Africa to date across the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. By the end of 2025, it aims to have helped connect 100 million people on the continent.

Microsoft said the partnership with Viasat builds on the relationship its data center business already has with the company — in addition to other satellite operators — via Azure Space, which aims to integrate terrestrial and space networks to enable global cloud access with low latency.

Narrowband IoT or NB-IoT is now on a great way to becoming the first technology to bridge the worlds of Telecom and Satcom. But will this limit standard 5G NTN services to be IoT-related only, until we move on to future releases? Unlikely, since recent development and analysis indicate that NB-IoT will also be capable of supporting other features – such as texting, voice communication and multicast firmware updates.

The satellite industry is moving from traditional user cases towards IoT-oriented solutions, and as thousands of new satellites are launched into space, this tendency will gain momentum.

This next generation of satellite constellations based on 5G architecture will not only create solid growth in the satellite industry, but also play a new and vital role in the implementation of future 5G cellular networks.

These networks will effortlessly encompass hard-to-cover user locations such as airplanes, ocean-going ships, and long-distance train routes, in addition to remote, sparsely populated areas of the world where the roll-out of terrestrial networks until now has been far too expensive for the given business cases.

As such, satellite technology is the most cost-effective extension of terrestrial networks, and the 3GPP organization is currently taking great strides towards a proper integration of satellite and terrestrial networks based on 5G standards.

With the 3GPP release 17 in which NB-IoT connectivity will be expanded into space, mobile user cases oriented towards coverage of remote areas have become one of the main applications that can be deployed. Built on the 3GPP standards for 5G, NB-IoT is a secure, low-power, wide-area data network technology. It provides both system and spectral efficiency and can support connected device battery life of up to ten years across many user cases.

Thoroughly integrating 5G NB IoT with the 3GPP standard is crucial as this provides a guarantee that the technology will be available in any country, worldwide. In fact, NB-IoT (and LTE-M) are the only standards that 3GPP plans to support for LPWA user cases.

The power and flexibility of future NB-IoT networks will lead to the deployment of new, innovative solutions previously unsupportable – and even unimagined. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the NB-IoT user cases enabled by satellite technology.

For years, commercial satellite communication has primarily been limited to the support of emergency services in special scenarios. Previously, satellite communications required the use of expensive satellite phones, but now, phone manufacturers are teaming up with the satellite industry to bring texting features via satellite connectivity directly to consumer smartphones.

The texting feature is currently being presented as a way to send emergency messages, for example when hiking in mountain areas, sailing offshore or in case of accidents in other remote areas.

Another simple and effective way to communicate when every second counts, is the emergency push-to-talk feature that satellite-based NB-IoT also offers. In situations where a terrestrial network is out of reach, this feature enables people to take turns in conversations via different devices – even ordinary smartphones via satellite in remote areas.

Historically, push-to-talk has often been the norm in fields such as public safety, security, construction, transportation, and manufacturing. It is a popular technology because it is easy to activate, allowing the operator to focus on the job at hand.

There is a massive requirement for digitization which promises to revolutionize a wide range of uses in rural, remote, or inaccessible areas. Whether it’s an emergency, mission-critical situation or simple sensor surveillance, NB-IoT makes it possible to establish automatic or manual push-to-talk communication channels creating new user experiences.

Software updates have become a key part of our connected day-to-day lives. It usually requires no more than a touch of a button to keep apps on our smartphones up to date. But in other cases, updating is not that simple.

Modern cars are increasingly evolving into smartphones on wheels, and they consist of a multitude of components that sometimes require software updates, which is a very time-consuming task if carried out manually at workshops using data cables.

Not only is this a costly affair for the manufacturer, it’s also time-consuming and frustrating for car owners. And this problem stretches far beyond the car industry. Just think of all the offshore wind farms in remote areas at sea. Manual updates would be most inefficient in these scenarios. A far easier alternative is wirelessly transmitted firmware updates via NB-IoT.