Wireless Noodle Episode 25: Hyperscale IoT connectivity, and LEO satellites

In this week's episode, Matt discusses the requirement for Communications Service Providers to pivot to being hyperscale IoT connectivity providers and how best to do it, plus our assessment of the prospects for LEO satellites to deliver IoT and more on the work we did recently on using IoT and other disruptive technologies to tackle sustainability. 

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An approximate transcript of the podcast is available below:

Hyperscale IoT Connectivity

Welcome to this week’s Wireless Noodle. What have we got for you this week? I’ll be talking a bit about more about the work we’ve done on the ‘Clean Dozen’ solution areas that will help enterprises meet their sustainability goals. Also something on low earth orbit satellites and their impact on IoT (or maybe lack of it), and a look at the work we did on Communications Service Providers in IoT last year, and why they need to be hyperscale IoT connectivity providers.

First up, let’s talk CSP IoT Peer Benchmarking. This is probably our (and certainly my) number 1 piece of research during the year. We analyse the relative strengths of 12 leading providers of global IoT connectivity in areas such as networks, platforms, vertical solutions and commercial strategy.

Link to the press release: New Transforma Insights study ranks the leading global IoT Communications Service Providers 

The market for cellular IoT connectivity has become increasingly complex and competitive recently. In these circumstances, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have to take a long hard look at their strategies and approaches to the market. There are effectively two options: find additional revenue streams or put in place systems and processes to cope with the pressures.  

The report focuses on the core role of the CSP, i.e. the provision of connectivity. To succeed in that, CSPs need to evolve to become a ‘Hyperscale IoT Connectivity Providers’. The assessment in the report focuses on whether the CSP has put in place (or is in the process of putting in place) the necessary capabilities to deliver scalable connectivity to support at least ten times the number of devices at low cost points. The report rates each CSP based on their aptitude as Hyperscale IoT Connectivity Providers, across seven key areas (in declining order of importance) as indicated the chart below.

Efficient connectivity onboarding and management – this is about scalable middleware platforms for connectivity management. DT, Vodafone and Telenor score well here.

Global connectivity support – This includes issues of size of footprint, consideration of regulatory compliance, ability to do intra-network troubleshooting, local break out, and more. VF, DT, Telenor again score well as does KORE. MVNOs are good at this stuff.

Cloud integration is a slightly more nebulous topic (pun intended). Here we’re on the subject of cloud connectors, which is the subject of a new Transforma Insights report. Check out the website for more details. It should be published by the time this goes out. Verizon is good here, as is IoT MVNO EMnify (although it’s not featured in the report). The subject of something called IoT SAFE also comes up here, and I’ll share more on that later.

Business organisation is about running a streamlined and efficient organisation. Many of the CSPs profiled have established separate business units. That’s good. MVNOs are typically very efficient here.

We can’t ignore having a good roster of hyperscale access technologies. I will talk about constrained IoT in a later podcast. There are techs specifically designed for addressing constrained IoT. LPWA techs, for instance. Decent operators need the full set. 

Scalability is also relevant to core networks. There’s still quite a bit of room to move for CSPs to really take advantage of the ability to spin up virtual core networks in different locations, e.g. for compliant and innovative services. Some CSPs have already deployed virtualised core networks e.g. Aeris and recently AT&T for 5G.

Finally hardware. There is a massive increasing requirement to cross-optimise IoT connectivity, hardware (and application and cloud). There’s a great article I wrote for IoT Now recently that deals with this. And I’ll talk about it on a later pod.

Who’s good with hardware. AT&T and Verizon both are. TEF and Orange also good with pre-integrated devices. And KORE is outstanding with its device lifecycle management capability.  

Two big emerging aspect of IOT connectivity are around mobile private networks (aka private wireless) and 5G. We have a webinar coming up on the 26 September where we’ll be sharing our views on both aspects. Link: Webinar: A marriage made on the campus? Developments in 5G and private networks and how they come together.

The 2022 version of the CSP Benchmarking report is due in Q4 this year. Keep an eye out.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for IoT

Satellite has been used to connect IoT devices for decades. But it has seen a surge of interest in recent years, particularly with the launch of constellations of thousands of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites from the likes of SpaceX and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. There are also dozens of smaller constellations of LEOs aimed at addressing IoT, and in many cases starting to support 5G, NB-IoT, LoRaWAN and other traditionally terrestrial technologies. 

We recently published a couple of reports. The first looked at the various technology elements, helping anyone to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of LEOs vs geostationary satellites (GEOs), which frequency bands are being used, protocols (and their adaptation for satellite), architectures (bent pipe vs store and forward vs crosslink) and end device types (user equipment vs gateway). I don’t plan to go through all of these on the podcast, but here’s an introduction.

Link to the satellite technology report  and the satellite operator/market report  will go on the wirelessnoodle.com website.

GEO (Geostationary Orbit) – These operate at altitudes of 35,786km in a circular orbit above the equator. They remain in fixed positions, with speeds that match the earth’s rotation. Because of their distance from Earth it is possible to cover most of the surface with just three satellites. Geostationary satellite systems also benefit from not needing more expensive tracking antennas because they never move relative to the antenna. However, they are often inconveniently located for devices at higher or lower latitudes due to the required angle to reach the equator. The other main drawback is the distance from the surface, which increases the latency (in the order of 100-300ms) which means that two-way communications, including some protocols such as TCP/IP that require ‘handshakes’, are not optimal (although there are work-arounds). Major GEO constellations include AsiaSat, Eutelsat, Intelsat and SES.

LEO (Low Earth Orbit) – Typically operate between 160km and 2,000km. These satellites are not geo-stationary, with an orbit period (i.e. the time to circle the earth) of 84-127 minutes. The lower orbit means you need hundreds to cover the surface of the earth with constant coverage. However, the fact that they are not geostationary means that a small number of satellites can cover large amounts of the earth during a 24-hour period for non-real-time communications. Being close to the earth makes for lower latency communications (~20ms) assuming that there is a satellite overhead when data communications are required and the large number of satellites increases the capacity relative to small numbers of GEO satellites.

There are also Medium Earth Orbit satellites (MEOs) but let’s skip over them for now.

LEO satellites are typically significantly smaller and cheaper than GEO satellites; of the order of 100kg-400kg versus 1,500kg-7,000kg for GEOs. The cost for a LEO satellite is typically around USD500,000, compared to USD500 million for a GEO satellite. Launch costs are also comparably higher for GEO. To balance that slightly, clearly multiple LEO satellites are required, LEO satellite constellations are more complex to run, they may require more ground stations (albeit smaller and cheaper) to receive communications, and the user equipment is sometimes more complex – requiring electronically steerable antennas – and expensive. This is because the LEO satellites are moving rather than static.

Another particularly interesting question at the moment is about protocol choices. There are some satellite-specific protocols. But the interesting thing at the moment related to IoT is the use of (particularly LEOs) for using traditionally terrestrial techs for the data link cellular technologies (NB-IoT, LTE-M and 5G NR), and two low power wide area (LPWA) technologies developed originally for use in license-exempt bands, LoRaWAN and Sigfox.

Cellular technologies, including 5G, NB-IoT and LTE-M, are standardised by the 3rd generation partnership project (3GPP), a body which combines the world’s major standards development organisations for the purposes of defining a common standard for global cellular communications. Its current releases are focused on the evolution of 5G technology. In 2017 3GPP started to examine the potential for integrating satellites into 5G. The latest, Release 17, includes some elements that are particularly interesting for this report, specifically those related to ‘NR over Non Terrestrial Networks (NTN)’ (i.e. regular 5G ‘New Radio’ for communications and broadband access via satellite), and ‘IoT over Non Terrestrial Networks (NTN)’, which is focused predominantly on satellite but also includes the likes of ground-to-air connectivity for in-flight connectivity on planes, as well as high-altitude platforms based on balloons. 

Again, much more in the report on this topics. And on the use of LoRaWAN and possibly Sigfox, as well as delving into architectures and device types. Not enough time on the podcast.

And we dig into the commercial aspects in a separate report. There is a lot of hype around about the LEO market today. Most of the substantial deployments have focused on the broadband market rather than IoT. Those LEO operators with aspirations to address IoT have been relatively slow to deploy networks. The challenges remain significant. There is no certainty that there will be a sufficiently large market to address to support all of the operators that are aiming to build businesses in satellite communications. Doubtless the additional functionality of the latest generation of LEOs will allow operators to deliver cheaper and better IoT connectivity. However, this is shaping up to be a fiercely contested space, with some operators already making the decision not to launch. And demand is unproven. Existing providers connect a few million IoT devices, but with largely stagnant growth. More competition will likely drive down prices, reducing profitability even if the predicted billions of LEO-connected devices are deployed. We remain sceptical and expect substantial numbers of failures.

Using IoT to reduce fuel and energy consumption

Last week I talked about some work we’ve done on using disruptive technologies for sustainability, i.e. the Clean Dozen.  Plenty of mileage to come from digging deeper into that. I want to talk about fuel and electricity consumption, which have a direct impact on an enterprise’s carbon footprint. 

Lots of overlap between energy and fuel consumption. Electricity is often generated from burning hydro-carbon fuels, and equally importantly, the consumption of fuel is predominantly done by motor vehicles, which will, over time, shift to becoming electric vehicles. This will move the consumption of fuel to that of energy. The ESG impact will therefore change. The extent of that change will depend on how the electricity is generated, be it by nuclear power stations, wind turbines or coal-fired power-stations.  

So, which of our clean dozen have the biggest impact on those two? Fleet operations first. The impact on fuel consumption from such systems can be substantial. I mentioned last week that fleet telematics can reduce fuel consumption by 15%, and thus the total cost of running a fleet by 6%. There are also indirect opportunities too. Tyre pressure monitoring can also have a very positive impact, for instance preventing the 8% fuel lost that can result from under-inflated tyres. Higher fuel costs in 2022 will doubtless have focused the attention of many fleet managers on realising these benefits, for economic if not for environmental reasons.  

Another good example of indirect savings comes from Supply Chain, which includes a range of solutions where technologies are applied to improve the workings of a transport, logistics and distribution network. There are some direct factors, for instance container tracking resulting in 2-3% savings on fuel. Indirect savings can be even more substantial. For instance, the average company using an inventory management system can make space savings of 20%, resulting in commensurate savings on electricity. 

Smart Cities includes numerous use cases that can provide substantial benefit for cities, including smart streetlights, road traffic control systems, and parking space monitoring. The implementation of smart street lighting can typically save cities 20% on their electricity costs. According to Transforma Insights analysis, smart lighting can save between 17kg and 34kg of CO2 per street light per year. Meanwhile parking space monitoring such as that implemented by SFpark in San Francisco, can reduce fuel consumption in idling and in searching for parking spaces by up to 40%. And traffic monitoring systems can save on average 2% of fuel for every journey across the city. I already mentioned last week that Smart Public Transport can cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 10-15%. 

Smart Buildings are a critical area. With buildings accounting for 55% of global energy consumption, efficiency savings here can have global impact. The application of IoT could cut energy consumption by as much as 10%, including a 35-40% saving on lighting and 20-25% savings on HVAC. 

Smart Grid, which includes all aspects of grid operations including smart metering and management of transmission and distribution networks, is the other major area where energy savings can have a huge impact. Smart metering reduces consumption by 3-5% for consumers and 10-12% for enterprises. Meanwhile electricity grid operations can typically reduce electricity lost across the distribution network by 7-8%.

Take a look at the report and associated press release for more details. And there’s a free sample of the Smart Buildings section of the report available to download for free. Link on the wirelessnoodle.com website: Sustainability enabled by Digital Transformation [Sample: Smart Buildings]

Next week

Just a reminder: if you’re enjoying the podcast I’d be obliged if you could leave a review. It’s much appreciated. 

Next week I’ll share how IoT is not all about the data, despite what everyone says. I’ll also dig a bit into the metaverse, and a further look into the sustainability report, particularly focused on water savings. 

I hope you can join me.