LTE over satellite could come to play a critical connectivity role for emerging global IoT and M2M networks. Northern Sky Research estimates there will be 5.8 million M2M and IoT connections via satellite globally by 2023.
This week, semiconductor firm Sequans announced it has partnered with aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin to develop 4G satellite LTE solutions for worldwide deployment. Sequans and Lockheed Martin will enable end device users to connect to geostationary satellites.
Satellite communications are already used for backhaul for some LTE systems, particularly for disaster recovery and temporary coverage applications. Satellite implementations of 2G and 3G LTE are typically proprietary, and led by satellite operators. However, Georges Karam, Sequans CEO, pointed out that the 5G 3GPP standards include satellite. “This means the industry is certainly moving toward the integration of LTE with satellite,” Karam told FierceWireless.
Sequans is a leading supplier of IoT modules and technologies for networks including LTE-M and NB-IoT, and it has been working on modifying its LTE chips to support satellite adaptations across LTE 3GPP categories, including NB-IoT and broadband. Karam said the company's strength in development stems from the fact that it “owns the full LTE stack and applications running on Sequans hardware, both chip and hardware boards.”
“In one key example, we improved the RTT [round trip time to satellite and back] to address the latencies that are introduced in satellite networks,” Karam said.
For the project with Lockheed Martin, Sequans modified its existing LTE chips in order to support LTE-to-satellite communication, while Lockheed Martin developed the communication specification.
“LTE and satellite are very different in terms of protocols, latency, data rate, etc., so getting them to talk to each other takes development,” Karam said. “This is what we have done with the special adaptation of our LTE chip to accommodate Lockheed Martin’s algorithm enabling communication between the two. The development enables the two networks to talk to each other even before 5G is deployed.”
The two companies believe LTE over satellite technology will be useful across a wide range of use cases and applications, including IoT and M2M applications. Karam pointed to using satellite as a coverage supplement for terrestrial networks in remote or hard to serve areas as another market opportunity.
“We can then envision a mobile device that communicates via terrestrial network in urban areas and then switches to the satellite when there is no terrestrial coverage,” Karam said in an email. “If the two systems are using LTE we can then have the same chipset switching from one to other network based on best availability.”
The technology can also be used in verticals where LTE is not ubiquitous, he said, such as farming, shipping, yachting and cruise ships, transportation, oil and gas, and commercial fishing. The tech can support emergency response coverage for remote workers in the ocean, and can even be used to send and receive data over fax, which is still being used for receiving wind, wave and weather forecast information at sea.
Sequans signed a similar deal with Ligado last year to build equipment for the satellite component of Ligado’s planned LTE-M and NB-IoT networks.