Inmarsat and MediaTek test satellite-based IoT network

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Andrey Armyagov)

Inmarsat has completed a successful trial of satellite-based Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) technology with chip vendor MediaTek, paving the way for hybrid networks to be included in future releases of the 5G standard.

NB-IoT is a licensed Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology designed for use by mobile operators who want to capture part of the IoT connectivity market.

Although cellular networks have a clear advantage in terms of coverage, they consume more power than Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Sigfox.

Satellite NB-IoT

The lower power consumption and propagation characteristics of NB-IoT ensure it can connect devices that need to be in place for more than five years, increasing the suitability of mobile networks for mass deployments of sensors in utilities, agriculture and other industries.

While the majority of NB-IoT deployments will rely on land-based cellular connectivity, the addition of satellite connectivity expands coverage across the globe.

To conduct the test, the two companies used a base station at the Fucino Space Centre in Italy and a test device equipped with a MediaTek chipset located in the north of the country. A bi-directional link between the device and Inmarsat’s L-band Alphasat satellite positioned 35,768 kilometres above the Earth.

Both NB-IoT and another cellular-based LPWAN IoT technology called LTE-M will be included in the 5G standard, but the results of this trial pave the way for hybrid satellite and cellular IoT networks to be included too. Inmarsat and MediaTek say their trial will inform 3GPP’s standardisation work on Release-17 of 5G and the inclusion of Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN).

“Testing MediaTek’s standard NB-IoT chip over Inmarsat’s established GEO satellite network has proven technology from mobile networks works effectively over GEO satellites with little modification and will provide a very cost effective path to ubiquitous and hybrid global IoT coverage,” said Jonathan Beavon, Senior Director, Inmarsat Product Group.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.