ESA and GateHouse Telecom sign contract to develop space-based NB-IoT network

The Danish satellite communications waveform and test equipment specialist, GateHouse Telecom, has with support from the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education signed a contract with the European Space Agency. The project aims to develop a solution for extending existing NB-IoT protocols to enable a space-based Narrowband-IoT network.

Supported by the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education, GateHouse Telecom recently signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a solution for extending existing NB-IoT protocols to enable a space-based Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) network. The project builds on the existing NB-IoT standard that, when tailored to GEO, LEO and MEO satellites, has the potential to extend the existing terrestrial networks to remote areas with no or limited coverage.

Today, most communication services are based on terrestrial networks that cover only 10 percent of Earth's surface. This makes it either impossible or very expensive to communicate with devices in remote areas, for example at high seas or in the Arctic regions, explains Business Development Manager at GateHouse Telecom, Per Koch, and continues:

Coupled with existing software-defined radio payloads and applied on smallsats, the current terrestrial NB-IoT standard can be extended allowing an accessible cellular data connection in remote areas. In this way, NB-IoT has the potential to provide a stable connection for all areas of the Earth at a reasonable price – moving towards the 5G market as well.

NB-IoT is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) and an integrated part of the first full set of 5G standards, namely the 3GPP Release 15. The standard for 5G non terrestrial networks (NTN) including NB-IoT NTN is planned for 3GPP release 17 which is being developed in the coming months. NB-IoT works over spectacular ranges and is designed to communicate small amounts of data over long periods, NB-IoT also offers a remarkably low power consumption, support for massive number of devices, multicast, low device costs, and the ability to interface with existing mobile networks..

NB-IoT is supported by cellular networks and, as the name suggests, is designed to service IoT applications. With the roll-out of Release 17, NB-IoT NTN will provide a roadmap for the future 5G network offering both technical and commercial advantages – even if the technology still requires some adaptations to handle the special conditions for communicating in space, says Per Koch.

According to him, GateHouse Telecom will target several industries operating in remote areas of the world, for example oil and gas, maritime, transport, and environmental monitoring.

NB-IoT holds great promise and the potential markets are many — from the booming market for connectivity in airplanes to IoT-enabled crop harvesting in the Australian outback, and many more not yet seen use cases.

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