Team Up Shoots for Global Direct-to-satellite LoRaWAN IoT Connectivity

March 21, 2022 by Darshil Patel

Omnispace and Lacuna collaborate to reinvent space-based Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to seamlessly connect the unconnected remote regions around the globe.

With the increasing demand for real-time data monitoring, IoT has seen significant growth. Connectivity is at the heart of any business or organization, and companies have already started to employ IoT devices into their network infrastructure for real-time data collection. 

However, there are remote locations where devices can't easily reach internet connectivity, but they require connectivity for various tasks like remote sensing, position tracking, etc.

For connectivity at such remote locations, satellite communication can be beneficial as it provides almost complete global coverage. However, traditional satellite communication systems are expensive for IoT network nodes. This situation is where LoRa comes into the picture. 


Comparison of LoRa with other technologies.

Comparison of LoRa with other technologies. Image used courtesy of Semtech


With this in mind, this article will go over the LoRa protocol, its parameter benefits, and how Lacuna Space and Omnispace are keeping the momentum for LoRa connectivity rolling


LoRaWAN for Satellite Communication

Semtech developed LoRa as a communication protocol and system architecture for long-range communication links. 

In general, this protocol enables long-range communications with low-power consumption as it operates at lower bandwidth than other technologies such as Wi-Fi, but it has a more extended range.

The LoRa protocol defines the physical layer, while many other protocols, including LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network), define the network layer. 

The LoRaWAN manages communication between end-to-end nodes and gateways. 

In this architecture, a node transmits data, when available, to multiple gateways, which forward the data to a network server. the network server passes the data packets to application servers.


The LoRaWAN system architecture.

The LoRaWAN system architecture. Image used courtesy of Semtech


The LoRaWAN can be a simple, efficient, and reliable system for satellite-based IoT devices. 

In 2020, the LoRa Alliance introduced new regional parameters to support long-range-frequency hopping spread spectrum (LR-FHSS) parameters. This new addition increases the capacity of LoRaWAN networks and makes them more reliable.

With this, the trend of utilizing LoRa for satellite communication increased at the beginning of this year, culminating with Lacuna Space and Semtech announcing their collaboration to increase the coverage of the LoRaWAN networks to enable satellite connectivity. 

Now, Omnispace is teaming up with Lacuna Space to distribute LoRaWAN-based IoT service for satellite connectivity. The service hopes to use LoRaWAN protocol with LR-FHSS technology to support direct-to-satellite communications for IoT devices. 

Before diving into this team-up, let's take a look at the benefits of LR-FHSS for LoRaWAN.


How Does LR-FHSS Benefit LoRaWAN?

Generally, LoRaWAN protocol prioritizes uplink over downlink communication to regulate the data flow. With the addition of FHSS, downlink communication is still achieved by LoRa, but uplink is achieved via LR-FHSS modulation. 

In FHSS, the transmitter 'hops' between the available narrowband frequencies in the bandwidth in a random sequence, known to both the transmitter and the receiver. 


Packet transmission using LoRa and LR-FHSS. Here, the LoRa occupies the whole channel bandwidth, while the LR-FHSS packets are distributed across the whole channel bandwidth over time.

Packet transmission using LoRa and LR-FHSS. Here, the LoRa occupies the whole channel bandwidth, while the LR-FHSS packets are distributed across the whole channel bandwidth over time. Image used courtesy of Boquet et al


The transmitter sends a short burst of data in a narrowband channel, and then it hops to another channel for the next transmission. Similarly, the receiver is tuned at a frequency to receive transmitted bursts, and it tunes to the next frequencies according to the sequence. 

Since the sequence is approximately random, there is less chance of interference. It also allows multiple transmitters and receivers to operate in the same spaces with a sufficiently broad channel. 

In LR-FHSS, as long as the transmitted data is sent with a frequency inside the channel bandwidth, it can be demodulated at the receiver end without knowing the sequence. 

This capability allows multiple transmitters to be used and hundreds of data bursts to be received simultaneously. This advantage could be critical for satellite communication as many devices interfere with the coverage at such a scale.


Lacuna Space and Omnispace Push for Space Connectivity

All in all, Omnispace's collaboration with Lacuna Space aims to enable the launch of a first-of-its-kind global, open standards IoT network, using LR-FHSS technology with Lacuna's on-orbit operation validation. 

The service leverages Omnispace's licensed 2 GHz spectrum, and one can also access Lacuna's battery-operated LoRa IoT devices that enable connectivity for small amounts of data at remote locations.

According to the announcement, the initial set of Lacuna sensors is smaller than the palm of a hand and can connect over satellite for several years on a single battery charge. 

The sensors claim to work with the constellation of CubeSats that orbit in the low-earth orbit to connect with other on-earth networks seamlessly.


Ultra-low-power Lacuna sensor.

Ultra-low-power Lacuna sensor. Image used courtesy of Lacuna Space


Both the companies are set to serve their customers and distribution partners in Q3 2022 with their satellite connectivity-based IoT services.


The Future of Space-based IoT Networks

Though satellite IoT devices are the last resort for many applications when there are no other connectivity options, they are getting increasing attention from researchers and companies as IoT networks and satellites are a good fit for each other. 

If space-based IoT networks continue to spike in popularity, there might be seamless connectivity across the globe for IoT nodes.

It will be interesting to see where LoRa technology develops in the near future, especially with space-based applications.