RF Module Eyes IoT Networking Using Satellite Comms

October 01, 2022 by Jake Hertz

Seeking to enable IoT device communication via satellites, Astrocast and CEA have teamed up on a new RF module.

A key concept behind the Internet of things (IoT) is to create an interconnected network of intelligent devices that can share information with each other. The key to unlocking this, naturally, is the ability for these devices to communicate, but this may not always be possible in all environments and circumstances.

Last week, Astrocast, in collaboration with CEA, announced a new IoT satellite communication module to help enable wireless connectivity for IoT devices regardless of environment and location. In this article, we’ll cover situations where IoT devices may need satellite communication along with the new module from Astrocast.


Using Satellites for IoT Communication

When it comes to the Internet of things, the most fundamental functionality that a device needs to possess is the ability to communicate wirelessly.


Reference architecture for satellite IoT systems.

Reference architecture for satellite IoT systems. Image used courtesy of Centenaro et al


In many cases, IoT communication is achieved through standard communication protocols such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and, popularly, cellular. While all of these standards work well, they are each limited by the range they feature.

For their part, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are relatively short range protocols, reaching distances of 10 meters and 45 meters respectively, cellular devices have a much longer range but are still mostly confined to populated areas that actually have coverage, which is roughly only 15% of the planet.

Instead, applications like wildlife conservation and maritime cannot use any of these protocols as they often occur in remote areas without access to terrestrial networks. For IoT use cases like this, the solution is satellite communications.

With satellite communication, IoT devices are able to access a network regardless of the presence of terrestrial networks and hence can communicate even in the most isolated environments. The result is enabling a whole new suite of IoT applications that may have otherwise been impossible.


CEA and Astrocast Team Up for Satellite IoT

Last week, Astrocast, in collaboration with CEA, announced the release of a new satellite communication module for IoT devices. The new product, called the Astronode S, is a bidirectional communication module that enables low-power IoT devices to access satellite networks to enable communication in remote locations.

From a design perspective, the device leverages a new split architecture that was pioneered by CEA-Leti in which the chip is split over the RF core and digital processing/control units. The RF core is designed for L-band communications to communicate with terrestrial devices via Astrocasts’ low-earth orbit satellites.


Astronode S is a bidirectional satellite communications module for IoT.

Astronode S is a bidirectional satellite communications module for IoT. Image used courtesy of  Astrocast


According to Astrocast, the Astronode S is said to offer an optimal tradeoff between link budget and low power. Some of the known specs of the device include a 35 mm x 31 mm footprint, a peak transmit power consumption of 350 mW, deep sleep currents as low as 500 nA, as well as an end-to-end latency of 15 minutes depending on location.

Further, the module allows for a variable user message size, ranging anywhere from 1 byte to 160 bytes. All things considered, Astrocast claims that the Astronode S achieves a total cost of ownership that is 3x lower than traditional satellite IoT alternatives while also offering “the lowest peak power available.”


A Broader IoT Impact

In order to enable important IoT use cases such as maritime, agriculture, and wildlife conservation, we need to equip our IoT devices with a means of communicating even in remote locations. With the Astronode S, CEA and Astrocast hope to answer this call by bestowing devices with satellite communication capability that is low power and affordable.