For the remotest IoT gear, cellular and satellite are coming together

Enterprises will be able to buy both from AT&T through a new partnership with Globecomm

Many enterprises are looking to the Internet of Things to monitor and control assets they can't physically reach. Building networks that can cover all those assets is one of the big challenges of industrial IoT.

Cellular networks cover people well, at least in developed countries, but total land area not as well. LPWANs (low-power wide-area networks) are emerging as an alternative for reaching endpoints over longer distances, thanks to their lower speed and power levels and designs optimized for IoT. But for truly global connectivity, satellite is really the only game in town. (And, more importantly, far out of town.)

AT&T and satellite integration company Globecomm joined hands on Monday to let enterprises buy and manage both cellular and satellite connectivity from AT&T. The service, available now, will save enterprises money and eliminate the blame game over which network fell through and left a device unconnected, said Gopinath Polavarapu, vice president of mobility products at Globecomm.

The two companies are after IoT systems like connected tractors that may operate part of the time in areas of cell coverage but sometimes go out into the fields where only satellite can reach. Ships, containers and pipeline sensors are other IoT use cases that could benefit.

Though sold by AT&T, the service can include cellular coverage in other countries through AT&T’s relationships with local carriers. The satellite coverage comes from GlobeComm, which resells airtime from the world’s major satellite providers. It will handle the setup and licensing for service in as many countries as an enterprise needs to operate in.

“If you come to AT&T, any satellite provider that’s out there we will offer you as a one-stop shop,” Polavarapu said.

Enterprises can already buy terminals from satellite companies that have cellular radios, then sign up for a mobile operator’s cell service. The unified service from AT&T will make sure a device uses cellular whenever possible, checking for a signal three times before shifting over to satellite, Polavarapu said. Because cell data tends to be less expensive than satellite, this should lead to lower bills, he said.

IoT devices will connect to the service using hardware that includes a cellular chipset and one or more modules for satellite services. AT&T and Globecomm plan to source these from multiple manufacturers and take advantage of economies of scale.

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