Rakuten Mobile and University of Tokyo investigate LEO satellite-based IoT

Japanese operator and local university begin research and development programme as part of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology’s Beyond 5G R&D Promotion Project

In the latest example of how telcos are rapidly attempting to adopt and adapt to innovations in the satellite sector, Rakuten Mobile has begun joint research and development with the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering into internet of things (IoT) ultra-coverage using low Earth orbit (LEO) craft.

The research topic is one of the R&D themes of the Beyond 5G R&D Promotion Project, for which the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) recently invited applications for proposals. The two organisations are committing to use satellite communications to expand geographical coverage to 100% and enable long-distance communications with existing narrowband (NB-IoT) and IoT devices with the aim of achieving IoT ultra-coverage.

Earlier in 2021, Rakuten Mobile announced that it was collaborating with AST SpaceMobile to build a satellite-based communications network using LEO satellites. With a space-based mobile broadband network, the two companies set out to provide mobile service to areas that would typically be out of coverage, such as mountainous areas, remote islands or on the sea. Rakuten also has invested in AST SpaceMobile and formed a strategic partnership with the company.

In the R&D project with the University of Tokyo, the two companies say they will use their respective expertise in satellite communications technology and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) to build an IoT network using LEO satellite communications and establish new use cases for IoT services using NB-IoT and LTE devices. With NB-IoT, small amounts of data can be sent at infrequent intervals, making the standard ideal for use in IoT services that require low power consumption, such as smart meters and sensors.

By building an NB-IoT and LTE network using satellites, Rakuten Mobile and the University of Tokyo said it would become possible to provide low-cost IoT services for various industries in locations that would typically be out of network coverage, such as mountainous areas, remote islands or on the sea.

The project will run from November 2021 to the end of March 2025. Rakuten Mobile aims to enhance its satellite communications network to provide a more convenient service to its customers and contribute to the development of telecommunications technologies in Japan. The R&D will aim to construct a satellite communications network that can collect data directly from IoT sensors, using LEO satellites to achieve 100% geographical coverage. R&D will be carried out in the following three areas.

Rakuten Mobile will set out to pursue the construction of an LTE satellite communications network, while both firms will engage in stabilisation and optimisation of LTE satellite communications, and the development and deployment of NB-IoT software for satellites. They will also embark on the investigation of use cases for IoT ultra-coverage and trials of IoT ultra-coverage.


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