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Inmarsat and Actility build IoT network for remote applications

Network suppliers team up to deliver a low-power wide area network to support corporate internet of things deployments in remote areas

Satellite communications specialist Inmarsat and low-power wide area network (LPWAN) supplier Actility have announced the deployment of what they claim will be the world’s first global internet of things (IoT) long-range WAN (LoRaWAN).

The two firms said early network applications in three key sectors expected to benefit from the IoT were already helping enterprises working in remote parts of the world to improve efficiency and reduce costs through the IoT.

LoRaWAN is a specific LPWAN specification designed to be used to support wireless battery-operated things on a large-scale network, targeting the major requirements of IoT deployments, such as bi-directional communications, mobility and localisation.

Developed through the 400-member LoRa Alliance, there are currently more than 150 worldwide projects using the specification, which offers interoperability between things without needing complex local installations, giving users more freedom.

The Inmarsat LoRaWAN is powered by Actility’s ThingPark LPWAN platform, and uses Inmarsat’s L-band satellites to provide backhaul to the ground-based infrastructure.

“Our collaboration with Inmarsat allows us to provide customers with an end-to-end solution to connect their assets and fulfil their IoT business needs anywhere in the world,” said Actility CEO Mike Mulica. “We will be working alongside Inmarsat every step of the way to help global customers address their specific needs with more efficient, best-fit solutions.”

The first applications of the LoRaWan are centred on asset tracking, agriculture and the oil and gas industry, where test customers in all these sectors are already up and running.

Pilot users around the world include walnut farmers in California, who are being hit by rising water costs in the face of a major drought, and competition from other businesses and the general public. Because of this, they are coming under increasing pressure to optimise their water usage and irrigation schedules.

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Here, the Inmarsat LoRaWAN has been pressed into service to manage a network of soil humidity monitors, allowing farmers to compensate for variations in groundwater deposits, soil porosity and so on across their properties. This means they can tailor an irrigation schedule to ensure each tree receives a consistent soil water content, giving them more control over their use of a scarce asset.

In South America, one of Argentina’s largest estancias, or ranches, needs to move 10,000 head of cattle around a vast area. During these migrations, the cattle are always liable to wander off, or calves become separated from their mothers, causing inconvenience and economic loss should something happen to a missing animal.

With IoT trackers placed on each animal, and an Inmarsat-ThingPark livestock tracking solution installed at the ranch, the ranchers can monitor the location and activity levels of each individual in the herd, and can alert managers and hands if one is at risk of being lost, behaving oddly, or getting too close to the edge of the property.

“These early applications are indicative of the industrial IoT market in general,” said Paul Gudonis, Inmarsat enterprise president. “Businesses don’t need an off-the-shelf IoT solution for agribusiness or asset tracking – they need a specific solution for a specific problem.

“Through our collaboration with Actility, we have the building blocks to tailor solutions for each specific opportunity, no matter where it is in the world.”

Through the partnership, Actility has signed up to Inmarsat’s certified app provider programme, which lets third parties develop new apps and solutions that are compatible with its satellite backhaul network.

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)