WASHINGTON — Mobile satellite services operator Thuraya announced Nov. 21 that it is joining an industry group that develops standards for the “Internet of Things” (IoT), a market that has the potential to generate significant demand for satellite services in the coming years.
The Dubai-based company has become the second satellite operator to join the LoRa Alliance, a nonprofit that creates IoT standards. It follows Inmarsat, which became a member in February this year, helping the organization factor in the capabilities of satellite technology when creating new standards.
IoT is a somewhat misunderstood term used to describe networks of connected sensors and devices. As a market, IoT devices have become a frequently cited new opportunity for both terrestrial and space-based telecommunications providers. Tellingly, communications company Ericsson reported in June that it now expects IoT devices to eclipse mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018. Satellite operators, many of which provide backhaul services for cellular data, are eyeing IoT as a potentially lucrative new source of revenue, though many are not yet sure how to enter this market.
The LoRa Alliance believes satellite telecommunications companies can provide backhaul services for IoT devices using the organization’s LoRaWAN standard for connecting low power wide area (LPWA) networks. These networks are frequently used in rural or isolated areas often outside the reach of mobile network operators, thus creating an opportunity for satellite operators to fill the connectivity gap.
Users of the LoRaWAN specification can now connect their devices over Thuraya’s network. “Standardization generates volume, and the methodology and approach of the LoRa Alliance will help us develop long-term opportunities on a significant scale,” said Thuraya product manager Marwan Joudeh in a Nov. 21 statement.
Thuraya’s decision to join the organization comes as it is planning its next-generation satellite system, known as Futura. Thuraya is currently raising capital for the geostationary orbit system and expects IoT demand to shape its development.
Since forming in March 2015, the LoRa Alliance has grown its ranks to more than 400 members. Aside from Thuraya and Inmarsat, other notable members that provide satellite services and technology include Swisscom, du, and Globalsat Worldcom Group.
The LoRa Alliance’s LoRaWAN is one of many standards competing for dominance in the IoT market. Others include random phase multiple access (RPMA), ultra narrow band (UNB), and Sigfox, who is a customer of Eutelsat. Sigfox, based in Labege, France, closed a 150 million euro ($160 million) Series E funding round on Nov. 18 to fast-track the expansion of its network to soon reach global coverage.