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Long Range, Low Power Tech Brings Ubiquitous Connectivity to Land, Sea and Sky

Sept. 13, 2022
Keeping IoT applications across the world connected is a challenge, yet imperative.

The term “ubiquitous coverage” is often thrown around in the supply chain and logistics industry—and for a good reason. Breaks in the chain of visibility leave logistics vulnerable, especially as businesses scramble to keep up with the introduction of new technologies and services.

This is why the challenge lies in finding a universal solution that connects IoT applications all over the world, providing a continuous view no matter where assets are.

The Problem with Asset Tracking

The first step to improving the deployment of IoT applications is to understand the common obstacles within the industry, like internal operations. Supply chain and logistics have long struggled to streamline internal processes to monitor the flow of goods and services from supplier to customer. And supply chain demands have only exacerbated this challenge. In fact, September 2021 was reported by the Port of Los Angeles as the busiest September in the port’s 114-year history.

So how do we improve internal operations? For starters, this can include automating processes to better track and monitor assets from the time they enter a facility to their final destination. IoT sensor technologies are perfect for asset tracking because of their ability to communicate the exact position of an asset and transmit key information including temperature, speed, external surroundings and more.

The good news is that logistics data requires only a low bandwidth to communicate this critical information. This means that the sensor networks required for applications like asset tracking use narrow bandwidth and are ideal for these use cases as low latency is not required.

Over the past few years, supply chain shortages and delays have been exacerbated by the pandemic and geopolitical conflicts. Manufacturers and distributors have suffered as a result, leaving many shipping containers, parcels, equipment and vehicles to experience mass disruptions. These challenges are not expected to go away anytime soon, prompting manufacturers to set their eyes on integrating IoT-enabled technologies that can track and trace assets throughout the entire supply chain to reduce further impact.

The Solution: Long Range, Low Power Technology

The majority of IoT deployments are tracking land-based activities, whereas monitoring applications in the world’s oceans and skies has historically been unavailable or constrained due to the limited range of Wi-Fi and BLE. That’s where Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) such as LoRaWAN comes in.

The nature of this low power consumption tech and its GPS-free geolocation abilities can be easily monitored over large geographic regions and within hard-to-reach areas. Not only is it easy to implement, but it fills gaps of current cellular technologies to make ubiquitous IoT connectivity a reality. Let’s explore how long range, low power technology enables real-time monitoring and tracking and the opportunities that are now available.

From the Sky to Sea

Long range, low power technology makes it easy and affordable to track highly valued assets no matter where they are. Here’s how long range, low power technology is filling a gap in ubiquitous connectivity and the types of verticals it supports.

  • Land. Long range, low power technology utilizes a GPS-free geolocation technology that does not require additional power. Often building materials are too dense for GPS to penetrate through, so GPS-free tech makes it easy to track the precise location of assets indoors where GPS has no tangible reach. Using location information from GNSS and Wi-Fi passive scanning for indoor and outdoor positioning enables continuous indoor-outdoor tracking using smaller batteries at a low cost and small form factor.

    For supply chain and logistics, facilities can track thousands of assets within a warehouse, after they are packaged and placed on shipping vessels—or airplanes—to the time they arrive back on land and are transported to a big box facility, store or end-user.

  • Sky. Combined with satellite and terrestrial networks, long range, low power technology is now creating global connectivity access from the suburbs to hard-to-reach remote areas. Satellite companies like EchoStar utilize S-Band channels to incorporate long range, low power sensors into their tech to create highly integrated, ultra-low power tracking solutions for a variety of use cases. These include smart agriculture, logistics and supply chain, hospitals and more.

    For example, cattle ranchers in remote areas can use the combined satellite and terrestrial networks to monitor livestock through a continuous stream of data. This can track not only the precise location of cattle, but real-time data on their sleep patterns and temperature to identify potential disruptions before harm or loss takes place.

  • Sea. Military vessels—and regular cargo ships—are constantly traveling the world’s oceans, far beyond the reach of land-based networks. Connected sensors allow for rapid, scalable deployment of military-grade applications to monitor and secure critical assets. Even ocean freights rely on these applications to monitor the conditions of the vessel and track high-value assets, which have proven useful for long periods at sea given the up to 10-15 year battery life of long range, low power IoT devices. Even aboard these ships, ubiquitous connectivity is handy since the data can be transmitted to data centers using cloud technology via the LoRaWAN standard, an open LPWAN protocol that stitches satellite and terrestrial networks.

Given current supply chain shortages and delays, geopolitical strife and economic challenges, it’s critical that the supply chain and logistics industry has visibility. Global connectivity, even in hard-to-reach areas, is a big piece of solving this puzzle. As one of the largest industries globally, supply chains must improve efficiency and lower costs in order to effectively keep global markets running.

About the Author

Marc Pégulu

Marc Pégulu has been vice president of IoT in the wireless and sensing products group at Semtech since June 2015. He held the position of vice president of wireless and sensing products from June 2014. Prior to this appointment, he held the position of director of marketing and applications. Pégulu joined the Company in March 2006 and was involved in several key technology initiatives, including LoRa wireless and software-defined modem technologies. Prior to joining Semtech, he held positions in chips and systems development at Thomson CSF, Thales, ATMEL and DibCom in France and China.

Marc holds a Master of Science degree in electronics and telecommunications from Institut National Polytechnique of Grenoble, France, and is a graduate of the Executive MBA program of ESCP Europe.

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