Chain of Command: How Satellite and LoRaWAN Can Fix the Supply Chain

Look. If we’ve learned nothing else from the last two years of the global COVID pandemic, it’s that the global supply chain is problematic. 

It wasn’t always thus, and to many people, it really shouldn’t be in this day and age. As I see it, the problem is the fault of so-called lean manufacturing practices. 

For the uninitiated, these strategies have become very common in the last few decades to make the process of bringing products from raw materials to shelves with as little waste and as much efficiency as possible. And it works. What’s the problem with that, you might reasonably ask? The unintended consequence of this strategy is that any little bit of stress or unanticipated spike in demand (or shortage of supply) breaks the whole system down. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen, thanks in large part to the conjunction of the pandemic dramatically increasing strain on the healthcare and food supply chains and the ongoing shortage of semiconductors limiting (among many other things) the supply of computers and vehicles.

What’s all this got to do with Satellite, savvy headline readers might ask? Satellite has long been the best (and mostly only) solution to IoT connectivity in remote areas not covered by other solutions. The problems with it are well known in that it’s expensive and usually low bandwidth and power-thirsty. But as the primary option for truly remote areas, it’s pretty common. Meanwhile, LoRaWAN networks have been growing globally at a truly ferocious rate, and much of the drive for that growth is to supplant the satellite networks with a lower cost, terrestrial option.

By providing uninterrupted connectivity along the entire supply chain, manufacturers and warehousing enterprises can get insight into the true supply and demand trends in near real-time and adjust production to meet those needs. Thus far, many of these key companies have leaned (see what I did there?) too far toward the bare minimum supply levels. Perhaps, it was because these insights weren’t available fast enough; however, as the supply chain is more connected, the supply can be adjusted to stay ahead of demand as a dynamic function, rather than as a constant gamble that the past perfectly predicts the future. 

Now, in a wonderful example of IoT’s powerful partnership economy: Senet, Eutelsat CommunicationsTrakAssure, and Wyld Networks have joined forces to pair the two overlapping connectivity solutions of satellite and LoRaWAN to provide precisely these insights, integrating terrestrial and satellite IoT connectivity for customers anywhere in the world. Already, the group is testing ELO nanosatellites (Eutelsat LEO for Objects) to provide LoRaWAN coverage for the gaps in terrestrial networks. 

“The lack of affordable wireless coverage is holding back the growth of the Internet of Things from contributing an additional $2 trillion to $3 trillion in value to global GDP over the next decade,” said Alastair Williamson, CEO of Wyld Networks, in a recent statement. “Combining two advanced frontier technologies of LoRaWAN and Low Earth Orbiting satellites we can enable 100 percent global, affordable and low power connectivity to support IoT deployments in multiple markets and segments.”

In their joint release, the partner companies said they are targeting the global supply chain, including container logistics and related asset tracking, as the first and anchor applications for their collaboration. This comprehensive plan uses the specialties of each partner to provide a global supply chain insight platform, it seems, with shipping containers arriving at ports tracked on Senet’s terrestrial network, while rural and oversea transportation routes will be connected via the terrestrial network if detected, to the satellite network when needed and through Extended Coverage services enabled by network partners like Helium.

To keep the collaboration vibe rolling, the organizations have also formed the Multimodal IoT Infrastructure Consortium (MMIIC) that will reportedly focus on formalizing and completing all technical tests, pilots, and the commercial delivery of its first-to-market supply chain solutions. 

“Existing LPWA networks, including LoRaWAN, are ideal to connect assets that don’t send much data and need to operate on a low power budget,” said Luc Perard, SVP, IoT Business at Eutelsat. “But they rely on terrestrial infrastructure, such as LoRaWAN gateways, which will never cover more than extended urban areas, i.e. less than 15% of the Earth’s surface. Because ELO is fully compatible with the LoRaWAN standard, IoT solution providers and device manufacturers like TrakAssure and Wyld can easily, rapidly and inexpensively adapt their existing LoRaWAN products to make them ELO-compatible and benefit from up to 100% Earth coverage.”

TrakAssure and Wyld Networks are collaborating on the design and production of a new sensor-enabled end device to be used for supply chain and asset tracking solutions. Wyld is designing and producing the hardware module along with unique firmware. Using standard LoRaWAN compliant chips and components will allow for low cost and time to market advantages. Through its partnership with Senet, TrakAssure will be offering terrestrial and satellite LoRaWAN network connectivity for single trip, semi and permanent infrastructure-based supply chain visibility. In addition to location tracking and presence detection, TrakAssure supports LoRaWAN devices used for temperature monitoring, geofence location alerts, proof of delivery and other supply chain visibility requirements.

“IoT will drive economic growth for decades to come, but a comprehensive and cost-effective strategy is needed in order to deliver robust network coverage across a geography as massive as the United States,” said Bruce Chatterley, CEO of Senet. “Senet’s terrestrial Network, extended coverage through partners like Helium, innovative LPWAN Virtual Network program, and now satellite creates the first and only true national and global LoRaWAN IoT network, covering any geographic area required. This capacity is especially important to logistics applications and is another example of Senet innovating based on unique market and customer requirements.”

The companies are planning a commercial services launch in the second half of 2022, with pilots beginning in February 2022.

The time for lean has passed. Let’s hope this is a sign that we’re moving into the age of learn instead. 

Read Senet’s press release here.

Ken Briodagh

Ken Briodagh is Executive Editor of The Frontier Hub. He loves all forms of storytelling, from IoT technology to live events to content marketing strategy that creates brand loyal fans. Ken has been leading industries and brands through story for more than a decade, creating millions in value and growth. He's also founder and Chief Storyteller at Briodagh Consulting, a poet, pretend potentate, & partial alliterist. He lives in Connecticut with his family, two cats, a turtle, and a dog.

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