[Via Satellite 06-04-2015] Airbus Defence and Space, having signed key partnerships with several French Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), aims to establish a major presence in the growing market of the Internet of Things (IoT). The company launched the Mustang project earlier this year with a consortium comprised of CEA-Leti, Sysmeca and Sigfox, the latter of which raised $115 million from investors earlier this year for a low-energy global cellular IoT network. The three-year Mustang project is developing the technology necessary to create a hybrid IoT system that, emanating from France, would grow to connect the globe with an integrated, low-cost short message service.
"We see a trend toward global networks able to connect directly many small and low power objects," Jean-Luc Vanhove, head of the Mustang program at Airbus Defence and Space, told Via Satellite. "We see also from the market studies we have made, that a major part of this market is actually expected to be faced with serious cost and energy constraints. Therefore, we believe that a narrowband system with small, cheap and highly autonomous terminals is going to be a key market enabler in the next few years."
The Mustang project is partially funded by France's Future Investments Program (PIA), which the General Investment Commission (CGI) and the French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs run jointly. The project involves the development of the terminal's modem chipset, the optimization of communication protocols and the validation of the system through an aircraft application demonstration. The amount of funding depends on the type and size of the company involved. Airbus Defence and Space, the company that launched the Mustang program and is leading much of the satellite side, is being funded at 30 percent, while investing the remaining 70 percent on its own.
The system will use a dual-mode satellite-terrestrial terminal to switch automatically, with satellite links using a distinct communication protocol and connections to the Sigfox terrestrial network using the 868 and 915 MHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands. Vanhove said the consortium would use satellite largely to cover isolated areas beyond the reach of terrestrial communications, as well as for backup to critical applications or to fill in when terrestrial networks are down. He also noted certain verticals of greater interest for the company.
"We are currently focusing on the three main operations domains that appeared as the most valuable from the market studies we did, which are logistics, maintenance and security, to serve business and governmental needs. We are also looking to serve some potential consumer applications, which we believe will be possible with the system we have in mind," he said.
Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research, told Via Satellite that industrial markets are expected to grow the fastest within IoT, particularly for services such as predictive maintenance and product lifecycle management. Counting based on the number of connected endpoints, markets such as connected car, smart metering, and the smart home are expected to take prominence.
"Requirements for more data are increasing as businesses look to gain more visibility into their operations," explained Collins. "They are looking to manage disparate assets, automate their processes for better efficiencies while optimizing for better [Return on Investment] ROI. The ability to collect data from onboard diagnostics and analyze the data provides greater insight and management."
Collins added that the challenge for satellite adoption within an application is mainly around cost and viability compared to other forms of connectivity.
"Within the IoT specifically, as satellite connections increasingly act as the data collection points and gateways for a range of connected IoT devices, satellite players will have to offer device management platforms with greater levels of flexibility and control with regard to managing connected devices," he said.
Vanhove said Airbus Defence and Space has identified the need for a very cost-efficient, flexible radio processor as one of the top needs for Mustang at the satellite level. Airbus Defence and Space is developing such a processor, he said, based on prior work within the IoT that is expected to serve many applications. The company is also working on the user-integrated, bi-mode communication module, which is optimized in terms of communications protocols to operate with very low power equally for satellite.
"Being able to communicate in such conditions allows consideration for implementing power amplifiers on the chip, building highly integrated modules. This is made possible using protocols which are already operational on the Sigfox terrestrial network, and running in a preliminary satellite version on our Airbus system test bed that we have in Toulouse," said Vanhove. The ability to communicate with a satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), over typically 1,000 kilometers, has actually been demonstrated early this year in a demo using the Airbus-developed Spot 7 satellite."
Airbus Defence and Space conducted the LEO communications test because of the advantage in communicating with very low transmit power on the user side.
Collins said satellite services within the IoT are expected to flourish in areas that are often hard to reach, i.e. places satellite already has the upper hand. He highlighted markets such as maritime, energy, and aviation. Regionally, Collins pointed to North America and Europe as areas with significant IoT activity, adding that China has a very ambitious national IoT strategy in place that will likely result in a significant infrastructure roll-out over the next years.
For Airbus Defence and Space and its partners, the Mustang project has the potential to propel France to the front of the IoT wave.
"If everything goes as planned, in 2020 we should have a full and global network deployed and the bi-mode service already running, with a few hundreds of thousands of compatible terminals deployed on the field," said Vanhove.