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MediaTek and Inmarsat create ‘first’ NB-IoT satellite connection

Taiwanese chip-maker MediaTek has claimed a world first by connecting an NB-IoT device with an Inmarsat satellite 35,000 kilometres above the earth.

The press release frames this as a 5G technology, but NB-IoT was around a long time before 5G came along. Nonetheless the result of this field trial will be contributed to the 3GPP’s work on 5G release 17 as it concerns non-terrestrial networks. This development is also intriguing for NB-IoT technology, which at one time looked like the default narrowband standard for the 5G era, but seems to have fallen out of favour since 5G actually turned up.

“MediaTek’s collaboration with Inmarsat will accelerate industry efforts to converge cellular and satellite networks in the 5G era,” said Dr. Ho-Chi Hwang, MediaTek GM of Communication System Design. “MediaTek is a leading connectivity provider and contributor to 3GPP standards, and our ongoing work with Inmarsat GEO satellites will help drive 5G innovation across verticals like IoT.”

“Testing MediaTek’s standard NB-IoT chip over Inmarsat’s established GEO satellite network has proven technology from mobile networks works effectively over GEO satellites with little modification and will provide a very cost effective path to ubiquitous and hybrid global IoT coverage,” said Jonathan Beavon, Senior Director, Inmarsat Product Group.

While nanosatellites are becoming trendy thanks to the deep pockets of some of the world’s richest people, the area they cover is still much smaller than full-fat satellites. If this trial results in NB-IoT becoming a robust way of communicating with millions of IoT devices via satellite, it could not only restore NB-IoT’s fortunes, but give the whole IoT industry a boost.

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