The satellite technology’s ongoing impact on IoT and the agritech and marine industries

Starlink is leading the way in a new era of satellite internet services. Read on to see how their rapid expansion is impacting IoT and the potential opportunities for the agritech and marine industries.

Mark Probert

Chief Strategy Officer (CSO)
·5 min read (1444 words)

Satellite internet has been in development since the 1990s, and versions of it already exist around the globe. However, companies like Starlink are starting to do something new with satellite constellations, utilising smaller satellites and a low Earth orbit. 

The potential of using small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) to improve global communications was first recognised following the use of LEO satellites in defence initiatives, and the concept has been in development ever since. Were it not for the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s, which killed off several entities that had been investing in the technology, we may even be further ahead with it by now.

Despite this blip, some are revisiting the technology. A subsidiary of SpaceX, Starlink is already bringing reliable, high-speed internet to even the most remote locations using LEO satellite constellations. Even though the first live Starlink satellite was only launched in 2019, they’re already beginning to uncover the potential of satellite technology for the IoT and what that means for industries such as agritech and the marine sector.

How does Starlink work?

So far, Starlink have launched 6,000 small satellites of into low Earth orbit. They currently plan to increase their satellite constellation to 12,000, with a further potential expansion of up to 34,400 satellites. These satellites, each weighing just over 225kg, orbit the planet at an altitude of 550km – that’s not all that high when you compare it to traditional geostationary satellites which can be found over 35,000km above the equator. 

What’s so special about a low Earth orbit, you ask?  A low Earth orbit is ideal for satellite internet since it reduces latency to 20 – 60 milliseconds and offers 220+ Mbps download speeds. Even though this isn’t a huge leap forward compared to your everyday broadband if you live in a well-connected city, it makes a big difference in rural and less-connected areas.

In March 2024, it was estimated that Starlink had around 2.7 million subscribers worldwide. This includes high profile customers such as the United States Department of Defence, for whom a special military version of the technology called Starshield has been created.

Your average residential or business user doesn’t have quite the same requirements as the US Military, however. Those who sign up for Starlink on a personal or commercial basis receive a Starlink Kit which includes several cables, a router, and a flat terminal to be placed outside. The terminal provided – called Starlink to customers but supposedly referred to as ‘Dishy McFlatface’ inside the Starlink offices – is motorised, and uses phased array antennas to track satellites. 

Specialised versions of this kit are available for boats and vehicles, where high-speed internet is available on the move. Already, we can see how this technology has the potential to transform industries who have struggled to stay connected with traditional offerings.

How could Starlink change IoT?

As Starlink expands into more and more countries, providing more rural and remote areas with internet access, it creates the potential to improve the Internet of Things.

IoT products and projects need reliable connectivity. If we’re going to build tech and software that is constantly sending data between each other without human interaction, if we’re going to advance what IoT can do for different industries, then satellite internet services are key. Starlink can keep the IoT operational through both natural and manmade disasters which otherwise take out the necessary infrastructure – it’s doing just this in the Ukraine where many services have been impacted by the ongoing conflict with Russia.

It also expands where the IoT can work. With satellite internet, IoT projects become a viable option for the marine and shipping industry, for large-scale agriculture in some of the most rural areas, and even for airlines looking to offer better wi-fi to passengers. 

How is Starlink being used in agritech and marine?

Let’s take a look at how Starlink is already transforming vital industries. At Newicon, we’re actively exploring the possibilities this technology has to offer for our partners in the marine and agritech space. Using our expertise in IoT, software development, and AI, we know there’s so much we can do with Starlink and similar solutions.

Big names in the agritech space have already realised the potential Starlink has for productivity. Deere & Company are due to go live with Starlink later this year to provide satellite communications to farmers in the US and Brazil. With Starlink, machinery supplied by John Deere will be able to transmit information in real time, allowing for remote diagnostics, enhanced self-repair solutions, and machine-to-machine communication in rural areas that were previously out of reach. This will have a significant impact on the daily lives of farmers, allowing them to work more efficiently using data insights and minimise downtime caused by broken machinery.

Starlink is improving the lives of farmers in less wealthy countries too. One entrepreneur in Cambodia is creating a ‘smart farm’ that uses Starlink’s services to connect up the IoT devices, robotics, and precision farming tools that monitor his farm and manage everything from irrigation to harvesting. He is hoping to use his own experiences to revolutionise farming in the country.

We already know that Starlink works out at sea too – their high-speed internet packages for boats start at £247 a month and promise a latency of less than 99 ms and upload speeds of up to 25 mbps. Starlink has also partnered with Clarus Network Groups to offer a specific marine product: Starlink Maritime.

Starlink Maritime has been put through its paces by its owner, SpaceX. SpaceX operates a fleet of 10 ocean-going vessels for recovering rockets and spacecraft and they used these boats to test what Starlink could do at sea. They found a 95% reduction in latency and a 70% reduction in cost versus the VSAT services they had been using. With this, they could run their rocket launch and recovery operations with significantly less lag and improved clarity.

Deep Sea Vision, a mission to locate Amelia Earhart’s lost aircraft, has also made use of Starlink Maritime. As they navigated challenging seas in some of the most remote areas, the Deep Sea Vision search ship benefitted from high-speed internet and reliable connectivity. This enabled them not only to better manage their communication with their autonomous underwater drone as it collected sonar data, but also to keep in touch with their families during 90 days at sea. During their search, the Deep Sea Vision team believe they finally located Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft which has been lost for nearly 90 years.

Is anyone else doing what Starlink does?

The LEO satellite internet space isn’t wholly owned by Starlink. Amazon’s Project Kuiper aims to bring fast, affordable broadband to “unserved and underserved communities around the world”. Their constellation is a little smaller than Starlink’s, at just over 3,000 satellites in LEO, but they’re scaling fast. They’ve partnered with several launch agencies – including SpaceX – to get up and running, creating highly-skilled jobs and supporting suppliers across the US and Europe. 

Like Starlink, Project Kuiper also supplies users with at-home terminals. Their infrastructure taps into existing Amazon products, namely Amazon Web Services. Amazon are also working with astronomers to minimise the risk of orbital debris and reduce the visibility of satellites (which impacts scientific research) as they expand their network. Traditional satellite internet names like Hughesnet and Viastat won’t get left behind during this shift to LEO either.

Other companies, like Slingshot Aerospace, are examining the possibilities of setting up satellites across multiple orbits. They intend to create a ‘system of systems’ using satellites in geostationary, low earth and medium earth orbit. They’ll use this network to improve their offerings on spaceflight safety, space object tracking, and other services intended to improve satellite operations and safety in space.

Using satellite solutions for your digital projects

Small scale satellites at LEO are already opening up new opportunities for industries that previously struggled to stay connected and suffered for this. Starlink is leading the way with its growing constellation, but it’s not the only name in this space, which is great for those businesses wanting to take advantage of what the technology has to offer. 

Our team at Newicon are excited to make further use of satellite internet services to improve our IoT and AI offerings to our customers – there’s so much potential to make a significant impact on efficiency, productivity, and to come up with brilliant new ideas. 

If you have a digital project like this that you want to work on, get in touch with us today. We’ll use our tech expertise and refined project management approach to shape your exciting new tomorrow.

I'm Mark Probert

Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Newicon

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