Even if you think it is the first time you heard about Kineis, you are basically wrong in some ways ! This company is a recent “Startup”, existing since June 2019 but for real, they are managing an IoT offer based on top the famous and quite experienced Argos system, started in 1978 and now operating more the 22.000 devices running application like animal tracking, ocean safety and many scientific programs.
The service is running over the 8 satellites currently in orbit, making Kineis the most advanced satellite IoT solution commercially available as of today.
Thanks to the polar orbit of the satellites, the whole earth is covered, no white zone, no blind spots from pole to pole, ocean to desert, device are communicating from everywhere, autonomously.
This blog post is the first of a series made with the help of Kineis to introduce you the technology and my experience with it. As usual, there is no sponsoring for these blog posts but a close work with Kineis as the offer is only open to business companies currently.
Companies like Exotic Systems, Arribada or Advanced Tracking, have already started to make products using Kineis network for asset tracking applications mainly.
What is Kineis ?
Kineis is French satellite operator and an IoT connectivity service provider located in Toulouse, created in 2018 by CLS (founded by CNES to operate Argos solution since 1986) and CNES (French Space Agency). Kineis is in operation since 2019 and raised 100M€ in 2020 to conduct the deployment plan you will see above. Space fleets program are expensive investments, as an example, the Argos 8th satellite, first of the new generation of satellites for Kineis has a cost of 10M€. This amount includes satellite R&D, launching, and ground segment. This one has been launched on 2019 December 18th.
The company also has to build the IoT platform, develop the commercial offer and convince the industrial market to choose its solution. The 100M€ raised are covering all the costs for the coming fleet, the associated launch, ground stations, plus technical and commercial development to reach the full service in 2023.
In parallel, the IoT constellation from competitors are also growing, Lacuna-Space has launched its 5th satellite and Sigfox its first one. With a fleet of 25 (+8) satellites in operation in 2023, Kineis is a step ahead competitors for now.
Kineis satellite fleet
As indicated in the introduction, the strength of Kineis global IoT solution is related to the satellite fleet size already relaying device payload. Thanks to the Argos fleet, Kineis already has 8 satellites in space. These satellites are in a polar orbit, which means, all of them are covering the whole earth every day:
- The satellite is covering from the North to the South by turning around earth from North pole to South pole.
- Earth turning West-East all along a day is making the rest.
Satellites are about 800km from earth and make a complete revolution around Earth approximately every 100 minutes. Considering that a Satellite will be able to receive a message from a single location during 3 consecutive pass (from horizon to zenith), with 8 satellite we can make an approximation saying we have a communication windows with one of the existing satellite with an average revisit time of one and a half hour all along the day. The communication windows is around 10 to 12 minutes in average.
Satellites are communicating the device data to the ground using 20 stations located around the world, it means the ground segment is fully covered by Kineis. No need to deploy anything on customer side to work with the solution. The station are located all around the world, including small islands in the oceans to make sure the data will be quickly retrieved from the device to the backend applications. Quickly is not immediate. It’s also important to mention as the competition does not only have to launch satellites, they also need to construct a downlink communication network to retrieve the space data.
What is the near future for Kineis
The current Argos fleet is growing and the 8th satellite is the starting point of the new generation of nano-satellites. They will compose the Kinéis constellation with 25 new satellites, enabling communication windows or average revisit time of 15 minutes. These one will operate at a lower altitude (650km) and will collaborate with the Argos fleet also renewed in the coming years.
This fleet will have 5 satellites per orbital plane. Basically, it is going to have 5 different orbits around Earth and 5 satellites on each of these orbits.
These new satellites will also include new modulations supporting really low speed communications with a lower power transmission as a positive consequence.
Basically, when the fleet will be in space, the service level, in terms of communication frequency, data transferred size will be really like what we have with technologies like Sigfox. Global coverage as a plus. The hardware will be more expensive, with higher power consumption… nothing is free!
Kineis radio technology
Kineis uses specific modulations, adapted to satellite’s communication over different frequency bands. A specific band is reserved for environmental sensors (399-401MHz) and 7 other bands around 400MHz are available for standard IoT traffic. Typical waveforms are based on a low data rate of 400bps (narrow-band). The new constellation will provide new power-optimized modulations currently under design. The Downlink frequency for Kineis fleet will be similar to Uplink frequency.
This frequency band is not reserved for Kineis but shared with some competitors. There is only one frequency band worldwide, this is making device design simpler.
The transmission power vary: with the target fleet it will be possible to select power from 100mW (20dBm) to 2W (33dBm). With the power, the transmission speed will vary:
- 100-200mW addresses low speed communication at 200 bit/s and is the main market Kineis is targeting.
- 2W addresses high speed communication at 4800 bit/s. This will be available for handful of customers and commercially available once the 25 nano-satellites will be operational.
This is corresponding to different modulations, LDA2/3, VLDA4, HD-A3/4. “LD” stands for Low Data-rate and “VLD” Very Low Data-rate. “HD” for High Data-rate.
Having this choice is really interesting in terms of hardware design: you can choose the best speed/consumption according to your powering solution. The overall energy consumed is equivalent but the pic is different. Basically delivering 100mW is accessible to many small batteries.
The standard transmission speed / power pic is 400 bits/s and 500mW (27dBm). The communication duration is between 360ms to 920ms. A fair-use rule requires 1minute sleep between two messages (about 1.6% duty-cycle) This is required between any messages, including repeats. The time between message is also important for position computation, messages sent all over the satellite pass will get a really precised position computation.
Different type of modulation are supported with different rate and power. All are phase shift: BPSK, QPSK and GMSK. The modulation and speed also define the maximum data size in the frame, from 56 bits / 7 bytes for the slowest mode (200 bps) to 5060 bits / 632 bytes for the fastest (4800bps).
Downlink modulation depends on Satellite generation, the Kineis fleet will mostly use BPSK.
Event if you see different modulation, different power, different speed, you will see in the next blog post presenting my concrete experimentation with Kineis, how it is not a concern when using the devkit.
Satellite’s communication are outdoor communications, the radio power loss from indoor is too high for making a working system, at least with Kineis. You can eventually have the system working behind a window (only when the satellite is at horizon visible from the window) or in a car behind a windshield. But these situations are not recommended currently. Sat it outdoor!
The first point related to the transmission strategy is to find the right time for the communication (basically being sure we have a satellite listening around). This is the tricky thing and there is different ways to do it.
Predict satellite pass
The satellites are near to Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO), it means that basically they are passing the same area on earth, every day at the same time. The current fleet is near SSO, due to the lack of propulsion system to correct the orbital drift. Kineis coming fleet will be SSO. By the way, it means: if you know where your device is (100-200km around is good enough) and you know the UTC time, you can predict the communication windows. This is a really good advantage for communication prediction and firmware simplification for the Kineis fleet. The needed information can be obtained from a GPS module, so it is a good companion for it.
Currenlty, in addition, you can add the ephemerys information, obtained from Kineis back-end (later this will be directly sent by the satellites fleets itself). Thanks to this information you can predict, exactly, the transmission windows. Kineis provides the right algorithms for this. Ephemerys validity are weeks to months. Currently, you need to have a second network connectivity, accessible on this time-frame to refresh them. Therefore this strategy is not always adapted for all the use-cases.
If you need to build a compact, low cost system, you need to avoid GPS, extensive batteries and so one. Argos is well known for tracking about 8000 birds… you do not think birds are carrying 50g of circuit and batteries.
In a such solution, the transmission decision is purely random. Usually based on the energy availability from the sun harvesting circuit.
With a revisit time period of one hour and an half, with the satellite pass window duration on zenith is about 15 minutes, if you transmit a message on this period, you should be able to be listen by each of that satellites of the fleet on regular basis.
We can have some better deals: if you know your location area and get an idea of time (it can be RDS, clock signal or a downlink message to resync), you can plan transmission on certain period of the day with higher visit expectation. So basically with some simple information you can optimize your random communications to target the most probable successful transmission time.
Future Kinéis constellation compatible chip will be soon available, and once the fleet deployed, it will be really simpler to make this communication synchronization. I did not said that yet, but the satellite fleets is able to compute device location (see above). The downlink channel will also later broadcast the ephemerys and time. So the device, on it’s own will be soon able to compute the next pass for the overall fleet and schedule the next communications. This will require an initial synchronization to know when to listen for these information but it is only a 1 shot initial power cost.
Kineis communication protocol is really basic. Compared to Sigfox or LoRaWan, there it is really a raw, low level, protocol. So when implementing it you need to design your protocol. I’ll propose something in a coming blog post I think.
At first, there is no redundancy, ack, repeat … so it’s one your own to decide the strategy you want to apply. Basically if you have a random communication strategy you may prefer to have only one transmission on every time to preserve energy. As a consequence, you consider that each of the communication is not something important. But you can make another choice.
Usually, with a power of 500mW, the current Kinéis recommendation is 1 transmission + 3 repeats to have 99% chance to be received. With 1W you need 1 transmission + 2 repeats to get it.
This is usual in radio communications to have an important loss rate. Repeats are required. Sigfox, as a comparison, is 1 Tx + 2 repeats by default an gets 99.9x% with it ; LoRaWAN on public infrastructure is about 10-15% loss with the default setting (no repeat)
The main difference between a terrestrial and spacial network is the coverage size for a single receiver: when on terrestrial system, the best solution is Sigfox with 60km radius, the Kineis solution covers a radius of 2500km. As a consequence, the risk of collision due to multiple device communications at the same time, or any noise on the RF frequency is really higher in space.
As previously said, protocol is raw. It has been designed to be the simplest. it supports really low power, low weight applications like bird tracking. Basically, it can only have a device ID (32bits on Kineis) and that’s it, if you need it.
A standard Kineis frame will have a little bit more:
- It starts with a CRC16 to verify the data content
- It has, next, the payload data
- You can optionally add a BCH32 correction code (to be the standard default for Kineis communication). The error correction is managed by the Kineis network server and transparent for the end-user.
These fields are managed by the communication libraries provided by Kineis with the modules and devkit.
That’s it (at least currently) So it’s up to you to add a signature and/or an encryption mechanism.
The frame is composed by the following content:
- A carrier to sync the reception frequency for the native location computation service.
- A sync pattern for the phase shift modulation and bit rate synchronization
- A message length field
- The device ID
- The data containing the previously described structure.
Native location integrated service
Thanks to the Doppler effect, the satellite is capable of positioning a device with 300 meters typical accuracy without any GPS. This is basically working on the frequency modification during the transmission, related to the position of the device during the satellite movement.
To compute a location, a few messages are required. A single message does not allow a location to be computed. The position is obtained from the frequency drift between messages received during a single satellite pass. More messages you have, and better is the position. This is really interesting for fixed assets or assets moving slowly as the precision is really good without over-cost like GPS modules. The communication frequency needs to be the same and as stable as possible to get et precise positioning.
I’ll do some test on this feature to show you more detail on it as, in my point of view, there is many industrial/logistic applications for it.
Kineis is a subscription based solution, as all the commercial networks. Basically you pay for each of the devices a certain price. The order of magnitude for the price is from 1€ to 10€ per device per month.
The device itself uses a communication module (KIM) you can easily integrated with a MCU using some AT commands. There will be a lot of evolution in this area with the arrival of new 3rd party manufacturer. Currently, the order of price for the communication module it around 30€ per module with volume discounts.
You can also use transceivers (ARTIC) you can pilot with your existing MCU. The integration will be more complex but you can get a more compact system, eventually less expensive if you have large volume of devices. Such transceiver is less than 40€ per chipset today with volume discounts. This price will quickly change, today they are the first versions.
More generally speaking, a such satellite solution cost will be a bit higher than terrestrial because you need more power for the transmission. Using 500mW to 1W will requires larger batteries. You will also have to invest more on the antenna design and depends on your transmission strategy (see above) you may need extra chips like a GPS.
So such solution is adapted for some specific use-cases requiring a global coverage. That said, global coverage does no means ocean or deserts… it also means mountain area, even in Europe, it means countries where roaming are not existing or too much expensive, it means using a single technology when on terrestrial solution you can only be global with a mix of IoT technologies, not a single one. Kinéis avoids roaming issues and blind spots, this is the key value of such technologies.