Extending the internet of things (IoT) networks to remote areas under extreme conditions or for serving sometimes unpredictable mobile applications has increased the need for satellite technology to provide effective connectivity. However, existent medium access control (MAC) protocols deployed in commercial satellite networks were not designed to offer scalable solutions for the increasing number of devices predicted for IoT in the near future, nor do they consider other specific IoT characteristics. In particular, CubeSats—a low-cost solution for space technology—have the potential to become a wireless access network for the IoT, if additional requirements, including simplicity and low demands in processing, storage, and energy consumption are incorporated into MAC protocol design for satellite IoT systems. Here we review MAC protocols employed or proposed for satellite systems and evaluate their performance considering the IoT scenario along with the trend of using CubeSats for IoT connectivity. Criteria include channel load, throughput, energy efficiency, and complexity. We have found that Aloha-based protocols and interference cancellation-based protocols stand out on some of the performance metrics. However, the tradeoffs among communications performance, energy consumption, and complexity require improvements in future designs, for which we identify specific challenges and open research areas for MAC protocols deployed with next low-cost nanosatellite IoT systems.
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