This article aims to put forward the utilization of onshore narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) infrastructure for tracking of containers transported by marine cargo vessels while operating near the coastline. We introduce and evaluate three connectivity strategies, including direct sensor-to-onshore base station (BS) transmission as well as two relay-aided schemes using dedicated vessel-BS or unmanned-aerial-vehicle (UAV)-mounted BS as intermediate nodes. To assess and compare the proposed schemes in terms of the message loss and delay metrics as well as sensor lifetimes, we first employ stochastic geometry to characterize the connectivity process with the onshore deployment and then resort to system-level simulations. Our results indicate that the direct access option suffers from the poorest performance. The relay-based alternatives allow to dramatically improve the system operation by effectively distributing the transmission requests over time at the relay side and thus mitigating contention. Furthermore, gains enabled with UAV relaying are due to extended coverage that increases the available BS density. The considered relaying operation may help tolerate intermittent connectivity across a broad range of system parameters.
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