Satellite has brought internet access to places where communications seemed impossible. Offering superior geographic coverage and simpler roaming, satellite is now proving to be ideal for low cost global M2M communications.
Covering remote areas and hostile terrain, a new breed of satellite M2M devices are increasingly used to deliver remote console server functions and direct connection to critical business applications. Satellite networks are not all the same and the applications and requirements of a business will drive the decision making process as to which network to use.
Satellite M2M is gaining momentum with growing awareness of its unique capabilities. These capabilities include the ability of satellite to work almost anywhere in world with quick implementation of highly scalable, global solutions which are not dependent on local connectivity. Hybrid or dual-mode products can offer the best of satellite and terrestrial networks.
Different satellite networks vary in how they operate and the type of service for which they can be used. These variations are based on location, power requirements, amount of data to be sent size, local regulatory approval, view of the sky (satellite), transmission speeds, and cost.
Popular options for M2M IP communications over satellite include Inmarsat’s BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) and VSAT technology. Both technologies provide reliable communications for voice and data applications in remote locations.
BGAN M2M modems provide seamless global IP connectivity for lower volume or sporadic usage patterns on the Inmarsat satellite network. These are ideal for fixed locations requiring communications from 1 – 20 Mb/month.
VSAT can accommodate large camp operations moving hundreds of megabytes or gigabytes of data, month over month. It requires installation by a technician and larger set up capital but typically the operating costs are far lower (per Gb). While VSAT coverage is similar to BGAN coverage, the network is not seamless and separate contracts on different satellites and teleports is required to achieve global coverage.
If mobility is a big factor, a full BGAN modem can provide a more seamless transition across geographies and its small form factor suits mobile users but there are costs for these fully mobile options.
A great example of the use of BGAN for M2M application is the use of BGAN terminals for the control and monitoring of reclosers in a power distribution network covering remote areas of Queensland, Australia. Reclosers enable the network to be segmented more effectively and provide better protection of high value assets by reacting to events well up the power distribution line before a substation or feeder is affected. Reclosers also provide smart power quality information that can feed back to the utilities to conduct preventative maintenance. During floods in the North East of Australia, cellular and terrestrial network remained down, while satellite communications remained stable. In this case, using a secure close IP VPN, the recloser network becomes a single extension to the Utility’s corporate network.
Iridium Satellite also boasts seamless global network communications. Their Short Burst Data (SBD) service is ideal for many M2M applications requiring low amounts of data and 2-way communications.
Iridium has just launched a new product, Iridium Burst, to provide a global data broadcast service for low data applications. Using the 9602 module format, the 9602GDB allows you to send a broadcast message to an unlimited number of GDB devices anywhere there is coverage. These one-way Receive Only modules provide a new very low cost way to send out data to remote devices. Examples of uses include broadcast warnings for emergencies such as bushfire or tsunami alerts alarms. Iridium expects many other applications to be thought up as the technology becomes more understood.
The Globalstar Simplex network transmits one-way data from the field up to the satellite, the opposite to Iridium GDB. Offering coverage of 120 countries worldwide, Globalstar Simplex has very low power requirements and low cost hardware for long-term tracking and event monitoring of unpowered assets. The Globalstar SmartOne is a battery powered modem with up to 3 year usage on 4 Li AA cell batteries but it can also operate on line.
Battery power in satellite devices for remote management is often needed in the absence, interruption or failure of external power. The automatic switch to battery back-up ensures continued transmissions. Other devices with integrated battery compartment include SkyWave IDP 800 IsatData Pro terminal that uses the Inmarsat network, and the GTTS-2000Bi for track and trace of assets globally using the Iridium SBD satellite network.
Satellite connectivity can provide 100% coverage over Australia, making it an ideal enhancement to provide complete M2M communications in remote areas. Adding satellite to existing M2M systems need not be expensive and the benefits in extending M2M communications are obvious. Capital and operating costs for satellite are also coming down and it is possible to get a simple modem for less than $500 to operate for below $20 per month.