There seems to be no limit to the continued escalation of IoT implementations in commercial and industrial applications. The thirst for information and insights required for improved monitoring and management of complex operations and systems is spurring the industry to expand existing network capacities and capabilities, and squeeze out more bandwidth to meet the demand, while keeping a wary eye on cost. Price, reliability, and bandwidth are important in all IoT deployments, yet they are even bigger factors when considering IoT services in remote areas such as mines, construction sites, offshore energy and distributed power generation systems, and oceangoing vessels.
Wireless networks—from 2G through 4G—have been the infrastructure of choice for most providers, and for good reason. These networks typically provide higher bandwidth and lower latency than satellite technology, but the throughout and signal strength diminish substantially when the implementation is far from a densely populated area. The problem becomes more complicated in maritime use. Once a ship leaves port, wireless connectivity is not only unavailable in transit, but the service connection in the next port is often through a completely different carrier. In addition, the typical wireless contract for maritime operators mirrors the consumer-use model based on flat rates and fair use (throttling after exceeding preset limits) which are not always compatible with business needs.
For facilities that may be on the fringes of reliable wireless service areas, or are in transit between networks, the only viable option to maintain connectivity has been using available satellite services – which have been comparatively slow and expensive, and often difficult to manage.
Legacy satellite connectivity utilizes antennas that must move to track satellites for any mobility application. This requires a great deal of precision and constant adjustment to acquire and maintain consistent connectivity. Current Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and future Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations require tracking capabilities to maintain connectivity during the interval between satellite passes. Otherwise it would force data transmissions to be handled in batches rather than as a consistent stream. While this batch processing may work well for simple telematics and sensor information, if the application requires interactive management, video, or other time-sensitive data transmission, an expensive and complicated multi-axis stabilized or gyro-mounted Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) would be required.
For maritime, remote, and offshore applications, IoT has become a choice of the least-worst option to maintain mission-critical communications. Further exacerbating the situation is the human factor. Crew and passengers expect access to the internet as a part of everyday life – something that is not easy or inexpensive using the existing network service delivery models.
However, new technologies and business models are beginning to redefine the way IoT connectivity has been handled. Taking the best from both wireless and satellite solutions—while adding new software steered flat-panel antenna technology for reliable automated satellite connection management—the hybrid wireless/satellite approach is gaining momentum. This integrated solution creates a single connectivity node to manage all network connections and traffic routing. The system seamlessly balances traffic across the best transmission path with the least operating cost. This strategy—combined with usage-based billing—keeps costs under control while assuring reliable connectivity.
In a real-world deployment, it’s easy to see how an integrated connectivity solution can succeed. For example, an oceangoing vessel that uses this hybrid platform would have broadband connectivity using a wireless network while in port, and then switch to satellite technology as it sails out of range. The system would then automatically switch back to the local wireless network when approaching the next port. All of this happens without any human intervention, such as switching SIM cards, reconfiguring equipment, ortuning satellite dishes. In essence, connectivity in geographically remote areas occurs automatically, much in the same way a consumer cellphone maintains connection while driving down a freeway. The hybridization of networking technologies also provides inherent failover protection which significantly increases uptime and resilience.
The growth of IoT services has been embraced by both industry and consumers, but in fairness, it has caused havoc on capacity-constrained network operators whose business is predicated on delivering reliable, seamless bandwidth. The problem is exacerbated in remote areas, where demand is just as high, but reliable wireless capacity is scarce. Integrating available wireless with low-cost satellite bandwidth in an automated, turnkey solution represents a new approach that can satisfy both the existing and long-term demands of businesses.
The IoT Evolution Expo, and collocated events, IoT Evolution Health, LPWAN Expo, The Smart City Event, and IIoT Conference, will take place Jan. 29 to Feb 1 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Visit IoTEvolutionExpo.com to register now.