The role of satellites in M2M and IoT
Cellular operators battling for new subscribers by improving their services have driven up ‘population coverage’ – the percentage of people with access to a GSM network – to over 90% in most major economies. This is great news for a large chunk of the M2M and IoT industries where this level of coverage is enough. It’s possible to make most homes, offices and even cities ‘smart’ using multi-network GSM connectivity.
Where coverage isn’t reliable or has never been built is where the problems begin. Away from population centres GSM coverage can drop off rapidly. The business of managing mobile assets, vehicle telematics and fixed point telemetry becomes more of a challenge the more remote the location, says Matthew Owen, MD, M2M Intelligence.
Even in the world’s most developed nations, remote or rural areas often lie far beyond the reach of mobile networks. In the UK for instance, over 2% of our road network – a staggering 4,600 miles – has no mobile signal coverage from any operator.
For energy and utility companies, river authorities, or mining and forestry companies, the job of communicating with staff, tracking company assets or backhauling data from monitoring stations can be a real challenge.
In these cases, satellite remains the only option and will continue to do so for years to come; it’s unlikely there will ever be a business case for building GSM networks to serve such small, infrequent use.
When you then consider the task of tracking shipping containers – often carrying valuable cargoes across empty oceans and distant continents – the challenge can be daunting.
The good news for enterprises requiring coverage in remote areas is that healthy competition means there’s a range of options and pricing models to suit every need. Satellite network operators certainly believe in the future of their businesses, as the major providers collectively invest billions of dollars to replace their fleets. Encouragingly for the operators, mobile satellite industry revenues hit £2.3 billion in 2014.
The not-so-good news is that recovering the cost of space-launching the network hardware means satellite data is never ‘cheap’ when put up against GSM. However, when considered in the context of the cost of failure of an un-monitored power grid transformer, or the engine of a mining truck hundreds of miles from the nearest town, these services do provide a solid return on investment.
While there is a wealth of IoT partners available who offer tracking of satellite-monitored assets, the real challenge for enterprises is finding an organisation who can integrate these with their assets based on GSM, LPWA and Wi-Fi networks. It’s about finding a partner who can offer a complete tracking solution, with visibility over all of an organisation’s staff and property, regardless of location. Only when organisations can access this information easily, through a simple interface, can they use it to its full advantage.
The author of this blog is Matthew Owen, MD, M2M Intelligence.
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