Coverage is a key consideration when choosing a satellite network for your application. At its most basic level, you need to ensure that the network you choose has orbiting satellites that cover the area from which you need to transmit data. This is widely available information – our Calculators and Maps page provides coverage maps for many of the main service providers.

However, being able to provide coverage on paper is not the same as being able to do so in practice. Because you also need to ensure that your terminal’s antenna can easily communicate with the satellite. In order to do so it needs to be able to ‘see’ the satellite clearly. Depending on the type of satellite you’re connecting to, this is often referred to as as a requirement for ‘line of sight’ or a ‘clear view of the sky’.

‘Line of sight’ connections – geostationary satellites

Geostationary satellites are positioned 35,786 km above Earth and are travelling at the same speed as Earth’s rotation – hence why they appear stationary, and the reason for the name. If your satellite antenna is designed to communicate with a geostationary satellite, it must be able to ‘see’ it. Many devices will help you figure out how well aligned your antenna is with the satellite (called the ‘look angle’) with a series of LED indicators or sounds. Once you’ve appropriately located your antenna, as long as it doesn’t move, it will retain a very stable connection with the geostationary satellite.

'Clear view of the sky' connections - Iridium satellites

Iridium has 66 satellites orbiting Earth at 780 km up, and they’re travelling at 30,000 km per hour. It will take a single Iridium satellite about seven minutes to pass from horizon to horizon, and in most places / at most times, there are two or three passing overhead. This confers a great benefit on users as antennae do not need to be ‘pointed’; they can transmit data at virtually any angle and – as long as there are no obstacles – one of the passing satellites will ‘pick’ the data up.

However, if your device doesn’t have a clear view of the sky from horizon to horizon, there will be points in the satellite’s trajectory where it can’t receive a signal. For example, if you have a hydrology station collecting water quality data, in one direction it might face the dam wall; in another it might have a clear and unobstructed view of the horizon. In this instance, the Iridium satellite is able to receive data when it’s sufficiently overhead so that the dam wall isn’t blocking the signal, and it will continue to do so until it drops out of sight. This means you’ll get close to real-time data for approximately five out of the seven minutes during which the satellite is passing overhead.

ClearView-Diagram2

What can prevent a clear view of the sky?

Typical obstructions include tall buildings (urban landscapes), dense foliage (trees, forests), and natural terrain features like mountains or valleys. Each of these reduce your ‘view of the sky’ and the effectiveness of satellite connections.

What’s the impact of an impaired view of the sky?

There’s likely to be an impact on signal quality and consistency: obstructions can completely block data packets (e.g. Iridium’s Short Burst Data service) and can affect the quality and consistency of connections that require a stable connection (e.g. IP connections such as Iridium Certus).

Ultimately this can lead to reduced accuracy and reliability of satellite based tracking/communication equipment.

How can you tell if you truly have a clear view of the sky?

It may sound silly, but our engineers recommend this process as it gives a better understanding of ‘clear view of the sky’ from a satellite device’s perspective.

  1. Position Your Arms: Stand outside in the location where you use the device. Extend your arms in front of you, with one hand placed directly on top of the other.
  2. Create the ‘Crocodile Mouth’: Keeping your arms extended, separate your hands by raising one arm upwards, while keeping the other arm steady. The angle between your arms should be approximately 30 degrees. This creates a shape resembling a crocodile’s open mouth.
  3. 360-Degree Turn: Slowly turn your whole body in a full circle, 360 degrees, while keeping your arms in the same position.
  4. Observe the Sky View: As you turn, look through the gap between your hands (the ‘crocodile mouth’). You need to check if there are any obstructions in this view. These obstructions could be anything that breaks the line of sight between your hands and the sky, like buildings, trees, or other tall structures.
  5. Evaluate the View: If at any point during your 360-degree turn you see obstructions between your hands, it indicates that you don’t have a clear view of the sky. The aim is to have an unobstructed view of the sky throughout your entire turn, ensuring that the device can communicate effectively with the overhead satellites.



Diagram illustrating how to establish if you have a clear view of the sky

What to do if you don’t have a clear view of the sky

If your application can manage without 100% real-time data, then having a compromised view of the horizon may not be an impediment. You’ll get your data very frequently, assuming that there is at least some sky visible to the antenna!

If you don’t want to compromise, most engineers will try to elevate your antenna so that it clears the current obstructions. Mounting it on a pole is a very common option.

In extreme cases, something like LoRaWAN can be used to transmit the data from the bottom of a canyon, for example, up to a more open location where a satellite transceiver can do its job.

You could also explore a different satellite network: it’s possible that a geostationary satellite might be at just the right look angle for your antenna, and once these are locked in, they’re extremely stable.

Talk to the experts

We've implemented satellite IoT infrastructure for decades, and there's very rarely been an obstruction issue we couldn't overcome with a bit of knowledge and ingenuity.

We'd be happy to talk to you about your project and offer impartial advice on the best antenna and satellite service for your particular requirements. Call or email us, or complete the form.
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Sending data over satellite is more expensive than sending it over terrestrial networks. It’s become less expensive – the gap has shrunk, and continues to do so – but it’s doubtful we’ll see complete parity of service and price any time soon.

So, when you’re capturing data from remote assets, the first consideration is how much data you need to send. We often come across companies used to using cellular, for example, and having very few constraints on their data transmissions. That mindset needs a little adjustment for satellite transmissions.

It’s a worthwhile exercise to dig into the art of the possible here: do you have some edge processing capabilities that would allow you to report by exception, for example? Time spent up front minimizing your data will pay back in far lower ongoing airtime fees.

This leads on to the next question: can you optimize your data sufficiently to use a messaging service rather than an IP-based service? This article seeks to explain why this is such an important question in the context of satellite IoT, and help you choose the best service for your application.

First things first: many people reading this will know how IP works. If that’s you, jump to the ‘What’s the Problem with IP’ section. If not, a basic understanding of IP is helpful to understand the pros and cons of this as a means of sending data over satellite.

The Basics of Internet Protocol (IP)

IP is the most common means by which packets of data are transferred from one machine to another. Machines are called ‘hosts’, and the IP network simply sends the data from the source host to the destination host. Both hosts are identified by an IP address which usually looks something like 192.158.1.38.

Data is divided into packets and sent over the network by the most efficient path, which could well see packets going over different routes. They’re reassembled at the destination host . However, IP is quite a basic, unacknowledged transfer mechanism; the source host isn’t notified if the transmission succeeds or fails.

So another layer in the tech stack is needed to make IP function reliably: it’s usually TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). TCP is built on top of IP to check that data is successfully delivered, and in the same condition in which it was sent. It’s so fundamental to the functioning of IP that you’ll often see the two layers combined as TCP/IP and used interchangeably with the individual terms.

What’s the Problem with TCP/IP as a Means of Communication Over Satellite?

That’s a bit of a provocative subheading because there isn’t a problem, per se. But there are some challenges that can be overcome in several ways – one of which is to not use an IP-based connection method at all (more on this later).

The main challenge is that TCP/IP is inefficient when it comes to transmitting very low volumes of data, and it’s relatively resource-hungry. In the example opposite, you can see how much data is passed back and forth in order to send just a single byte of useful data (thank you to Nick vs Networking’s blog post for this great illustration).

Not only are you paying for the extra packaging and overhead, it might also require more power to transmit than if you were simply transmitting the useful data. Not an issue if your asset / sensor is powered, but it could be if your asset is unmanned, and needs to run off a battery for several years in between maintenance visits.

TCP-IP-Data-Transmission-2

If you want a more efficient means of passing data because you need to throttle back on cost, and/or your device needs to conserve power, you have four options.

  1. Optimize your data transmissions
  2. Explore UDP/IP as an alternative to TCP/IP
  3. Consider using a more efficient protocol designed for IoT such as MQTT
  4. Look at a message-based option instead


1. Optimize Your Data Transmissions

We briefly touched on this earlier; it’s popular because – unlike some other options – you don’t have to change the underlying network. Two of the best known satellite airtime options that work on a TCP/IP network are Inmarsat (now ViaSat)’s BGAN M2M, and Iridium’s Certus 100 service. If all of your other systems use IP, you can effectively plug-and-play to send your data over satellite using these airtime options.

Think carefully about how much of the data you’re routinely transmitting contains information you actually need. Our previous blog post identified five key ways to reduce your satellite IoT connectivity costs. In short, by efficiently managing data usage, adjusting settings based on application requirements, and leveraging edge computing capabilities, you can use TCP/IP more effectively, and reduce your overall satellite airtime costs.

2. Explore UDP/IP-based Applications

If your application can tolerate some missing data, UDP can be a much more efficient means of working with IP. Packets (or ‘datagrams’) are sent via a ‘best effort’ communication method, which doesn’t require that the destination host has ‘accepted’ the data transfer. It’s faster and less resource heavy, but less reliable – delivery is not guaranteed – and there are security challenges too.

Hologram.io has a great blog post outlining the differences between TCP and UDP in more detail. Applications built on UDP tend to favour limited networks with low bandwidth and low availability – CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol) is probably the best known of these.

3. Use a TCP/IP-based Application Designed for IoT

Both HTTP and MQTT use TCP/IP; they layer over additional features specific to the applications that they serve. However, HTTP isn’t optimized for IoT; it’s designed for two machines to talk, not for networking many sensors, and is pretty noisy / talkative when used for the latter. If that’s your only option, circle back to point 1 and see what you can do to optimize your data for transmission.

MQTT, on the other hand, was written specifically for IoT; it uses a publish/subscribe pattern which allows for efficient and reliable data transfer. Individual sensors publish data to a broker, and multiple ‘clients’ can subscribe to receive that data from the broker.

MQTT delivers data with a very low overhead by using a binary format that minimizes message size. You can also choose varying levels of ‘QoS’ – Quality of Service – which allows you to speed up or slow down message delivery, and increase / decrease the certainty of the message being delivered. Basically, fast = less reliable delivery, and slow = very reliable delivery. All of this means your device is using TCP/IP very efficiently and therefore will consume less data.

Among the criticisms of MQTT are security concerns – it doesn’t include a defined security mechanism, relying instead on the underlying network’s security – and a lack of built-in error handling. It’s worth noting that a number of companies working with MQTT have built platforms to manage these specific concerns, including Ground Control’s own Satellite IoT Gateway.

4. Look at a Message-based Option Instead

However efficient your application layer – and MQTT is very efficient – IP, whether UDP or TCP enabled, is still relatively overhead-heavy. If you can avoid using IP altogether, you can further minimize the volume of data delivered, and in doing so, spend less money on airtime, while keeping your battery powered device running longer.

In the cellular industry, this is called (very logically) Non IP Data Delivery (NIDD), and it’s a message-based transmission protocol. With messaging, 100% of the data that is transmitted can contain useful application-related information, and the transmission lasts only as long as it takes to send that data. Compared to IP, it’s like the difference between a text message and a phone call; NIDD is the text message, and IP is the phone call – the latter delivers real time, two-way communication, but is more resource-hungry.

In the satellite industry, a similar principle has been operated very successfully for over 20 years – message-based transmissions that are sent either at predefined intervals, or when requested, or when there has been an ‘event’. Iridium’s Short Burst Data (SBD) and Iridium Messaging Transport (IMT), plus Inmarsat’s IsatData Pro (IDP) are all message-based.

It’s an extremely efficient way to use satellite airtime: send only what you need, when you need it, with no costly overhead. It does present a data compression (or compaction) challenge for developers: the message sizes are minute, with SBD sending just 320 bytes, and receiving 270 bytes. That can take some creativity to work with – but necessity is the mother of invention! Our SBD-based tracking devices convey date, time, position, altitude, course, speed, battery percentage, temperature, precision in just 17 bytes.

Iridium Messaging Transport – a Game-Changer?

Some of these size restrictions were lifted in late 2022 when Iridium launched IMT. This is still a message-based platform but it allows messages to be sent of up to 100 KB, a vast increase on the previously available options. This allows you to send compressed images and multiple sensors’ data, and so opens the door to message-based transmissions for far more use cases than was previously possible.

Formatting Your Data for a Message-Based Transmission

If you use SBD, you can transmit your data as either ASCII or Binary messages in packets of up to 340 bytes, while receiving packets of up to 270 bytes. Depending on your service provider, you can then deliver messages to your application using a wide variety of protocols. Ground Control’s customers gain access to Cloudloop Data, which supports our HTTP Webhook API, email or integration with public cloud services like AWS SQS. You can find all of the Cloudloop Data documentation here.

If you decide to use IMT, great news: our engineering team have created a Satellite IoT Gateway which allows you to transmit your data using MQTT, but taking advantage of the cost- and power-benefits of the message-based transmission.

MQTT plus IMT Data Transfer Diagram

This system uses the RockREMOTE family of satellite IoT hardware. As per the diagram, you can communicate with RockREMOTE using MQTT, and it will transmit the data via IMT, managing the connection, message queuing, retries etc. automatically. It’s then reconstituted on to a secure, cloud-based MQTT broker which you can connect to your MQTT client or library, allowing your cloud application to consume the messages.

Why Would You Use Anything Else?

The main drawback is that, simply, IP-based communication is more common, so if your remote systems – sensors, gateways etc. – utilize IP, you’ll need to do some engineering work to switch to messaging.

Here at Ground Control, we’re invested in making sure our customers use the most cost-effective means of reliably and securely communicating with their remote assets. If your application or protocol expects an interactive, two-way IP connection (i.e. SSH, SFTP, TCP/IP sockets, web browsing etc.), then something like Iridium Certus 100 or Inmarsat BGAN M2M is probably the best fit.

If, however, you’re using MQTT, you can explore IMT; and if you have very small data requirements, you can unlock the most affordable solutions available. We’re here to help, so get in touch if you have any questions about this post, or you’d like some impartial advice.

Can We Help?

If you have a remote data transfer challenge, we would love to help you solve it. Our expertise, in-house hardware, Cloudloop platform and long-standing relationships with satellite network operators and hardware providers gives us the means to tackle challenges with creativity.

We’re not invested in selling you a specific product or connections, just the best solution for your needs. If you prefer to speak to someone directly, call us on +44 (0) 1452 751940 (Europe, Asia, Africa) or +1.805.783.4600 (North and South America).


    Required Field

    Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drones are transforming logistics. The diverse applications range from delivering medicines to people in remote locations, to monitoring offshore wind platforms to identify and communicate possible hazards.

    The cost-saving advantages are clear; a drone is less expensive to operate than a manned vehicle, and it’s also safer. Historically, drones have been used in areas that are harder to reach by people. They’re harder to reach because they’re remote: out at sea, on an island, in the mountains or in the desert. This often comes with a side order of weather, radiation and elevation hazards. While a UAV might be negatively affected by these conditions, it’s obviously preferable to put a machine at risk rather than a human!

    But drone operation is not without its challenges, chief among them piloting beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Without this capability, drones have to remain within sight of the operator, which limits the viability of most commercial applications. To operate safely BVLOS in non-segregated airspace (i.e. airspace shared by manned aircraft), drones must be able to detect and avoid other airspace users, reliably communicate with all stakeholders (the remote pilot, plus other aircraft and ground control), comply with relevant air traffic control regulations, and adapt to changing situations.

    Certification is currently managed on a case-by-case basis, and can take years. Satellite network operator Iridium recently published a white paper calling for a Minimum Equipment List (MEL) that, if adhered to, would allow drone operators to fast-track certification and operate safely in designated airspace. In the meantime, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is working on a regulatory framework that will enable specific category BVLOS operations in non-segregated airspace by 2026.

    Until these initiatives bear fruit, scaled drone operations will continue to take place within well-defined and controlled operating areas, reducing the risk of conflict with other aircraft. For example, the newly implemented European Standard Scenario (STS) allows drone operators to skip the EASA’s risk assessment and authorisation process by restricting altitude, flight paths and operational hours. Both pilots and the drones must meet certain standards, which include failsafes for communication: you must be able to reestablish a data link in the event that it fails, or else be able to remotely terminate the flight (source).

    Communication with drones operating BVLOS

    Where available, drone operators will use airborne VHF / UHF / L-Band radio, or some form of cellular connectivity to communicate with their drones. But these radio frequencies may suffer from congestion, security challenges and regulatory limits. As many drones are used in unpopulated areas, cellular may simply not be an option. So connection redundancy is an increasingly important element of BVLOS operations.

    This is where LEO – Low Earth Orbit – satellite communication comes into play. Satellites launched into Low Earth Orbit are closer to the Earth than their geostationary counterparts. This has important implications for drone operators, because the latency – the time it takes a message to be sent to the drone from the operator, and received (or vice versa) – is reduced from c. two seconds to less than one second.

    As this diagram shows, very few satellites are needed to cover huge swathes of Earth if the satellite is far enough away from it, but satellites in Low Earth Orbit cover only a small portion of the Earth’s surface. Multiple LEO satellites are needed for global coverage, and the first – and to date only – globally accessible satellite network is Iridium. This is why Iridium is so often the choice for UAV manufacturers looking to add failover communication to their drones.

    Iridium offers multiple airtime options for connecting to their satellites, from Certus 700 (700 Kbps, fast enough to support live video broadcasts) through to Short Burst Data (packet-based data which sends 270 / 340 bytes per message). Short Burst Data (SBD) is ideal as a failover connection; with SBD, operators can get position, altitude and speed, and can return basic commands such as ‘go to the nearest rally point’, ‘go home’ or ‘terminate flight’.

    SBD is lightweight, low power consuming, and meets most SWaP requirements for UAVs. It offers a secure and reliable connection to the drone to make it less vulnerable to hacking, and safe to pilot within controlled operating areas.

    Satellite-orbits-illustrated-3
    Elonda and Scotty visit Zipline

    Our team visiting Zipline in late 2023

    Supported by satellite IoT connectivity, important work is already taking place. Our customer Zipline is using SBD as the failover communication method for its Zips: autonomous aircraft that are being used to deliver prescriptions, groceries, vaccines, livestock supplies and more.

    Very recently, Zipline was cited in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine, noting that its method of delivering vaccines aerially to more isolated parts of Ghana has improved clinical outcomes and prevented disease among children.

    In fact, it’s estimated that Zipline delivery has saved an estimated 727 lives in the Western-North Region by enabling 15,000 children to access vaccines who would not previously have been able to.

    Popular Youtuber Mark Rober filmed his experience at Zipline, and it’s well worth a watch to learn more about this incredible operation.

    To deliver vital chemotherapy drugs to patients on the Isle of Wight, UK-based Skylift UAV built an autonomous eVTOL (electric, vertical take-off and landing) aircraft which can fly for 1.5 hours on a single charge, with a maximum speed of 100 Mph. In BVLOS configuration, it can travel up to 100 Km, depending on the payload.

    The drones are autonomous, but monitored by Skylift’s safety pilots who can take control of the drone at any time. As the drone travels BVLOS, and across a body of water (the Solent), it’s essential that the pilots have two reliable means of communication with the drone at all times. The Skylift UAV team chose the RockBLOCK 9603 to deliver SBD connectivity in addition to aviation-grade L-Band radio to ensure that irrespective of the drone’s location, connectivity is guaranteed.

    RockBLOCK allows them to send and receive data from the aircraft, and is part of the robust communications package with which all Skylift drones are equipped. It’s also the final line of defence for mission success.

    RockBLOCK-used-in-UAV-2

    Would you like to know more?

    If you're building a drone and you're looking for a failover communication method, we can certainly help. If your requirements are more data-hungry than simple commands - perhaps you need to be able to transmit imagery, for example - speak to our team to find out what options are available to you.

    We have over 20 years' experience in satellite connectivity, and specialise in IoT and tracking applications. We're standing by to ensure you get the service you need.
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    With their reliable, secure and global connectivity, satellites have been instrumental in military communications for over half a century. Applications have covered everything from surveillance to operation support, and monitoring personnel to facilitating mobile command centers. A 2022 report revealed that the government and defense sector accounted for a staggering 42% of the $78.22 billion global satellite communication market. Looking ahead, the global military communication market is projected to reach $54.11 billion by 2029, driven by advancing technologies, including the Military Internet of Things (MIoT).

    Throughout history, military personnel have relied on secure and dependable channels to transmit vital information across vast distances. Satellites have played a transformative role in revolutionizing military communications, empowering rapid data transfer, real-time intelligence gathering, and precise targeting. To fully grasp the significance and influence of military satellite communications on the defense industry, it’s essential to delve into its evolutionary journey.

    Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program (IDCSP)

    Official efforts to create a military communications satellite started in 1960 and since then, the United States has relied largely on four different satellite constellations to deliver timely, reliable communications. The Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program (IDCSP) created the Pentagon’s first near-geosynchronous communications system – the Initial Defense Satellite Communication System (IDSCS). The first satellite of this constellation was launched in 1966, and by July 1967 consisted of 19 satellites in total. These satellites enabled the transfer of high-resolution photographs during the Vietnam War, allowing for near real-time battlefield analysis.

    Defense Satellite Communications System II (DSCS II) and DSCS III

    Subsequently, constellations Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) network holds a significant position within military satellite communications today – welcoming a new era of capabilities and flexibility. First, each WGS satellite offers more SATCOM capacity than the entire DSCS constellation, providing a quantum leap in communications capacity.

    Recognizing the system’s potential, in 2012 the WGS network expanded internationally, attracting partner countries including Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. According to Heidi Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, these collaborations aimed to enhance interoperability, bolster trust, and increase capabilities and capacity for all partners.

    The WGS system operates through three principal segments: Space (satellites), Control (operators), and Terminal (users). The space segment consists of 10 cost-effective, high-throughput Ka- and X-band satellites; controlled and managed by the USSF Space Delta 8’s 4th Space Operations Squadron and 53rd Space Operations Squadron. The ground segment boasts thousands of tactical SATCOM terminals. Today the system provides worldwide, high-capacity communications for various government agencies, the Department of Defense (DOD), international partners, and NATO.

    The WGS network is a critical part of the US military’s communications infrastructure, but it’s important to note that it is not the only network they use. The US military utilizes a variety of other networks, including the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).

    Satellite Military Communications Today: Introducing United States Space Force

    The United States Space Force (USSF) was officially established in December 2019, when President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 into law. With a mission to “secure our Nation’s interests in, from, and to space”, the USSF became the sixth branch of the U.S. military.

    The establishment of the United States Space Force had been proposed and discussed for several years prior, with many recognizing the growing importance of space within the larger context of military and national security concerns. Its creation consolidated satellite acquisition, budget and workforce, across more than 60 organizations enabling a more efficient, effective service for space operations.

    One of the early successes of the Space Force was its role in providing early warnings of missile strikes against U.S. troops. Most recently, in August 2023, the USSF formed a new combative unit the 75th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron (ISRS). The ISRS unit was formed with a clear mission: targeting adversary satellites, ground stations, and counter-space forces that can disrupt satellite systems during conflicts.

    Russia and China, possessing ground-based anti-satellite weaponry, both pose significant threats to the WGS. Additionally, they’re developing a “peaceful” spacecraft, designed to reduce orbital debris. However, this “peaceful” spacecraft could, in theory, dismantle U.S. satellites, siphon fuel, and damage components including antennae and solar panels, raising concerns regarding the true intentions and implications for space security.

    The Future of Military Satellite Communications

    In the ever-evolving landscape of military satellite communications, the demand for robust and widespread connectivity is surging. As Mike Tierney, industry analyst at Velos puts it – “the one thing that is always needed is more comm… We never have enough comm to get after what we need to do. We need more comm to support the fight.” Notably, the government and defense sector’s increasing reliance on satellite communications, driven by the transformation of operational environments and a growing dependence on sensor data and ISR platforms, further propels this growth. This shift is evident in the escalating demand for High Throughput Satellite (HTS) capacity to meet the evolving requirements of government and military applications.

    Charting the Course of Military Satellite Communications

    1. Security: Safeguarding the Final Frontier
    2. The Future Hub of Space Operations
    3. Combination of Commercial and Owned Communications

     

    Security: Safeguarding the Final Frontier

    As satellite reliance grows, security becomes not only paramount but also twofold. First, the war in Ukraine underscored satellite systems’ vulnerability to cyber warfare. In February 2022, a cyberattack disrupting Viasat’s satellite communications network was attributed to Russia’s military. Using wiper malware, the attack “bricked” KA-SAT modems across Europe, impacting tens of thousands of users, including Ukraine’s military. With cyber attacks becoming integral to military arsenals, the imperative for a robust defense strategy intensifies.

    Second, the physical security of satellites demands attention. China’s pursuit of satellites with on-orbit repair capabilities raises concerns, as some could double as weapons. Similarly, Russia is developing laser weapons to target adversary satellites. DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) robotic arm, set to launch in 2024, aims to repair satellites in geosynchronous orbit and could serve as “bodyguards” against threats. Safeguarding satellites requires a comprehensive approach, addressing both cyber vulnerabilities and physical defense mechanisms.

    The Future Hub of Space Operations

    Beyond Space Force, plans for a military space station are underway. The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is soliciting proposals for an autonomous orbital outpost, laying the foundation for potential human habitation and docking with manned spacecraft. The DIU envisions the outpost supporting diverse functions, from microgravity experimentation to logistics and training. While its primary goal is currently experimentation, the solicitation hints at broader ambitions, including a military presence in geosynchronous orbit.

    Combination of commercial and owned communications

    The war in Ukraine also highlighted the agility and responsiveness of commercial satellites, particularly in critical infrastructure support and imaging during conflict. Commercial providers like SpaceX’s Starlink played pivotal roles. Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein emphasizes a pragmatic approach: “buy what we can and only build what we must.”

    However, in allocating nearly $13 billion over the next five years, the Pentagon signals a continued commitment to the importance of government-owned capabilities. As Mike Tierney from Velos notes: “this budget doesn’t reflect a pivot to a greater adoption of commercial capabilities in lieu of government-owned and operated capabilities.” Suggesting that the delicate balance between security, innovation, and pragmatic resource utilization is steering the future trajectory of military satellite communications.

    Need a Defense Communications Solution?

    At Ground Control our dedication to supporting defense and government organizations reflects our ongoing efforts to evolve with the dynamic landscape of the defense sector. As a trusted partner, we are committed to offering the highest level of service, straightforward procurement processes, and around-the-clock support.

    So if you're looking for reliable and cutting-edge satellite communication solutions tailored to the unique requirements of the defense industry, contact our team today to explore how our solutions can enhance your communication capabilities and contribute to the success of your mission.

    Construction companies operate a diverse range of costly machinery and tools crucial for project success. Delays in locating or maintaining these assets can lead to disruptions, missed deadlines, and tripled costs due to unplanned maintenance.

    LoJack‘s recent study pinpoints the most stolen equipment as wheeled or tracked loaders, towables, excavators, trailers, and utility vehicles. The National Equipment Register underscores the financial impact, averaging $30,000 per theft incident. In short, asset tracking is integral for risk mitigation in construction.

    However, traditional asset tracking methods often prove inadequate for the demands of the construction industry, which, according to McKinsey, has historically lagged in digitisation. Relying on manual record-keeping and periodic inspections, firms have limited real-time visibility into assets’ location and their status. Manual tracking, often paper-based or spreadsheet-driven, becomes time-consuming and error-prone in the fast-paced construction environment, where assets frequently relocate. Inaccurate, untimely tracking data then challenges resource optimisation, leading to under-utilisation, and increased inefficiencies, and leaves construction sites vulnerable to theft and unauthorised usage.

    Satellite connectivity emerges as a crucial solution for construction asset tracking, particularly considering the diverse and often remote locations of building projects. Only about 15% of the Earth’s surface is covered by terrestrial networks, and construction sites are notorious for poor cellular service. In remote or challenging terrains, where theft and accidents are exacerbated, satellite connectivity becomes key for effective asset tracking and monitoring.

    Benefits of Satellite Asset Tracking

    PROMOTING WORKER SAFETY

    Satellite asset tracking is crucial for ensuring safety on construction sites, where inherent risks demand proactive measures. By offering real-time location insights, this technology acts as a guardian, facilitating swift responses in emergencies. Improved safety is evident as satellite tracking provides constant information about the location of workers and equipment, preventing accidents and ensuring a secure environment. So much so, that a recent study revealed a remarkable 14% reduction in accident costs for construction companies after implementing asset tracking solutions.

    Moreover, specialised alerts on personal tracking devices, such as the RockSTAR, contribute to enhanced worker safety. For instance, the timer alert allows workers to set a specific time interval. If there is no further interaction with the device within that time, the RockSTAR automatically sends a ‘timer alert’ to the server or first responders. This feature adds an extra layer of protection by ensuring timely response in situations where immediate action might be required.

    Lone Construction Worker

    COUNTERING EQUIPMENT THEFT

    The construction industry faces a substantial issue — equipment theft, costing an estimated $1 billion annually. A recent survey underscores the severity, with 21% of industry professionals reporting weekly incidents of theft. Beyond financial losses, these thefts lead to project delays, shutdowns, and pilferage of raw materials.

    Fleet tracking emerges as a powerful deterrent against the risk of asset theft and unauthorised use. Any unauthorised movement can trigger immediate alerts, facilitating prompt intervention, and enabling teams to alert authorities to the location of stolen assets. This also increases the chances of recovery.

    Unattended construction machinery

    STREAMLINING OPERATIONS

    Investments in heavy machinery and fleet vehicles constitute a substantial portion of operational costs. Satellite fleet tracking software serves as a powerful tool, centralising data and offering nearly real-time insights into asset utilisation from any location. This efficiency translates to precise payroll and cost projections, providing construction companies with accurate work times and utilisation reports.

    Moreover, asset tracking facilitates efficient inventory management by supplying accurate data on tool and material availability and usage. Additionally, asset tracking systems aid construction firms in regulatory compliance by maintaining precise records of equipment usage, maintenance, and inspections — a crucial aspect for audits and compliance adherence.

    Multiple machines on construction site

    EQUIPMENT UTILISATION MONITORING

    Satellite fleet tracking plays a pivotal role in Equipment Utilisation Monitoring (EUM) for the construction sector. With 45% of construction businesses identifying resource management as a challenge, real-time visibility through satellite tracking could prove valuable. Project managers gain instant insights into the location and status of construction assets, facilitating optimal deployment and utilisation across various worksites.

    This not only enhances worksite productivity but also addresses the challenges of delivering projects on time and within budget, making satellite fleet tracking a key component for effective equipment utilisation monitoring in the construction industry.

    Digger filling soil in to Dumper Truck

    PROACTIVE MAINTENANCE

    Satellite tracking enables firms to conduct proactive maintenance, offering substantial benefits such as cost savings from reduced unplanned equipment breakdowns and minimised repair expenses.

    The high adoption rate, with 76% of construction companies utilising fleet tracking and 73% deeming it extremely valuable, underscores its efficacy. The advantages include reduced downtime, improved equipment reliability and availability, lowered long-term maintenance costs, enhanced safety, and increased equipment longevity. This technology facilitates a proactive approach to maintenance, ensuring construction companies achieve optimal performance, mitigate risks, and realise substantial financial savings in the long run.

    Orange digger and blue sky

    Satellite Trackers for the Construction Industry

    Meet the Iridium Edge Solar

    The Iridium Edge Solar is a great choice for those in the construction sector due to its ruggedised, solar-powered, and two-way communications capabilities. Specifically designed for long-term deployment in remote areas, it boasts remote configuration capabilities and military-grade packaging, making it an ideal solution for asset management in challenging construction environments. With real-time GPS tracking and local wireless sensor and communication capabilities via Bluetooth, it provides comprehensive visibility into the location and performance of construction equipment.

    Its 10-year deployable lifespan aligns perfectly with the extended timelines often associated with construction projects. By utilising Iridium Edge Solar, construction companies can optimise the efficiency, safety, and productivity of their sites. The device facilitates real-time tracking of equipment locations, proactive monitoring of performance to identify potential issues, and immediate alerts to operators if the equipment is being used in a risky manner. Additionally, it enables data collection for refining safety procedures and training.
     
     

    Iridium-Edge-Solar-landscape

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    Not enough thought is given to the practicalities of Santa’s epic sleigh ride, in our view. Living at the North Pole, how does Santa receive all of the emailed letters he’s sent every year? How many carrots does a reindeer actually need to fly around the world? How does Santa avoid flying through the worst of the winter storms in the Northern Hemisphere? And how on earth is he sending “LIVE Christmas Eve updates from the Reindeer and me!” (https://twitter.com/OfficialSanta)?

    It’s obvious when you think about it. Only satellite connectivity allows Santa to remain connected wherever he goes on the globe, checking in with his team and Mrs Claus, maintaining the reindeers’ health, and ensuring that every child on the nice list gets a gift. And, in this instance, it’s Iridium satellite connectivity, with its coverage at the polar regions being a must-have!

    Without taking any of the magic away from the most wonderful time of the year, our infographic lays bare the communication challenges that Father Christmas solves with portable satellite internet and satellite tracking devices.

    Christmas 2021 Infographic

     

    To echo the sentiment of the infographic, we wish all of our customers, staff, and website visitors a safe, happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.

    Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more about Santa’s enviable satellite set up, here are the links: MCD-MissionLINK | RockBLOCK 9603 | RockAIR | RockSTAR

    Can we help you with your connectivity challenges?

    From data buoys to camel tracking, if you have assets in a remote area, we can help you communicate with them. We design and build all of the satellite IoT and tracking devices Santa uses in this infographic, and we work with the leading satellite network operators to ensure our customers get the best service for their requirements.

    If you would like impartial, expert advice on the most cost-effective, reliable, secure and efficient means of transmitting your remote data, get in touch!

    When you’re dealing with an emergency – threat to life from extreme weather, a terrorist incident or infrastructure damage from an earthquake – you have to be able to communicate with your fellow first responders. But what happens if your normal communication channels are compromised through network congestion or infrastructure damage? It’s not something you can just do without.

    That’s why so many first responders have satellite communications equipment as a primary or backup means of providing location data, making calls, sending messages, accessing Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), viewing drone footage, and monitoring local TV news coverage. With no dependency on terrestrial infrastructure, high reliability and high security, satellite is the ideal communications channel in an emergency situation.

    First responders have a good problem to solve, now, in that there are many more options for satellite communication equipment now than five years ago. This additional competition has brought costs down for both hardware and airtime, which is great news for Emergency Management Agencies. The only drawback is knowing what hardware to choose for each potential scenario.

    That’s why we’ve put together this simple infographic; to help you navigate the plethora of choices and make the right decision for your needs. We’re here to help, too; we have 20 years of experience in delivering reliable, robust, affordable and secure communications equipment. We design and build our own hardware, but also partner with trusted manufacturers so we can match you with the right device and airtime service. Just call or email us for objective, expert help at any time.

    Satellite communication equipment for emergency responders infographic

    Get some expert advice

    We don't have a vested interest in selling you a particular product or airtime service. We will provide you with objective, expert advise on the best product and airtime for your Emergency Management Agency needs.

    If you'd like to talk through your requirements and get our feedback, just call or email us, or complete the form, and we'll connect you with one of our team right away.

    Iridium RUDICS (Router-Based Unrestricted Digital Internetworking Connectivity) was devised in the early 2000s as a means of allowing remote devices to connect to internet-connected servers using TCP/IP. The previous system, dial-up data, had a hefty overhead every time the service was activated, as a series of checks needed to take place before data could be transmitted.

    RUDICS improved upon this by connecting the call to a predefined IP address, dispensing with the checks, and making connection almost instantaneously. This had the advantage of requiring less power at the remote transmitter end, lowering latency, and generally being a more efficient means of accessing the Iridium system.

    RUDICS was – and still is – used for solutions that have multiple remote units in the field reporting back to an end point. Data buoys, water level stations, Unmanned Autonomous Vessels (UAVs), geotechnical and structural monitoring solutions, weather stations and many more applications have relied upon RUDICS for two-way communication for close to two decades.

    Iridium RUDICS applications banner

    In 2019, Iridium launched its (at the time of writing) newest satellite capability, Iridium Certus. Leveraging the advanced technology on the latest generation of Iridium satellites, Iridium Certus is available in three speed classes: Certus 100, which is intended for IoT applications; Certus 200, which is good for basic internet and voice, and Certus 700, which delivers the fastest L-band internet broadband speeds currently available, up to 704 kbps.

    When we’re comparing RUDICS to Certus, we’re exclusively talking about Iridium Certus 100. They’re both aimed at the same use case of connecting remote devices to servers using TCP/IP (although Certus 100 has an alternative option here – more on that later).

    What are the key differences between RUDICS and Certus 100?

    Certus 100 has faster data speeds

    RUDICS transmits data at 2.4 Kbps; Certus 100 transmits data at 22 Kbps, and the downlink is 88 Kbps – almost 40 times faster. This means that you can transmit more data, more frequently.

    Costs / billing mechanism

    RUDICS is charged per minute, rather than the Certus 100 charging model of per byte of data transmitted. This makes RUDICS more expensive than Certus 100 for many applications; it’s possible, even probable, that you’re paying for connectivity time you don’t need.

    RUDICS is circuit-switched

    RUDICS is circuit-switched, which means the ‘call’ between the remote device and the server has to be maintained. It’s not fault tolerant if your view of the satellite is temporarily obscured, or the server goes offline.

    Certus 100 is packet-switched

    Certus 100 is a packet-switched network, sending data in small and optimised packets which are much less likely to be ‘dropped’ mid-transmission.

    In our view, there are very few instances where Certus 100 will not present a more reliable, cost-effective and scalable solution for remote data transfer than RUDICS.

    It doesn’t stop there: while Certus 100 supports TCP/IP-based connectivity, it also offers users the ability to send data via Iridium Messaging Transport (IMT). This is a message-based transmission protocol which allows you to send and receive messages of up to 100,000 bytes.

    This could facilitate additional sensor readings, greater data resolution, photographs or even low-resolution video. Just as importantly, sending data via IMT will substantially lower the cost of data transmission because there’s no TCP/IP overhead in a message-based service; you’re only billed for your (successfully delivered) data payload.

    Get in touch

    If you’re currently using RUDICS, let’s talk: based on your current data usage we’ll be able to advise if you can save money by switching to Certus 100, and we can work through any technical implications of doing so.

    We’ve been Iridium partners since 2005, so we’re well placed to provide you with an experienced, objective perspective on the right connectivity solution for you.

    Dams and hydropower facilities have long been attack targets, with a history that spans wartime conflicts. During World War II, the British Royal Air Force formed a group of pilots known as the Dambusters. Their mission: to destroy critical dams in Germany; considered ideal targets due to the significant disruption they could inflict on both water and power supplies.

    In 2023 however, the landscape has somewhat shifted. The global cost of cybercrime is projected to soar to $8 trillion. Due to the immense value of data and the potential for widespread disruption, energy and utility companies continue to be prime targets.

    Today, the hydropower and dam industries, like many others, stand at a crossroads where innovation and cybersecurity converge. Even a seemingly minor misstep, for instance, untimely dam operations, can unleash havoc upon nearby towns, significantly hampering supply chains and inflicting widespread destruction upon adjacent regions.

    Types of cyber threats: State-sponsored and hobby

    Cyber threats can be split into two main types. The first is state-sponsored cyber attacks. Those that are planned and funded by governments or nation-states. Kevin Curran, professor of cyber security at Ulster University, recently described cyberattacks by the UK’s enemies as becoming “relentless”. As an example, the Cozy Bear and LockBit hacker groups are believed to be associated with one or more intelligence agencies of Russia, the latter having known links to Russian nationals.

    Secondly, hobby-hacker attacks. These hackers are usually motivated by either monetary gain or a wish to cause mischief. One of the most notorious examples is the Colonial Pipeline attack. The company paid the hacker group known as DarkSide 75 bitcoin ($4.4 million) to obtain a decryption key which enabled the company’s IT staff to regain control of its systems.

    Growing intricacies of infrastructure create more vulnerabilities

    The rising integration of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors within the hydropower and dam sector has brought greater infrastructure complexity, creating more vulnerabilities for several reasons:

    • Increasing number of attack surfaces: Every device connected to the network becomes a potential target for attackers. The more IoT devices, sensors and so on that are introduced, the further the range for potential attacks is increased.
    • Device security: The substantial volume and often remote location of IoT devices increases the difficulty of keeping firmware and software up-to-date. Moreover, their physical dispersion can expose them to theft and tampering.
    • Lack of standardisation: Different manufacturers exercise varying levels of security. The lack of standardisation can make it challenging to implement consistent security practices across all devices.
    • Legacy systems: Many critical infrastructure systems still rely on older, legacy technology that may not have been designed with modern cybersecurity standards in mind. These systems are often more vulnerable to attacks.
    • Interoperability challenges: Ensuring that different IoT devices and systems work together can be challenging. This can lead to security compromises to enable connectivity, potentially weakening overall security.
    • Network visibility: Depending on the network’s connectivity and device location, a 360 view can be difficult to achieve and maintain, making it more difficult to detect and respond to cyber attacks.
    • Data privacy: IoT devices often collect and transmit sensitive data. Inadequate data protection measures can lead to data breaches, compromising privacy and potentially providing valuable information to attackers.

     

    The convergence of operation and information technology

    Traditionally operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) data streams remained distinct, which had the benefit of keeping OT systems ‘air gapped’ from the internet, and therefore at limited risk from hacking. As technology unifies OT and IT, it brings both efficiencies and risks. The efficiencies are numerous: by combining SCADA data with the systems that manage physical infrastructure, you can autonomously optimise performance.

    But because OT systems haven’t been targets in the past, they’re not always built with security in mind. Passwords are often left at the default character string; remote monitoring for suspicious behaviour hasn’t been implemented; patches are not implemented as frequently as they should be.

    In this evolving landscape, it’s critical that security teams are aware of these vulnerabilities and take steps to address them, safeguarding critical infrastructure in the hydropower and dam sector.

     

    Lessons from successful cyber attacks

    A successful cyber attack involved Queensland’s Sunwater, a water supplier targeted in a nine-month-long breach. The breach, occurring between August 2020 and May 2021, exploited vulnerabilities in an older system version, granting unauthorised access to customer information stored on their web server. While the hackers didn’t compromise financial or customer data, they left behind suspicious files, redirecting visitor traffic to an online platform.

    The subsequent Water 2021 report underscored the importance of immediate action to rectify ongoing security weaknesses, emphasising software updates, stronger passwords, and vigilant network traffic monitoring as crucial safeguards.

    Sunwater owns and manages 19 dams across regional Queensland, including Fairbairn Dam in Central Queensland.(ABC Rural Meg Bolton)

    In another notable case, the LockerGoga ransomware group inflicted significant damage upon Norsk Hydro. Norsk Hydro was forced to shut down multiple production facilities, impacting 35,000 employees, across 40 countries and resulting in approximately $71 million in financial losses. The cyberattack stemmed from an employee unknowingly opening an infected email three months prior.

    Norsk Hydro’s response, however, garnered accolades. The company chose not to pay the ransom, instead engaging with Microsoft’s cybersecurity team to restore operations and remained committed to transparency throughout the ordeal. As Torstein Gimnes, Corporate Information Security Officer emphasised – “You need to rebuild your infrastructure to be safe and be sure that the attacker is not still part of it.”

    An immediate IT shutdown was implemented to prevent further spread and only trusted backups facilitated by Microsoft’s team were used. Following the attack, a commitment to employee training, multi-factor authentication, regular updates, and resilient backup solutions were introduced to bolster security.

    These cyber attacks underscore the importance of proactive measures and resilience in the face of evolving threats and crucially, they highlight the importance of engaging and sharing knowledge between peers. As Eric Doerr, General Manager of the Microsoft Security Response Center puts it – “When companies do this, it makes us all better and makes the attackers work harder.”
     

    Ensuring the security of critical components in hydropower and dam facilities

    Assess cyber risks

    1. Identify critical assets: Which assets are most important within the facility/network?
    2. Assess potential risks: What are the potential threats to the identified critical assets? Data breaches, malware attacks, etc.
    3. Prioritise risks: Which potential risks are more likely to occur and which would have the most significant impact? By prioritising risks, companies can focus resources accordingly.

    Mitigate cyber risks

    1. Safeguard data

    Ensuring data security encompasses data encryption and authentication protocols, coupled with monitoring and restricting physical access to facilities. While firewalls and VPNs serve as effective safeguards when data traverses public internet infrastructure, companies can mitigate these risks entirely with the deployment of private lines or a secure private satellite network like TSAT – designed specifically for SCADA data.

    In addition, as mentioned above, recent trends show organisations gravitating toward a unified data stream for both IT and OT. Companies wishing to do this must ensure they have appropriate control system boundary protection to prevent unauthorised access, for example, SD-WAN coupled with a next generation firewall.

    Safeguarding-data-diagram
    Enhance physical security

    2. Secure physical access

    Physical security measures not only deter potential threats but also serve as the first line of defence against cyberattacks. By strictly limiting and monitoring who can physically access a facility, organisations can significantly reduce the risk of malicious actors gaining direct entry to sensitive systems and data.

    Further, when physical access is under surveillance, companies can identify unauthorised access or unusual activity, allowing them to swiftly intervene and halt a hacker’s progress.

    3. Prioritise firmware and software updates

    Software and firmware updates are essential tools in addressing known vulnerabilities, strengthening system resilience, and ensuring the integrity of critical software components. By regularly applying updates, organisations stay ahead of cyber threats that often exploit outdated software to breach systems and steal sensitive information.

    Firmware updates for hardware devices, on the other hand, enhance device functionality and bolster security by patching potential vulnerabilities. Emphasising the importance of prompt updates and establishing a structured update management process is key. If your dam or hydropower facility is in a remote, unmanned location, ensure that you have the ability to remotely protect your infrastructure with over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates.

    Prioritise-firmware-updates
    Staff training for cyber security

    4. Staff training

    Human errors often open the door to cyber incidents, so it’s crucial organisations equip their employees with the latest cybersecurity knowledge. Early detection and response, facilitated by well-informed and vigilant employees, can prove instrumental in preventing breaches. A prime example is a vigilant staff member who thwarted an attempt to tamper with sodium hydroxide levels in Florida’s water supply last year.

    Moreover, robust incident response plans are essential. Employees must know how to contain incidents, restore systems, and investigate root causes. Ultimately organisations need to be confident that if their facility does experience a cyber attack, staff can react efficiently and effectively. Bolstered by continuous training, workshops, webinars, and the cultivation of a security-conscious culture, enhances cybersecurity resilience. It also promotes information sharing among peers, strengthening collective efforts to combat cyber threats.

    5. Redundancy and backup

    Redundancy and backup systems serve as critical safeguards against unforeseen vulnerabilities and disruptions within network infrastructure. By creating duplicate or alternative pathways for data transmission and network operations, redundancy measures ensure that even if a primary system or connection fails, there’s an immediate and seamless switch to a secondary, secure option. This not only mitigates the risk of single points of failure but also enhances the overall reliability of the system.

    One of our largest clients has satellite implemented as their third connectivity failover (cellular first, fibre second). Their satellite setup hasn’t failed once in 27 years and is the system they consider the most reliable. With the hydropower and dam sector increasingly reliant on interconnected digital systems, redundancy and backup solutions stand as formidable defences, ensuring continuous operations and protecting against potential cyber threats and disruptions.

    Redundancy-and-backup

    The above list is by no means exhaustive, but it does highlight a fundamental truth: In the constantly evolving landscape of cybersecurity, proactive measures are a necessity. Anticipating and addressing vulnerabilities before they become threats is pivotal to achieving and maintaining robust cybersecurity practices. If you would like to explore your connectivity and/or data security options with our experienced team, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing hello@groundcontrol.com.

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