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Inmarsat IoT & M2M Iridium Utilities & Renewables

July 24, 2023

Satellite IoT: transforming connectivity and security in the water industry

Satellite IoT is experiencing a major boom, with numerous new companies entering the market and big players like Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper making significant moves. This surge in satellite network operators is leading to rapid advancements and innovations. In this post, tailored for sensor manufacturers supporting the water and wastewater industry, we’ll delve into the current state of affairs, upcoming developments, and our predictions for the next five to ten years. Along the way, we’ll address some common misconceptions and separate hype from reality.

Satellite networks launched between 1965 and 2011

Satellite networks 1965 to 2011

This timeline showcases the launch dates of the established leaders in the satellite network industry. While they have been around for some time, it’s essential not to dismiss them as outdated. These companies have demonstrated their resilience and reliability over the years, consistently updating their networks to meet evolving demands. Together, they cater to a wide range of satellite internet applications, from Iridium’s specialized Short Burst Data for IoT to Viasat’s high-speed broadband service with speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

Satellite networks 2018 to 2023-4

In recent years, there has been a remarkable surge in companies building satellite networks, all opting for the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) configuration and utilizing what are known as “SmallSats.” These SmallSats (which we’re using here as a collective name for any satellite weighing less than 400 lbs) are compact, measuring between the size of a kitchen fridge to a Rubik’s cube. Their smaller size has played a crucial role in facilitating this growth, as launching a SmallSat into Low Earth Orbit is far more cost-effective compared to larger satellites (over 2,200 lbs) into geostationary orbit.

Furthermore, the increased number of new entrants can also be attributed to the significant reduction in satellite launch costs. Back in the 1980s, it cost around $85,000 per kilogram (about 2.2 lbs) to launch a satellite, but thanks to SpaceX, that cost has plummeted to just $1,000 per kilogram as of 2020 (source). This cost reduction has further fueled the expansion of the satellite industry.

About satellite orbit heights

Satellite connectivity relies on the orbit height of the satellites, and there are two primary types: Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary orbit.

Satellites in LEO are much closer to Earth compared to Geostationary satellites, resulting in significantly reduced data transmission times – usually less than 1 second. This low latency is crucial for real-time data transmission, ensuring that systems can operate smoothly and responsively.

However, one challenge with LEO satellites is that for real-time data transmission to work effectively, there must be a satellite overhead at the moment of transmission. In the case of Iridium, the most established LEO satellite constellation, that’s not an issue: there’s always one, two or three passing overhead at any time, wherever you are in the globe. However, newer entrants are likely to have coverage gaps, a challenge we’ll touch on in greater detail shortly.


What are the implications for water sensor manufacturers?

1. Lower Cost

With the rise of new satellite networks in LEO, the overall cost of establishing and maintaining these networks has reduced. As a result, operators have fewer costs to recover, leading to more competitive pricing for data transmission services. This cost reduction has forced established players to diversify their services to remain competitive.

For water sensor manufacturers, this lower cost of satellite connectivity is excellent news. In the past, the high expenses associated with satellite data transmission made certain use cases financially prohibitive. However, with the advent of more affordable satellite networks, cost is no longer a significant hindrance. Manufacturers can now capture data from remotely deployed sensors without worrying about the cost factor, making a wider range of applications economically viable.


Leak detection, Third Party Intrusion, broken wires, storm water ingress

Treatment Plants

Water levels and flows, energy consumption, water quality, equipment status


Water levels, precipitation, air and water temperature, relative humidity

2. Smaller antenna size

The size of the antenna and power requirements are directly related to the amount of data being transmitted: larger amounts of data necessitate larger antennas and more power. However, with the proliferation of satellites in Low Earth Orbit, sensor data can be efficiently transmitted using remarkably tiny antennas. For instance, the RockBLOCK 9603 employs a patch antenna measuring just 1″ (25mm) across to connect to the Iridium network.

These modern low-power-by-design modems, like the one used with the RockBLOCK 9603, can be powered by batteries for extended periods. The same applies to various devices connecting to the new LEO satellite networks.

RockBLOCK 9603 with zoom on patch antenna

3. The convergence of satellite and 5G

The next step in the evolution of Satellite IoT is the convergence of cellular and satellite networks. The telecommunications industry is working on several ideas that will enable seamless data transfer between these networks. 3GPP’s latest release – Release 17 – included technical specifications for direct-to-device 5G over satellite. This release also extended interoperability, Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), and network slicing to support Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs). A key application of this convergence is to extend the reach of 5G, which currently has limited coverage compared to its predecessors. If satellites can function as “cell towers” in space, it would unlock the full potential of 5G, providing global coverage from anywhere on the planet. Read more about this.

Challenges to watch out for

Despite the exciting advancements, there are some challenges to consider. Building a reliable satellite constellation takes time and investment, and many new entrants, including Starlink and Swarm, are still in the process of establishing their networks.

One significant challenge is high latency, where your device might not have an overhead satellite to send data to immediately, leading to delays in data transmission. The wait time can vary depending on the satellite network, with Swarm experiencing delays ranging from 2 minutes to 2 hours for North American users, while Iridium has faster parameters of 10 seconds to 15 minutes.

Coverage can also be spotty among new satellite networks. Only one company, Iridium, currently offers 100% global coverage, while other networks may have limited reach, especially in polar regions.

Congestion is another concern, where high demand overwhelms the network, leading to failed transmissions, higher costs due to data re-sending, and slower speeds during peak usage. Starlink, in particular, has faced congestion issues that are being addressed.

However, if your instruments or sensors are within the coverage of these networks, and you can manage receiving data once or twice a day, with the promise of improved speeds as more satellites are launched, then you have a wide array of choices available to you, at a low cost. It’s essential to evaluate these factors while considering satellite IoT solutions for your specific needs.

Our recommendations for water sensor satellite connectivity

For water utilities and critical national infrastructure, our top recommendations for satellite connectivity are established networks such as Eutelsat, Iridium, and Inmarsat. These networks have already garnered millions of subscribers and have demonstrated their ability to handle spikes in demand effectively. They also incorporate redundancy services, ensuring reliable and uninterrupted data transmission.

One of the key advantages of these established networks is their extensive coverage, providing connectivity to a wide geographical area. Additionally, they offer very low latency, enabling real-time data transmission critical for the smooth operation of water utility systems.

By choosing these well-established satellite networks, water utilities can benefit from proven reliability, robust coverage, and superior performance, making them ideal choices for mission-critical applications.

  • Low Earth Orbit
  • 100% global coverage
  • Network optimization and redundancy

  • Geostationary Orbit
  • 99.9% service availability
  • Merged with Viasat: huge scale

  • Geostationary Orbit
  • 1,200 employees
  • 40 years experience

What about data security?

“Water utilities are the third most targeted sector for hackers in the United States”
– Journal of Environmental Engineering

The rise of water terrorism is a concerning trend, particularly as access to clean and safe water becomes increasingly scarce. In 2022, hackers claimed to have gained access to the SCADA data of Thames Water in the UK, threatening to compromise the safety of drinking water. It was an amateurish attempt – they hacked a different company to the one they claimed, and didn’t, in fact, have access to SCADA data (read more).

However, this incident highlights the potential risks and vulnerabilities in the water infrastructure sector. There are state-sponsored cyber warfare units that possess significantly more capabilities, and if they were to target national infrastructure, the consequences could be severe.

Sending data via satellite is not entirely risk-free, but it provides a higher level of security compared to using public internet infrastructure. Intercepting data that travels from a sensor to a satellite and then back to a ground station is far more challenging for malicious actors compared to data transmitted over the internet. Furthermore, when the ground station is physically located on the premises, it creates an air-gapped solution, enhancing data security significantly.

One such private satellite network that offers exceptional security for transmitting mission-critical data is SCADASat. By leveraging private satellite networks like SCADASat, water utilities can add an extra layer of protection to their data, making it significantly more challenging for cyber attackers to compromise their systems. While no system is entirely immune to threats, private satellite networks offer a robust and secure solution for safeguarding critical data.

Private satellite networks illustrated

While SCADASat represents the highest level of security capabilities within satellite IoT, satellite data traffic, in general, is inherently secure, meeting stringent military and government security standards. This provides a solid foundation for safeguarding sensitive data.

At Ground Control, we have taken security to the next level by developing our own delivery network specifically designed for Iridium and Inmarsat traffic. This network allows us to have complete control over certified, state-of-the-art data paths, ensuring the secure delivery of traffic.

Our focus on security extends to our customers’ data as well. We offer optional public static IPs and fully configurable firewalls, providing additional layers of protection while efficiently moving data from point A to point B.

To conclude, satellite IoT has undergone a significant transformation in the last five years, with remarkable advancements across various aspects. Prices have decreased, transceivers have become smaller, power requirements have reduced, and data security has greatly improved.

With the upcoming launch of Amazon’s Kuiper satellite network in 2024, the pace of change in the satellite IoT industry is set to accelerate further. Rest assured, Ground Control is here to support you through these transformative times, helping you leverage the full potential of satellite IoT for your specific needs and ensuring the highest level of security for your data.

Would you like to know more?

Our team of experts is here to assist you in navigating the ever-changing landscape of satellite IoT. We provide expert recommendations, ensuring that the system you implement today remains viable and future-proof for the next 5, 10, or 15 years.

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