Most of us are familiar with the limitations of terrestrial networks. However, for those working as a field engineer or as part of an expedition team; who have been a competitor in a yacht race or taken part in military training; you’ll also know how important it is to overcome this limitation. Cellular connectivity only covers 15% of the globe and there are many reasons why someone may take the roads less travelled. For the purpose of this blog, the term remote personnel refers to anyone travelling outside cellular coverage regularly, or for an extended period of time – be that for work or leisure.

For both safety and well-being, it’s essential that remote personnel have access to two-way communication that functions both in and out of cellular range. Determining a tracking and communication plan will reduce the chance of accidents and ensure swift response times in the case of an emergency; and by encouraging the use of two-way notifications and alerts, deliver peace of mind. This is where Ground Control’s RockSTAR device can help.

Introducing the RockSTAR

The RockSTAR is a lightweight, rugged, handheld device that can be used to send and receive short messages (like SMS and short emails) and track GPS location, through the Iridium satellite network and back to Earth. Simply, if the unit has a clear view of the sky, it’ll deliver two-way communications and virtually real-time tracking, anywhere and everywhere.

RockSTAR-GPS

How do RockSTAR devices work?

Each RockSTAR unit houses an Iridium 9602 modem. This modem allows the device to leverage the Iridium Satellite network – using the ‘short burst data’ (SBD) service, to support location and messaging data transmission.

The RockSTAR can be set to ‘wake up’ and transmit your location anywhere between 15 seconds and once a day. It’ll obtain a position using the GPS satellite network, and then transmit that position back to Ground Control HQ using the Iridium satellite network. In 1-2 seconds, the position can then be visualised on our easy-to-use web-based system or automatically set up to relay this information direct to your application.

For example, if you’re a field technician working in a remote area, location data can be sent direct to whichever security tracking application your employer is using. What’s more, RockSTAR units have a great battery life. Even transmitting location data every 15 minutes, a device will last 3 weeks between charges.

In addition to SBD being relatively low cost, there are no annual contracts, delivering flexibility for those who only require a satellite device like the RockSTAR for a specific trip or project. In short, if you or your team don’t need to use a device for a month or more, there won’t be any monthly fee, simply pay ‘per month, per device’.

Additional RockSTAR features

Designed and built by our team, the RockSTAR satellite device has also evolved throughout the years to better meet customer needs. The form factor has noticeably contracted, with the current device standing at just 7″ (144mm); other developments have helped create a feature-packed handheld unit.

RockSTAR units can be used to send and receive short messages, including SMS and short emails to nominated groups. Groups are created and amended in the device’s settings and can include mobile phone numbers, email addresses and servers. Using the device itself, you can send pre-set messages or free text; the RockSTAR can also be paired with a mobile or tablet via bluetooth, enabling truly global two-way communications.

The RockSTAR unit is configured with a number of alert options; for full details please see our article on RockSTAR alerts. All six device buttons can be activated by a user in gloves and the main SOS function is initiated via the button at the bottom of the device. When pressed, the unit immediately transmits your location and pre-set emergency message to those nominated within the device’s first-responder group.

The RockSTAR unit can also be used for waypointing, so key points of interest or concern (in the case of wildland firefighting) can be marked while you’re out in the field, and then viewed on our web-based system.

RockSTAR diagram showcasing device features: GPS tracking, secure two-way messaging, alerts and waypointing, ruggedized

Common RockSTAR applications

Because the RockSTAR device is ruggedized and waterproof, with a great battery life, the applications are vast. Our RockSTAR customers aren’t just worldwide, they’re travelling by land, air and sea. Operating in some of the most remote and harsh environments on Earth. To demonstrate this range, we’ve collated some of the most common remote personnel use cases supported by our RockSTAR devices today.
 
 

MILITARY EXERCISE MONITORING

Military training exercises are often held in remote locations, under challenging conditions. This can place significant strain on soldiers, thus tracking services are often employed for peace of mind and if needed, timely, mission-critical response. Ground Control worked in partnership with JCSys to tailor the RockSTAR hardware and firmware to meet the very specific and stringent requirements of the UK’s Ministry of Defence. The result? A compact and durable device able to track soldiers in all weather and military attire, and pair with BLE heart rate monitors. Additionally, developer-friendly APIs meant JCSys were able to securely receive telemetry data and add the required context to support a safe training environment.
Military-personnel-in-snowy-conditions-GC-blog
KEEPING PILOTS & PASSENGERS CONNECTED IN EMERGENCIES

Many RockSTAR users are pilots and sailors - both often travelling outside mobile phone signal. The RockSTAR can provide peace of mind for family and fleet managers, delivering real-time location data. But it's also proven itself repeatedly as a safety device. First, in 2019; Sam Rutherford and his co-pilot were ferrying a propeller aircraft from West Virginia USA to Britain. Near blizzard-like conditions brought the plane down near Makkovik, Canada. Rutherford used a RockSTAR to send an SOS to his wife who was able to relay information to emergency services. Second, just last year, Tapio Lehtinen was forced to evacuate his yacht during the Golden Globe Race. It had flooded from the stern, with water reaching deck level in just 5 minutes. Tapio was able to activate his emergency satellite tracking device and was soon picked up by rescuers.
Small helicopter
TRACKING ANTARCTIC EXPLORERS & RESEARCHERS

RockSTAR devices are ideal for use in extreme environments where wifi or cellular coverage isn’t widely available. As well as being waterproof, units can operate in temperatures between -30 to 60 degrees Celsius and be operated by users in gloves. What’s more, currently Iridium is the only network able to offer truly global coverage - including both poles. We’re proud to have supported both researchers and explorers on multiple Antarctic trips, and our RockSTAR devices have even been used to monitor icebergs across Northern Canada.
Iceberg in Canadian Arctic
SUPPORTING RURAL-BASED POLICE OFFICERS

It is the duty of all law enforcement to “protect life and property through the enforcement of laws and regulations”. This includes serving those in rural-based communities, where cellular coverage may not be available, or intermittent. As all data to and from RockSTAR units can be encrypted up to AES-256 standards, the RockSTAR can be a great, relatively inexpensive solution for two-way communications. We’ve worked with various police units and law enforcement rangers, ensuring personnel maintain connected and tracked at all times.
Policeman stood on bridge
TRACKING TELEMETRY FOR ULTRA EVENT COMPETITORS

Thanks to satellite connectivity and innovations in technology, races previously deemed unsafe are now able to take place safely; allowing spectators and fellow competitors to track one another throughout. For yacht races, adventure sports that test human endurance, even off-road rallies, GPS tracking via satellite has truly transformed what’s possible. Partnering with JCSys, RockSTARs have been used to provide real-time monitoring across endurance races covering jungle, desert and ice caps, all of which have minimal mobile coverage. Race organisers were able to track participant progress and utilize geo-fences, to provide early warning to individuals who have stepped outside race areas.
Ultra-runner-with-RockSTAR-tracker-GC-blog
SAFEGUARDING REMOTE MEDICAL WORKERS

It’s essential that when medical personnel are caring for patients in remote areas, they can be reliably tracked and monitored. To ensure their safety, devices which are lightweight and discreet, with a long battery life are essential. Many security firms have specific applications for remote and lone worker safety, that can be utilised alongside devices such as the RockSTAR to provide a complete, secure solution. We have worked with many companies, creating/enabling specific alert criteria via our RockSTAR devices, even simplifying our menu to ensure it’s as easy as possible for users to access key functions.
Remote medical workers - Nurse in community environment

What sets the RockSTAR apart from other satellite devices?

Flexible, Secure APIs

We understand many customers will have their own remote worker and/or security applications - so we make getting that data easy. All data to and from the unit can be encrypted up to AES-256 standards, but we’re still able to give customers access to some of the lowest lines of code. This ensures all data transmissions are available in the required format, without compromising security.

Truly Ruggedized

The RockSTAR has been built to withstand the most challenging environments. Tried and tested everyday, everywhere from the Antarctic to the Australian desert, the Pacific Ocean to Rocky Mountains in North America. The device has a number of certifications including FCC and CE MIL-810 F/G for ruggedness, and is waterproof to IP-67.

Customization Opportunities

As manufacturers we have the flexibility to customize the device on larger orders. These ensure the RockSTAR is the best fit for our client’s project. They also enrich the device's functionality for future users. For example, when working with JCSys, to better safeguard soldiers, RockSTARs were adapted to disable switch off without a PIN code.

GPS Tracking for Teams

Whether you and your team have one RockSTAR or 1,000, Ground Control’s easy-to-use web platform simplifies device management. From the platform, you can track all of your field workers’ positions simultaneously, both in real-time and across set periods of time.

Users can divide devices into relevant groups and set up multiple platform users with differing permissions. For example, some team members may only need to ‘view’ RockSTAR positions, while others could be allowed to send commands and configure devices in the field.

Within the platform users are also able to:

  • Add line rental and credits
  • Monitor alerts from all devices
  • Set up relevant geofences, ensuring teams receive early warning if a device enters/exits specified areas.
Screenshots of Ground Controls web platform for RockSTAR devices 2

If you’re interested in learning more about the RockSTAR device and how units are supporting remote personnel with ubiquitous connectivity, take a look at our related content: RockSTAR Alerts | Case study – RockSTAR Provides Vital Tracking Telemetry for Soldiers and Ultra Runners | RockSTAR Used in Iridium Certus Demo.

Likewise, if you have any queries you’d like to discuss with our team, simply fill in the contact form below.

Got questions?

Ground Control’s RockSTAR device helps deliver peace of mind to anyone working or travelling within remote locations - unit’s have literally saved lives. From security personnel to armed forces, humanitarian aid workers to aviators, the RockSTAR might be just what you need.

For more information on how we can help solve your remote communication challenges and better safeguard you and your team, fill in the form and we'll match your enquiry with one of our experts.

The renewables industry is growing. The operations required to generate power are expanding and the number of sites in remote on- and offshore areas is increasing.

In late 2022, analysts at McKinsey estimated that in less than ten years, global renewable electricity capacity will rise more than 80% from 2020 levels to more than 5,022 gigawatts (source). Further, McKinsey predicts that of this growth, two thirds will be generated by wind and solar power – an increase of 150%. By 2035, it estimates that renewables will generate 60% of the world’s electricity.

While the demand for renewable energy is growing rapidly, there are a number of challenges faced by the industry, from connectivity to security. It’s critically important that remote industrial IoT devices are connected to operations at the head office, as without this data, power outages could occur without real-time knowledge, maintenance monitoring cannot be anything but reactive, and performance could fall short of potential optimized output.

Satellite IoT communications and monitoring can solve these challenges. And it’s genuinely not as expensive as you might think…

CHALLENGE 1 – Connectivity for remote sites

The solution – RockBLOCK Plus

Renewable energy generation sites for hydro, wind and solar farms can often be in remote and even hostile locations. With terrestrial networks only covering 15% of the Earth’s surface (or 50% of the available landmass), and focused on highly populated and urban areas, renewables sites are often out of reach of cellular and fiber connectivity.

There are numerous challenges in providing data backhaul from such remote sites, whether they’re in the development or deployment stages. Unconnected sites are siloed and leave operators unable to reach their assets unless deploying a lone worker to site – with the safety, time delays and additional costs all key considerations.

Ground Control has deployed full end-to-end solutions for renewable providers to retrieve their data from the field in over 100 countries, recommending the best solution for their operational needs. For remote site data retrieval, the RockBLOCK Plus is rugged and waterproof – ideal for remote and exposed sites – and is designed specifically to transmit sensor data from IoT applications. RockBLOCK Plus sends and receives short messages from anywhere on Earth with a view of the sky, via Iridium SBD, as frequently as every 10 seconds, making the device ideal for remote performance monitoring and pre-empting maintenance requirements.

rockblockplus-1
Cloudloop-functionality-small

CHALLENGE 2 – Combining distributed site data

The solution – Cloudloop

To enable renewable energy providers to balance supply and demand on the power grid, they must determine how much renewable energy is being generated at any given time. This can be challenging and even impossible to achieve without the use of satellite communication due to the size, scale and remote locations of renewable energy resources.

As an example, what will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm is currently under construction 74.5 miles off the Yorkshire coast in the UK. To accurately manage, monitor and retrieve data from a vast generation site such as this one, the data from each asset needs to be combined into a single management platform.

Cloudloop is Ground Control’s cloud-based software platform for subscription and device management. The software enables renewable providers to combine multiple and widely distributed sensor data into a singular entity to provide a complete visualization of their energy-generating operations.

All device activations and deactivations, airtime management and troubleshooting can be achieved remotely via the Cloudloop platform. Monitoring in real-time, historical data usage and alerts enable proactive cost management, with diagnostics reporting significantly reducing field maintenance costs, regardless of the scale or distribution of the data loggers.

CHALLENGE 3 – Security and cybercrime

The solution – SCADASat

Remote sites make the renewables industry a prime target for cybercrime. Notably, in 2021, hackers collectively known as DarkSide attacked the Colonial Pipeline. They hacked in via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), gaining access to the company’s networks and causing malicious disruption to pipeline operations. Effectively, DarkSide shut down the essential pipeline that carries 45% of the gas, diesel and jet fuel supplied to the US east coast.

Although the renewables industry is at risk of cyber attacks, a key data transfer requirement exists between on-site RTUs and SCADA systems to extract mission-critical sensor data, however remote, to prevent and mitigate outages and disruption to energy supply.

Some satellite networks have the advantage of not needing any terrestrial infrastructure in order to extract data from RTUs. So if wind farms, reservoirs or solar sites don’t receive reliable cellular coverage, satellite is the best option, either as primary or failover. For maximum data security, the SCADASat solution from Ground Control is a narrowband private satellite network that avoids utilizing the internet and is the optimally secure solution for remote monitoring, controlling, and surveillance of renewable energy grids.

SCADASat enables renewable providers to cost-effectively and reliably transmit remote SCADA, telemetry and M2M data – all in a secure network. The platform is highly scalable with low operating costs compared to the new installation and maintenance of fiber connectivity. It is compatible with both IP and legacy serial devices and operates independently from terrestrial communications systems, both complementing and offering an alternative solution to terrestrial networks, ensuring transmission at all times.

SCADASat-by-TSAT
RockREMOTE-Rugged

CHALLENGE 4 – Energy wastage

The solution – RockREMOTE Rugged

Wind farms are a good example of where the power generated could become surplus and potentially wasted. Windfarms are typically located on expansive areas of remote land or lie miles offshore and thus, make it challenging for control stations to be installed onsite.

The nature of these remote and expansive sites presents a challenge for renewable energy providers. They must be efficiently managed and monitored to ensure maximum energy utilization and minimum energy wastage – which is otherwise costly to energy providers. Cloud-based remote monitoring solutions are therefore essential to help operators monitor multiple wind farm locations at any one time, collecting all, or exceptional data, on wind turbine speed, torque, power, wind speed, wind direction and so on.

RockREMOTE Rugged is a reliable solution for remote IoT challenges. It securely connects remote IoT assets using IP or message-based protocols and provides diverse connectivity through Iridium Satellite or LTE networks. The device is powered by a sophisticated Linux-based operating system that offers containerized hosting for edge-computing applications.

For renewable energy sites, this means complete visibility and control – even if assets are spread over a wide area. The RockREMOTE Rugged solution extends the reach of telemetry applications and enables real-time reporting on power generation to prevent saturation and wastage.

CHALLENGE 5 – Costly data retrieval

The solution – Cobham EXPLORER 540

We know that many renewable energy sites are located in remote areas. Where cellular and fiber connectivity does already exist, this type of connectivity will likely be the most cost-effective option to retrieve backhaul data. However, The Department of Transportation put the average cost of laying new fiber at $27,000 per mile. Further to the costly installation, there’s the ongoing truck roll costs to consider with an experienced Field Engineer costing, on average, $68,132 per year (hardware lifetime is typically around 10 years). Utilizing remote satellite IoT communication and monitoring solutions mitigates this cost almost entirely as the terminals are remotely managed.

As the world’s first BGAN M2M terminal designed to operate on both Inmarsat BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) and cellular 2G/3G/LTE networks, the Cobham Explorer 540 delivers always-available connectivity for critical monitoring and control applications where cellular and fiber are out of reach.

The BGAN M2M service uses Inmarsat BGAN to provide a reliable, global, two-way IP data service. It is designed to connect monitoring and control applications in remote, unmanned locations, providing visibility and management of those assets. By combining BGAN M2M with cellular connectivity in the same terminal, the Explorer 540 gives users the opportunity to choose the best carrier for any location, or to switch seamlessly between cellular and satellite using lowest cost routing logic.

Cobham-Explorer-540-BGAN-M2M

 

Here, now and the future

 

Satellite-powered communication and monitoring solutions equip renewable energy providers with multiple ways to overcome the challenges of remote device monitoring, cyber security, power storage, and combining distributed site data.

A suite of satellite-based solutions from Ground Control enables the renewables industry to harness the efficiencies of satellite communication to advance troubleshooting and improve response times, implement predictive maintenance monitoring, automate manual tasks, and optimize energy utilization. With 60% of the world’s energy anticipated to be renewable within the next 12 years, the demand for satellite connectivity is only set to increase.

Ground Control is very well placed to support renewables connectivity, as it’s our mission to make sure data reaches its destination by the most reliable and cost-effective means possible. Whether using cellular or satellite connectivity, Ground Control can recommend the best solutions, airtime and services.

    Register for our newsletter to get a monthly round up of the latest news in satellite, M2M and IoT. No spam, no third parties, just great content from our team of experts - and you can opt out at any time.

    Imagine you’re the manufacturer of industrial equipment — perhaps you supply power generators to war zones, or monster excavators to mining projects, or perhaps you make sensors for monitoring pipelines.

    The equipment that you produce is inherently big and complex — which means that it’ll be packed with sensors to monitor its health, performance and to detect faults/errors.

    If a sensor fails in the forest, and nobody is around, does it make a sound?

    Here’s the problem. Your equipment isn’t around the corner — you can’t just run over to check it’s ok. If it’s truly remotely deployed, it may require several days travel and a helicopter to check!

    Clearly this isn’t a sustainable or practical solution — so what about remote monitoring? It’s unlikely that you’ll be within cellular coverage, and if you are it’s likely to be patchy and unreliable.

    In this instance, the only viable option you have for remotely monitoring your equipment is via satellite. Today, there’s a multitude of satellite operators and terminals available, each with their respective pros/cons in respect of physical size, operating cost, power requirements, communication speed and bandwidth etc.

    For our hypothetical scenario, let’s assume we make monster excavators used to extract lithium from remote Australian mines. They’re super-computers on wheels and are packed with sensors, measuring things like temperature, pressure, vibration, movement and location. There’s a ready supply of power but physical space is limited. Being able to monitor this data in real-time is invaluable for things like performance and safety monitoring.

    Introducing Ground Control’s RockREMOTE

    The RockREMOTE is an Iridium Certus IoT terminal, providing both IP connectivity and IMT-based messaging from anywhere on the planet. Its IoT Gateway enables easy integration with other equipment and applications through the lingua-franca of the IoT industry — MQTT.

    How do we connect the RockREMOTE to a monster excavator?

    In our scenario, we’ve got an onboard network connecting all the sensors to a central data logger which stores the sensor readings. The sensors themselves speak to the data logger via the industry-standard CAN bus protocol as is commonly used in the automotive industry.

    The data logger is simply connected to the RockREMOTE via Ethernet cable.

    Monster excavator and RockREMOTE
    Yes that’s a child’s toy — no expense spared artist’s impression showing the system end-to-end

    Data Logger > MQTT > RockREMOTE (IoT Gateway)

    So we’ve got our readings gleaned from the onboard sensors; they’re currently stored in a simple database on our data logger. This is a proprietary system developed in-house, so we’ll need some developer-smarts to send the data to the IoT Gateway on the RockREMOTE.

    Side note: it’s at this point that everyone’s system will vary. In the event that you’re not already utilizing MQTT, some development work will be unavoidable. Fear not: due to the ubiquity of MQTT, it’s very widely supported and there’s established libraries for most platforms and programming languages.

    Our data-logger runs Linux so we have a multitude of tools at our disposal; the simplest and easiest being a basic Python script (as shown below):

    import time
    import paho.mqtt.client as mqtt

    #Connect to RockREMOTE
    client = mqtt.Client()
    client.username_pw_set("username", "password")
    client.connect("192.168.250.1", 1883, 60)

    while True:

    data = get_data_to_send_from_data_logger() #Get data from database

    client.publish("lithium/truck01", data) #Send the sensor readings

    time.sleep(60) #Sleep for 60 seconds

    This snippet will diligently send the sensor readings to the IoT Gateway every 60 seconds. That’s it — pretty cool 😎

    What do you mean that’s it — we’ve not even mentioned Satellites?

    This is where the RockREMOTE IoT Gateway comes into its own!

    RockREMOTE x IoT Gateway

    So let’s pop the proverbial hood and let’s see what’s actually going on here.

    On the surface, IoT Gateway exposes a standard MQTT broker — nothing special or proprietary — this means any existing MQTT client/library can connect and publish messages.

    Security specialists: on this interface it utilises basic username/password authentication; so there’s no dastardly troublesome certificate authentication to worry about. No one wants to charter a helicopter to update an expired certificate — plus if the baddies have already physically compromised the monster excavator, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about!

    There’s no restriction to the message payload that you publish — you can send text or binary; anything you like — most popular for IoT applications is JSON or Protobufs. The only limitation is that the total message size must not exceed 100 Kb — more on this in a second.

    Not sure what MQTT is?

    It’s pretty straightforward. MQTT is an industry standard which describes a simple Pub-Sub protocol whereby: clients connect to a broker and PUBLISH messages — other clients connect to said broker and SUBSCRIBE to receive the messages when published — that’s pretty much it!

    To keep things organised it utilizes the concept of TOPICS, whereby a message is published to a named topic. Typically these take the form of a directory structure (e.g. /site01/sensor10/temperature) but you can use anything you like.

    It does a few other things, but that’s all you need to know for now!

    In the same way there’s no restriction to the message payloads, there’s also no restriction to the topics that you use. This is highly convenient if you’re migrating from an existing MQTT solution as there’s no need to change your topics!

    So to recap: you can use any MQTT client/library, send any message payload to any topic you like. It’s almost as if Ground Control have taken a monster excavator to any possible barriers or hurdles to using this!

    C’mon — what about the satellites?

    So we’ve PUBLISH’d our inaugural “Hello World” message to IoT Gateway — what happens next? How do I get hold of these beautiful ones and zeros?

    It’s magic. Or it may as well be, we don’t actually need to do anything more — the IoT Gateway takes care of all the heavy lifting. But since you’ve come this far — let’s dig into the wizardry…

    The RockREMOTE is an Iridium Certus 100 IoT terminal. This means that it can talk to the Iridium satellite network to send/receive data. It has truly global coverage and works anywhere on the planet at any time of the day.

    Zeroing in further, the IoT Gateway makes use of the brand new Iridium Message Transport (IMT) service. Read the deep-dive into how IMT works and how it differs from other IP Connection-based services.

    In essence, this is a message-based service for sending/receiving messages up to 100 Kb. You’re only charged for the data you successfully transmit, so you’re not charged for protocol overhead, handshaking or bloat 😎

    Sending the Message

    Anything you PUBLISH will be automatically packaged and sent to space. IoT Gateway takes care of managing the connection, message queuing, retries etc — truly fire-and-forget!

    Thud!

    That’s the sound of your “Hello World” message landing down to earth.

    This time instead of being in a remote Australian lithium mine; it’s in sunny Tempe, Arizona (where Iridium’s ground station resides). From here it’s whisked to Ground Control’s omnipresent platform, Cloudloop.

    Your message, still cold from its brief stint in space, is reconstituted and published to their secure cloud-based MQTT broker (not to be confused with the broker mentioned earlier that resides on the RockREMOTE).

    Again, this completely standard MQTT interface can be securely connected to with any MQTT client or library, allowing your cloud application to consume the messages published from IoT Gateway.

    Back to the monster excavator…

    Recap: we’ve used a Python script running on our data-logger to relay sensor data (via MQTT) to the IoT Gateway every 60 seconds. For the alert readers, you’ll recall this data was published to the lithium/truck01 topic. The data has gone via satellite and has now been re-published to the MQTT broker residing in Cloudloop.

    We’d now like to present the sensor data in real-time on a dashboard screen we’ve got setup in the office. For this, we’ll need to SUBSCRIBE to the relevant topics to get this information automatically pushed to it.

    We’ve got two options — use an existing IoT Dashboard (e.g. Thingsboard) or create something ourselves. We’ll take a look at how we might get the data ourselves here.

    To consume the messages from Cloudloop MQTT:

    import paho.mqtt.client as mqtt

    my_topic_name = "iot/ACCOUNT-ID/lithium/truck01"

    def on_connect_callback(client, userdata, flags, rc):
    client.subscribe(my_topic_name)

    def on_message_callback(client, userdata, msg):
    print("NEW MESSAGE: " + msg.topic +" " + str(msg.payload))

    client = mqtt.Client()

    client.tls_set(caPath,
    certfile=certPath,
    keyfile=keyPath,
    cert_reqs=ssl.CERT_REQUIRED,
    tls_version=ssl.PROTOCOL_TLSv1_2,
    ciphers=None)

    client.on_connect = on_connect_callback
    client.on_message = on_message_callback

    client.connect("mqtt.cloudloop.com", 1883, 60)

    client.loop_forever()

    Side note: the message was technically published to iot/ACCOUNT-ID/lithium/truck01 — this is because it’s a multi-tenanted environment and the prefixing nicely provides account-segregation.

    In this scenario, we’ve been working with a single excavator — but there’s nothing stopping this working with multiple. You can easily see by changing the topic name (e.g. cobalt/truck32) we could support multiple sites and multiple excavators 😎

    What about sending messages to the monster excavator?

    So far, we’ve only spoken about data originating from the monster excavators (Mobile Originated in satcom parlance) — but what about sending messages to the excavator (i.e. Mobile Terminated)?

    No problem, it works in exactly the same way — just in reverse.

    Simply PUBLISH a message to Cloudloop MQTT and it will be sent via space and picked up by the IoT Gateway; the data-logger would just need to SUBSCRIBE to that particular topic to receive the message.

    Dan Ambrose - Chief Architect

    Dan authored this blog post and was the internal champion for ensuring that our RockREMOTE supported the new IMT service.

    He's passionate about the possibilities IMT coupled with our IoT Gateway opens up for businesses, and always happy to exchange ideas.

    Would you like to know more?

    Whether you're an engineer and want to talk to Dan (or someone like him!), or you're interested in learning more about IMT, the IoT Gateway, or the RockREMOTE, please call or email us, or complete the form, and we'll make sure you're connected.

    Iridium Messaging Transport (IMT) was launched on 21st December 2022, and in Iridium’s own words, it’s:

    …a two-way cloud-native networked data service optimized for use over Iridium Certus® and designed to make it easier to add satellite connections to existing or new IoT solutions. IMT provides an IP data transport service unique to the Iridium® network, designed for small-to-moderate-sized messages supporting satellite IoT applications.

    So what does this mean for the often overlooked, but nonetheless critical world of small-to-moderate-sized IoT messages?

    For those of you wanting to reliably send/receive small amounts of data from anywhere on the planet, the only truly tried and tested solution is Iridium Short Burst Data (SBD) that enables you to send/receive messages up to around 300 bytes (yes, bytes)!

    In general, describing anything as being small-to-moderately sized is not something to shout about. But in the world of IoT and M2M it’s not how big your payload is, it’s what you do with it…

    Constraint breeds innovation — if you’ve only got 300 bytes to play with, you start to think creatively and use all sorts of tricks and techniques to cram as much information in as you can! There’s countless companies using SBD to do very cool things (hello, ybtracking.com).

    However there’s a limit — no matter how much you try, you cannot squeeze a photograph into an SBD message; nor can you squish in a whole weather GRIB file (trust me, I’ve spent the last 10 years trying)!

    We’re gonna need a bigger boat…. enter stage left: Iridium Certus.

    The Iridium Certus 100 service is the next-size-up for people looking to send/receive larger volumes of data via satellite. There are differences beyond speed and data limitations: Certus 100 provides a full-blown IP-connection and SBD is Message-based; not to mention the larger form-factor and antenna requirements, and cost etc.

    What’s a satellite IP connection anyway? Simply put, it’s a full-on (albeit very slow) Internet connection, just like the one you’re using right now. Except instead of being a super-fast, fibre-optic, giga-bit connection, it’s a tiny 88 Kbps — yes, there’s our old friend bytes again.

    (Faster Iridium Certus service classes are available, up to a heady 700 Kbps using Certus 700 — but the entry-level Certus 100 service is best suited for IoT applications).

    And Message-based? To save on words, it’s essentially an SMS text message you’d send from your cell phone. You want to send “Hello World” and that’s all you send — there’s no superfluous headers, handshakes or protocol bloat (I’m looking at you, Mr IP Connection).

    Analogy: Message-based communications is like calling up a friend and leaving a message on their answerphone; once they’ve listened to your message; to reply they call you back and leave you an answerphone message.

    While this could be considered a crude form of two-way communication; it lacks the dynamism, flexibility and spontaneity of a telephone call — where both parties can freely communicate, interrupt without delay (i.e. IP Connection-based).

    So to recap: Iridium Certus is faster and capable of sending loads more data (compared to the minuscule 300 bytes that SBD offers) — the kicker however is you have to contend with talking proper big-boy TCP/IP; this means latency, two-way handshakes, retries and failed transmissions.

    One thing that you can be certain of: if you’re sending data from the middle-of-nowhere, up into space, to a satellite, back down to earth and then onto the Internet; and back again — there’s going to be latency and packet-loss. This is true of the Internet connection you’re using now, but this all happens in the background and you never notice anything. However, when you’re on a very slow connection (and you’re paying for every byte you send and how long you’re connected) — you’ll soon notice!

    So the solution? Use a Message-based service, where you just pay for the actual payload that you send and only when it’s successfully transmitted. What, like SBD? Yes, exactly.

    Enter stage right: Iridium Certus Message Transport (IMT).

    IMT is the best of both worlds — Message-based service utilizing Iridium Certus 100 to facilitate, drum-roll please… sending/receiving messages up to:

    One-hundred-thousand-bytes (yes, 100,000 bytes)!

    (Finally, something about which those with a small-to-moderate-sized payload can rejoice)!

    This is a massive increase in message size, finally making it feasible to send larger amounts of data from anywhere on the planet. You’re not going to be able to browse the Internet or stream Netflix — but your remotely deployed IoT application, monitoring some hypothetical oil and gas pipeline will now be able to send more data. Which in turn might facilitate additional sensor readings, greater data resolution or even low-res photographs if it detects suspicious activity — the sky’s the limit!

    IMT is pretty cost-effective, you’re only charged for the data you send: price plans start from 25 USD/month, and typical data usage costs 10 USD/MB.

    From SBD to IMT

    The pathway to IMT for existing SBD applications (that use something like Ground Control’s RockBLOCK) is pretty straightforward.

    As mentioned earlier, SBD and Certus 100 are not like-for-like comparable — Certus 100 is bigger, more expensive, requires more power and a bulkier antenna compared to its short-burst brethren (although both are still considered microscopic compared something like VSAT).

    So if you’re building a UAV for delivering medicine across Africa (hello, Zipline) — you’ll probably want to stick with SBD. However, if your remote IoT application is not as constrained, IMT might just be the thing you’ve always longed for.

    Engineers integrate with SBD by sending simple AT commands via a serial interface — however, in contrast, IMT is not directly exposed by default on Certus 100 terminals. It’s up to the individual terminal manufacturers to decide if/how they want to expose it.

    At time of writing, only two manufacturers had IMT solutions ready for their terminals. And Ground Control is one of them: both the original RockREMOTE and the new RockREMOTE Rugged are IMT-ready.

    RockREMOTE, utilizing our IoT Gateway, exposes IMT messaging through the lingua-franca of the IoT industry – MQTT. The proposition is simple: talk MQTT in the field (e.g. from your microprocessor, PLC, Arduino or RPi) to the RockREMOTE and your message will be magically whisked off (via space) and arrive at their Cloud MQTT broker ready to be consumed by your application/ dashboard — effectively end-to-end MQTT.

    So from an integration perspective, while it’s not quite a drop-in for SBD — it’s not far from it. By using an industry standard MQTT interface, it’s possible to send/receive messages with just a few lines of code.

    Let’s just replace all existing IP connections with IMT — simple, right?!

    Alas, it’s not necessarily that straightforward.

    Imagine you’re coming at IMT from an existing IP connection-based solution; maybe you’re already using Inmarsat BGAN M2M or maybe you’re moving to Satellite IoT from the world of Cellular IoT.

    The good news is, if you’re already using MQTT, the move is likely to be a piece-of-cake with a device like the RockREMOTE. All you’ll need to do is update the destination of your MQTT broker to point to the RockREMOTE.

    If you’re using something like HTTP GET/POST or FTP — it’s pretty simple to take the data you would have sent via these means and package it up to send via MQTT instead. One of the great things about MQTT is that there’s no prescribed message format — send Text, Binary, JSON or Protobufs etc.

    Finally, what about if you’re doing something more complex, for example using another application or protocol that expects an interactive two-way IP connection (e.g. SSH, SFTP, TCP/IP sockets, Web browsing etc)?

    In short, IMT isn’t going to work for you. Message-based communication is perfect for asynchronous communication – fire-and-forget — it isn’t suitable for scenarios that require synchronous communication — (see again the answerphone analogy).

    Unfortunately, if you have to use this type of synchronous communication; your only option will be to continue to use an IP Connection.

    But there’s a glimmer of hope. Some devices, like the RockREMOTE, are able to support both message-based communication (using IMT) as well as IP connection — so you have the flexibility to use either methods (or indeed, both), depending on the type of communication you want to undertake.

    Dan Ambrose - Chief Architect

    Dan authored this blog post and was the internal champion for ensuring that our RockREMOTE supported the new IMT service.

    He's passionate about the possibilities IMT coupled with our IoT Gateway opens up for businesses, and always happy to exchange ideas.

    Would you like to know more?

    Whether you're an engineer and want to talk to Dan (or someone like him!), or you're interested in learning more about IMT, the IoT Gateway, or the RockREMOTE, please call or email us, or complete the form, and we'll make sure you're connected.

    Taking full advantage of IMT, the latest Iridium network service evolution, Ground Control is proud to announce the development of a new Satellite IoT delivery network. This ultra-efficient solution is designed to meet the needs of IoT applications that require transmission of larger data payloads from very remote locations.

    What is Iridium Messaging Transport (IMT)?

    The new IMT service from Iridium is designed for IoT / M2M applications, and joins several other satellite airtime services in this space. So what makes IMT different?

    Table explaining differences between IoT satellite services

    This table compares these satellite services to each other, not to the broader ecosystem of connectivity options.

    Message Based vs IP Based

    The simplest distinction between these two means of communication is that message-based services send discrete data packets at intervals determined by the owner / operator; IP-based services can send and receive data continuously. An advantage of IP-based connections is that many, particularly legacy, applications, use TCP/IP protocols, and so data can pass seamlessly between different systems. The major benefit of utilizing message-based connections is that they are far lower cost, because you’re only billed for the data payload and not for any communication overhead (e.g. TCP).

    Connection Speeds

    Iridium already has a message-based airtime service called Short Burst Data, or SBD; Inmarsat has a similar service called IDP (IsatData Pro). Both are designed for very small amounts of data: environmental monitoring and asset tracking for example.

    Iridium introduced Certus 100 which offers the ability to send more data, more frequently, and is ideal for legacy installations and telemetry streaming applications.

    IMT sits in between these two services; with the ability to send 100 KB per message, far more data can be transmitted than via the SBD or IDP services, but because it’s message-based, it remains a lower cost solution than Certus 100.

    Total Cost of Ownership

    IMT airtime is more expensive than SBD airtime, but lower cost than Certus 100 airtime because you’re charged for the data payload only. We would recommend IMT is leveraged in mission-critical use cases, where the value of receiving the data far outweighs the cost of retrieving it.

    Power Usage

    A device leveraging the IMT service will generally use less power than a device using Certus 100, because the data is sent and received on demand, and data packets can be optimised. However, simply because the message can be up to 100 KB – that’s enough to send compressed images – an IMT-enabled device will use more power than an SBD or IDP equivalent. Battery and solar power is an option, but mains power is preferred.

    Which Devices Utilize IMT?

    At this time, there are very few devices that can access the IMT service; Ground Control’s RockREMOTE and new RockREMOTE Rugged are two of them. With the RockREMOTE you can use a combination of connectivity options: Certus 100, LTE-M, and/or IMT. Users configure the device to use the airtime that is most economical for their particular use case; Ground Control will consult and assist with this exercise if needed.

    When Would You Use IMT?

    Service:
    Iridium SBD
    Inmarsat IDP
    Iridium IMT
    Iridium Certus 100
    Inmarsat BGAN M2M
    Great For:
    Very small amounts of data from individual sensors
    Very small amounts of data from individual sensors
    IoT applications with larger data transmission requirements Sensors already ‘speaking’ MQTT
    Fixed or mobile IoT applications which require IP connection
    Fixed IoT applications with larger amounts of data to transfer via an IP connection
    Examples:
    Small amounts of telemetry data
    Small amounts of telemetry data
    Larger amounts of telemetry data; compressed images
    Connected M2M protocols e.g. Modbus RTU, WITS DPN3
    Connected M2M protocols e.g. Modbus RTU, WITS DPN3
    Use Cases:
    SCADA, Agritech, Basic asset tracking
    SCADA, Agritech, Basic asset tracking
    Remote camera traps preventing poaching / trespassing; Remote surveillance capabilities for on-the-move assets
    Visibility and control of assets spread over a wide area; Extending the reach of telemetry applications
    Visibility and control of assets spread over a wide area; Extending the reach of telemetry applications

    How does Ground Control’s new satellite IoT delivery network work?

    The IoT delivery network is designed to deliver large message payloads for a wide range of IoT applications in a highly cost effective way. It leverages the new IMT satellite service, the RockREMOTE terminal, and the MQTT messaging transport.

    It provides an end-to-end solution comprised of:

    Satellite-IoT-Delivery-Network
    1. An MQTT application deployed on the RockREMOTE terminal; this provides the interface for your remote application to submit and receive data payloads
    2. The Iridium IMT satellite service
    3. An MQTT server application, delivered via Ground Control’s Cloudloop platform, which enables your IoT service application to submit and receive data payloads.



    A 2021 research paper found that 75% of businesses experienced connectivity challenges when trialing IoT projects (source), ranging from coverage to interoperability to cost. Ground Control’s IoT Gateway is designed to address each of these challenges, providing global coverage, industry standard interfaces, and cost efficiency.

    From remote monitoring to predictive maintenance, improved processes to sustainability, the value of IoT data collection is under no doubt. The new satellite IoT delivery network allows Ground Control’s customers to grow beyond the restrictions of current IoT projects, delivering greater depth and breadth of data insight.

    Read IMT Case Study

    What is MQTT?

    MQTT is a messaging protocol – a structured way for applications to exchange payloads of data between applications – designed for IoT. TCP / IP is another messaging (or communication) protocol, used to connect network devices on the internet, and in private computer networks.

    MQTT was designed specifically for IoT, where the data transmission requirements are usually small, and the microcontrollers that host the code are also very small (physically and in terms of the amount of instructions they can support). So MQTT is very lightweight and efficient.

    Another advantage of MQTT is that it has small message headers; this is the initial portion of a data packet, and contains control information such as addressing and version. In IP messaging protocols this is (relatively speaking) quite a large amount of information which makes sending data via IP more resource intensive. MQTT’s small message headers ensure that the network bandwidth is optimized.

    It has become the industry standard for newer IoT projects because of its many advantages, including reliable message delivery, security, and scalability.

    For more information on MQTT, visit https://mqtt.org/.

    Would you like to know more?

    If you have an IoT connectivity challenge which satellite can solve, and you'd like expert, impartial advice on the best airtime and delivery network for your requirements, email or call us, or complete the form.

    We've been delivering satellite and cellular connectivity services for over 20 years, and our partnerships with leading satellite operators means we can offer great pricing and a robust, reliable service, in addition to our commitment to delivering innovative, customer-driven data and device management solutions.

    The Internet of Things (IoT) has been transforming global industry and driving digitalization for some years now. Simply, IoT describes connecting any device to other connected devices and the internet, or other communications networks. This allows all devices to collect and share data about their environment and how they are used; and it is this data that can deliver true insight.

    But this value is wholly reliant on reliable connectivity. After all, for data to enable proactive, smarter decisions, that data first needs to be delivered, for example, from sensor to HQ. In addition, fragmented data and gaps can give a wildly inaccurate picture and cellular connectivity only covers 15% of the globe. This is where Ground Control’s RockBLOCK suite can help.

    Introducing the RockBLOCK

    RockBLOCKs are transceivers that you can use to send and receive short serial messages, through the Iridium satellite network and back to Earth. They deliver plug-and-play satellite communication, meaning if you have a clear view of the sky, your solution / project stays connected.

    How do RockBLOCKs work?

    Illustration to demonstrate how RockBLOCKs send data
     
    Leveraging the Iridium Satellite network – specifically, ‘short burst data’ (SBD) – RockBLOCKs are connected to a sensor and send this data to 1 of 66 satellites within the Iridium constellation. The satellite then relays this data through the constellation until it’s within transmission distance of Iridium’s ground stations (this takes fractions of a second!). Finally this data can be viewed either in our web portal, or set up to automatically relay this information to email, several email addresses or direct to a web service.

    Although SBD only equates to message sizes around 340 bytes up and 270 bytes down, it’s ideal for many IoT applications, including weather balloons, data buoys, UAVs and more. It’s also relatively low cost, and can be purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis, or contracted, which delivers flexibility for developers and educators while testing.

    What are the differences between RockBLOCK devices?

    RockBLOCK 9602

    The RockBLOCK is essentially a development board for the Iridium satellite modem. In the case of the 9602, it hosts the 9602 modem, provides it with an antenna, its power supply requirements and exposes the modem’s serial interface via a breakout connector.

    Often used by hobbyists and scientists, it can support many applications, from meteorological sensing, through to preventing fires in remote locations. All you need to get up and running is 5 volts DC, a controller that speaks serial and a clear view of the sky.

    RockBLOCK 9603

    The RockBLOCK 9603 is almost half the size of its predecessor and was designed especially for product developers and system integrators used to using smaller equipment for small enclosures.

    It hosts a 9603 Iridium satellite modem, has a small form factor Molex connector to link the serial, power, and signalling lines to your controller. This may be slightly harder for developers than the 0.1″ dot pitch header used on the standard RockBLOCK, but we do also have USB serial cables which include the mating molex connector on the other side.

    RockBLOCK Plus

    The RockBLOCK Plus, is a waterproof and ruggedized version of the RockBLOCK 9602, with 9-30v power input and RS-232 data link.

    It’s designed to transmit sensor data from IoT applications, and is being used in forestry, preventing illegal deforestation and creating alerts for extreme temperature changes; in environmental applications, monitoring earth movement and water levels to provide early warning of landslides and flood risks. It’s also deployed as part of Thailand’s tsunami detection system, with the potential to save many, many lives.

     
     
    Antenna options – Patch vs SMA
     
    Our RockBLOCK devices include a patch antenna which is suitable for applications where the RockBLOCK can ‘see’ the sky; for example, under plastic but close to the top of the enclosure. However, for applications where the RockBLOCK needs to be situated deep within an enclosure or have a metal barrier between it and the sky, both the 9602 and 9603 have an SMA connector allows the attachment of an external antenna.
     
     

     

    Common RockBLOCK projects

    Because the RockBLOCK is a small, low cost, low power transceiver, the applications are vast. We work with many partners to bring truly innovative, end-to-end solutions to life. We often partner with those responsible for building the sensors the RockBLOCKs then connect to. To give you an idea and possibly inspire your next project, we’ve collated below some of the most common use cases supported by our RockBLOCK products today.

     

    Tsunami early warning system

    When it comes to early warning systems and critical communications networks, organizations need to utilize satellite connectivity, both for the coverage requirements and network reliability. Currently the RockBLOCK Plus is installed across Thailand, empowering their Tsunami early warning system, with ubiquitous, reliable connectivity. The system continually monitors for Tsunami warning indicators, and upon detection – as the RockBLOCK supports two-way communication – it triggers an audible alarm.

    Automated landslide monitoring

    To reduce the impact of hazardous landslides, enabling proactive, preventative measures to be taken, near real-time monitoring is essential. The RockBLOCK assists regular monitoring of landslide activity with always on connectivity, sending data of high spatiotemporal resolution and centimetre-level accuracy for long-term deployments. Measuring in this way aids in early warning information and limits the use of invasive and expensive drilling, the more traditional landslide monitoring technique.

    Environmental monitoring and reporting

    Blocked, overflowing systems can cause flooding, erosion, turbidity, storm and sanitary sewer system overflow, and infrastructure damage. Combining data sent via RockBLOCKs within Powered Telemetry Modules (PTM), companies are able to monitor and forecast these events. Utilizing a mixture of time lapse cameras, water level gauges, rain gauges, and weather gauges, companies are able to predict where issues may occur and which areas are most at risk, and implement proactive, preventative measures.

    Drifting data buoys

    Generally, the main purpose of drifting buoys is to measure ocean currents and sea temperatures, the data of which is then transmitted back to research labs on the mainland for analysis. We work with MakerBuoy, who create drifter buoys for individuals and hobbyists to throw into the ocean and retrieve oceanic data; for example, air and water temperature, wind speeds etc. The data retrieved provides vital intelligence for weather and climate models and ultimately aids better understanding of ocean behaviour and intensity forecasting. As the RockBLOCK benefits from pole-to-pole coverage via the Iridium satellite network, buoys carrying a RockBLOCK can transmit this data back to hobbyists, researchers and meteorological organizations for analysis, from anywhere on earth.

    Drone connectivity

    The applications for drone usage continue to grow: medicine delivery, crop spraying, seed drops, surveillance, meteorology, goods transportation – the list goes on. As many of these tasks take drones into areas with limited or no cellular coverage, satellite connectivity is essential to ensure that, when the drone is Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), the drone can still receive commands from the operator.

    Ground Control supports UAV and Drone operators with critical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) communications to allow constant connectivity with minimal latency to airborne drones. We use Iridium Short Burst Data (SBD) to allow small strings of data to be sent from a base of operations to the field, providing flight programs, course alterations and other instructions in real time.

    Most recently, we’re proud to have had our RockBLOCKs play an important role in the delivery of critical medical care via drone through our partnership with Skylift.

    Preventing illegal deforestation

    Illegal extraction activities are a significant threat to rainforests and natural resources more generally. With the RockBLOCK, monitoring systems within a rainforest can act as watchdogs. Once certain markers are detected, an alert can be sent and the data analysed by NGOs and governments. If they feel there is an imminent threat, the appropriate authorities can then be notified.

    Wildlife tracking

    Africa is home to some of the world’s best-known and most iconic wildlife. However, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) reports that due to illegal poaching, 43% of the lion population has been lost in the last 20 years.

    One of our partners is responsible for creating tracking collars for lions, most notably, in Namibia. Each collar houses a RockBLOCK device, ensuring rangers are able to reliably and effectively track pride movements and ultimately, more effectively protect them.

    Off-grid fire prevention system

    Regular home fire safety equipment (alarms and extinguishers) rely on a fire to have already entered the premises or someone to be home to raise the alarm. Off-grid fire prevention systems can protect properties and communities, using the data collated to predict and detect wildfires. RockBLOCKs can ensure data is sent from sensors in near real-time and as the RockBLOCK supports two-way communications, once certain thresholds are met, for example significant increase in temperature, a command can be sent back to the system to trigger high-pressure sprinkler systems.
     


     
     
    Our RockBLOCK product suite is endlessly being used to create really clever, inspiring projects we’d not even thought of and a huge part of this is due to our partners.

    If you are interested in learning more about any of the RockBLOCK suite, or partnering with Ground Control on an end-to-end solution, simply fill in the contact form below.

    Interest piqued?

    Ground Control’s connectivity solutions facilitate incredible initiatives all over the world and a substantial proportion of those initiatives are delivered by our vibrant, creative, partner channel.

    To find out how we can help elevate your solutions with ubiquitous connectivity - simplifying project expansion, fill in the form below and one of our expert team will contact you.

    First coined around 2011, digital transformation according to Salesforce is the – “process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.”

    With global spending on digital transformation set to double to $2.8 trillion by 2025, digital evolution and smart technology continue to gain significant traction, especially within Utilities and Renewables. Described as at the center of a massive global shift, the Utilities sector is under considerable pressure. With global energy demand expected to increase by 37% by 2040 and surges in demand for renewable energy resources and sustainability; more Utility companies are turning to digital strategies to become more agile, competitive and resilient.

    The challenges and opportunities of digital transformation in Utilities are very well documented. However, having served Utilities for over 20 years, we know the role data has played in shaping this transformation. We’ve created a paper covering how far Utilities companies have come in terms of collecting and analyzing data to streamline their operations, and how data is likely to shape digitalization in the future.

     

    Electrical grids and gas distribution systems are critical infrastructure. Outages and supply interruptions result in huge financial burden and penalties for the supplier, and severe (often prolonged) disruption for consumers. With increasing pressure for renewable energy and from customers seeking to generate their own power, digital transformation could be the catalyst Utilities need to boost consumer interest.

    Most recently, the US Department of Energy has invested billions of dollars into its national policy goal – building a smart grid across America. Smart meters and sensors along grid lines transmit usage data to providers, enabling them to match supply with demand. Likewise, smart appliances can alter the times of electricity usage, avoiding peak times when pressure on the grid is high, resulting in lower costs and reduced risk of outages.

    It is these detailed insights into customer habits that does and will allow Utilities to achieve maximum efficiency and customer satisfaction. And at a time of expensive grid updates, usage trends could prove invaluable to planning and prioritizing engineering work, and the most efficient means of distributing utility supply.

    Big data, machine-to-machine technology, and dependable connectivity provide the means to understand consumer trends and predict future utility usage. Companies failing to incorporate a robust data strategy into their business plan are likely to find themselves at a major competitive disadvantage, if not already, in the very near future.

    The future of connectivity

    Although not covered in the paper directly, data retrieval is dependent on connectivity. Inmarsat reports that 58% of electrical Utility providers are unable to implement IoT projects due to availability of reliable connectivity in required areas. Data gaps and delays can lead to inaccurate pictures of infrastructure and supply. With Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) sunsetting their 2G and 3G networks, and 2G set to be switched off in many countries by 2025, it is becoming even more difficult for Utility providers to secure reliable, consistent connectivity throughout their supply chain.

    Cellular connectivity continues to advance and a recent survey by Deloitte highlighted that 26% of respondents within Utilities had included 5G within their strategy, with a further 36% stating they planned to. However, while cellular connectivity provides a viable alternative, some sites are so remote that there is no cellular coverage. At present, 8% of the US population remain uncovered by mobile networks. What’s more, it will be many years before fiber finds its way to these remote locations – if indeed it ever does – and it’s cost-prohibitive for most companies to fund this privately. Satellite is already used by a third of Utility companies and given the challenges ahead, satellite could prove pivotal to creating a more resilient grid.

    Data security

    Data security continues to be top of mind for Utility providers, with cybersecurity breaches on the rise. IBM reported a 10% increase, from $3.86 million to $4.24 million per incident, in data breach costs between 2020 and 2021. And the energy industry ranked fifth in data breach costs, surpassed only by Healthcare, Financial, Pharmaceutical and technology verticals.

    Arguably, security is also becoming more of a focus for consumers. According to our survey of utility users, hackers bringing down internal systems (as was done in the Colonial pipeline attack), was identified as a potential risk to utility supply by 46.9% of recipients. Given that almost half (46.7%) of March’s survey respondents stated there was a slightly higher cybersecurity risk to Utility supply due to the war in Ukraine, and 20.3%, a substantially increased risk, this is clearly a growing concern.

    Is satellite connectivity secure?

    Satellite communications are as secure as any IP connection. Cybersecurity can be enhanced by securing data paths with encryption, and where appropriate, creating systems completely redundant from public networks and infrastructure. What’s more, any security protocols already in place will operate over a satellite network.

    When working with companies within the Utilities and Renewables industry, one of the first questions we’ll ask is which communications they are most concerned about from a security point of view. And often, we’ll advise SCADASat. SCADASat provides a private satellite network operating a direct communication channel between a process control center and remote locations, specifically designed to meet the demanding requirements of the SCADA and utility industries. SCADASat complies with AES-256 encryption and authentication. Furthermore, it’s completely isolated from the Internet or any other network, riding over a dedicated space segment of one or more satellites for redundant fail-over reliability, in multiple topologies.

    Cyber security features include: VLAN (Virtual LAN) support, file system encryption, secure Linux login to avoid unauthorized access, and SW/FW upgrade over-satellite authentication.

    For more information regarding security and connectivity more generally, we recommend you take a look at our recent eBook.

    Secure data transmission: the key to unlocking Utilities’ operational success?

    The key to operational success in Utilities is to collect accurate, real-time data throughout the supply chain. But data collection is increasingly fraught with risk as cyber-criminals target infrastructure. Our eBook explores three main challenges facing Utility providers: security, aging infrastructure and climate change, and explores the role of connectivity in overcoming these.
    READ EBOOK

    We are proud to have provided one of our utility customers 27 years uninterrupted service, making satellite that company’s most reliable system. To learn more about our solutions and how these can help you consistently provide better for your customers, contact sales@groundcontrol.com.

      Register for our newsletter to get a monthly round up of the latest news in satellite, M2M and IoT. No spam, no third parties, just great content from our team of experts - and you can opt out at any time.

      2022 marks the official 20th anniversary of Ground Control. Ground Control as we know it today, is formed from the merger of three companies – US-based Ground Control, and UK-based Wireless Innovation and Rock Seven. The result? A best-in-class IoT, M2M and critical communications service and technology provider, we service 4,500 customers across 120 countries worldwide.

      We’re in a somewhat unique position at Ground Control, in that founding members from each business still consult and work within the company today. So to celebrate this impressive milestone, particularly in the fast-paced industry of satellite communications, we have amalgamated the “short” story of Ground Control.

       

      Mark Wright, Founder of Ground Control in North America

       
      Following the sale of his highly successful dial-up internet services business, ‘The Grid’, Mark went out on the open road with a newly purchased RV. In 1999, cellular data service didn’t yet exist and as Mark puts it – “as an internet guy, I wasn’t going to go without, so…”.

      After some digging, Mark discovered Direcway satellite service for fixed home installations. It was wonderful new internet technology, but not a technology that could be taken on the road. Undeterred, Mark researched and found a company in Salt Lake City that manufactured RV TV antennas and commissioned them to develop a mobile solution for the Direcway dish in 2001. The result? DataStorm. The first affordable mobile satellite system in North America. The product was a huge success, meeting the needs of RVers and professionals across North America.

      Ground Control visual timeline FINAL

      However, Mark felt that although the product was a great success, it was really lacking a quality service provider. So he founded Ground Control in 2002 to be that provider.

      Mark’s background in internet services rapidly propelled Ground Control to become a leader in mobile satellite-driven internet services in North America. As Mark states – “the key to growth was always quality customer service, quality hardware and a bit of good marketing. Word of mouth is what really propelled Ground Control.”

      Mark Wright, his RV and MCD case based system created by Ground Control
      Mark Wright, founder of Ground Control, his famous mobile VSAT solution, and MCD case-based system. Ground Control continues to design and build VSAT and portable satellite internet solutions from its base in California today.

      Phil Rouse, Founder of Wireless Innovation in the UK

      Around this time, in 2004, there were some exciting developments in the UK. Phil Rouse wanted to transform the business he worked for into one solely focused on satellite, radio and WiFi. Given his proposal was based on a Management Buy Out, he also had to pitch Wireless Innovation to potential employees he wished to move across. Phil states – “I was really humbled by their response. There is always an element of risk and these people had families to support, burgeoning careers. But they trusted me. And they were completely onboard for the vision I had for Wireless Innovation from the very beginning.”

      Phil already had great relationships with TSAT, an expert SCADA device manufacturer, and Iridium, a satellite network provider specializing in global, low latency M2M connectivity. These enabled a strong sales proposition, and within just six weeks, Phil’s team had brokered a sale with large Italian utility company Telespatio. Even with the experienced team, given how new the company was, this was no small feat.

      Phil Rouse, Wireless Innovation team outside Churcham office and the TSAT
      Phil Rouse, founder of Wireless Innovation and current Ground Control Consultant, the Wireless Innovation team outside the Churcham Business Park office and the TSAT.

      Ric Searle, Co-Founder of Rock Seven in the UK

      Meanwhile, also in 2004, Ric Searle and Nick Farrell started Rock Seven, developing solutions based on cellular location services which were emerging at the time. Early applications tracked the location of engineers for electricity companies, so they could deploy the nearest, appropriately skilled engineer to attend to faults in the network.

      As time progressed, Ric explains – “I stumbled across an opportunity to deliver a tracking system for offshore yacht racing, which led to us finding an Iridium tracking product and developing a race management system and viewer, that became YB Tracking. We eventually decided that we could develop better hardware ourselves… So we did.”

      This ultimately led to Rock Seven’s reputation for reliable, accurate global tracking of personnel and/or assets via relatively small devices. More commercial applications, including fisheries, emerged later on. Due to their early experience in offshore yacht racing, maritime is still a large focus for Ground Control today.

      Ric Searle with photo of yacht race winners and rockstar device
      Ric Searle, co-founder of Rock Seven and current Chief Technology Officer at Ground Control. Enhanced RockSTAR device, very popular among lone workers today.

      Since then, there have been multiple milestones for all three companies. To mention just a few, Jeff Staples (current President of North America) joined Ground Control in 2008 and in the same year, launched Ground Control’s flagship VSAT solution, the Toughsat XP. Through a program of continuous improvement, it remains a best-seller today. In 2008, Wireless Innovation landed their first £1 million deal and in 2010 were awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Not to be outdone, Rock Seven designed, engineered and manufactured the RockFLEET, an improved RockSTAR device and the RockAIR.

      The new era: Private equity

       
      2017 would mark the next significant moment in Ground Control’s journey. The founders of Wireless Innovation wanted to sell, Phil Rouse wanted to continue his journey with Wireless Innovation. So Phil set out to seek further financial investment, leading him to then Lyceum Capital, now Horizon – a UK-based private equity firm.

      Horizon tasked Phil with creating a group of companies within the satellite and cellular space, which would enable each to expand their product lines and knowledge base and ultimately, bring new compelling solutions to the market.

      Rock Seven, while serving a different customer base, had clear synergies through their use of Iridium’s short burst data (SBD) service, and their design and build capabilities made for a great fit. Similarly, the engineering capabilities of Ground Control, in addition to the US foothold, made the company a valuable addition to the newly formed group. The company benefited from the collective experience of its expert staff, supplier relationships, manufacturing capabilities, and a truly global customer base.

      Phil explains – “I’ve always seen the key value-add of Wireless Innovation, now Ground Control, as a company capable and willing to take full ownership of the overall solution. There are a lot of players who offer plug-and-play communication systems, but ultimately Ground Control takes the time to understand how, what and why our customers applications work; the data required, frequency of communication needed and the utter importance of the customers application data. Ground Control uniquely positions itself to fully understand both ends of the data communications equation with our customers. And in my opinion, this understanding leads to better solutions for our customers and has been the differentiator between us and competitors.”

      Celebrating 20 years of innovation

       
      Shortly after the merger, Mark Wright retired and Phil Rouse stepped down in 2020, though both remain highly valued mentors for individuals and teams across the business. Alastair MacLeod was then appointed CEO of the Group and has made significant strides to amalgamate, while being careful to not lose sight of the relative, individual strengths of each business. Alastair often describes Ground Control as a large company that feels small. All three companies were founder-led. That entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and additional care taken with customers when they are dealing with a smaller firm, is something all teams work hard to maintain, despite the increasing headcount.

      As Alastair puts it – “we start by listening… a lot of the time the real problem that needs solving isn’t necessarily the one they brought to us in the first place and we’re very good at figuring out the underlying issue.”

      When talking of the anniversary, Alastair states – “It says a lot about a business, that you stay in business for 20 years; the company is obviously good at what it does. But we’re also fresh; we bring the best of both worlds. Money can’t buy twenty years’ experience, but at the same time we’re fully focused on changing ourselves up, all the time, every year, something new, something better. How can we do a better job next year than we did this year? I think that’s what’s great for customers.”

      Looking to the future, Alastair credits Horizon Capital with empowering the company to build new things, grow the team, bring in new skills, as well as retaining and protecting existing experience and expertise. Alastair concludes, – “we’ve been able to leverage our history, our existing resources and investment to build new things, and what comes out of that is something which is genuinely great for the market, and great for customers.”

      CEO Alastair MacLeod with current Ground Control stats

        Register for our newsletter to get a monthly round up of the latest news in satellite, M2M and IoT. No spam, no third parties, just great content from our team of experts - and you can opt out at any time.

         

        The current landscape and impact of wildfires

         
        In a recent announcement on wildfire incidents, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) stated that, “through mid-May of 2022 there have been over 25,000 wildfires consuming 1.4 million acres”. This surpasses the 10 year annual average and it’s predicted that climate change will only exacerbate extreme heat and droughts, which along with severe storms, will make wildfire conditions worsen.  

         
        Spring and summer are the peak seasons for wildland fires. The consequences to wildlife can be devastating – ranging from significant loss of forest and areas of natural habitation to risks to residential areas, and from significant animal deaths to severe air pollution. One of the best tools to monitor, manage and even predict the spread of wildfires is through the use of satellites.  

         

        The importance of satellite connectivity

         
        There are usually places within a forest or a remote wilderness area that don’t have adequate traditional communication coverage. When wildfires occur, communications are vital as wildfires can require the coordination of hundreds of firefighters and cover thousands of acres, causing millions of dollars of damage. During these emergency operations, existing cellular and radio communication infrastructure can be damaged, or even destroyed, cutting off the essential communication channels required by firefighting crews, agency headquarters and dispatch offices. The recovery teams and civilians in areas impacted by wildfire rely on critical connectivity tools for collaboration, coordination, and communication among themselves, other ground and in-flight rescue teams.  

         

        Responding to fires

         
        Once fire crews are at the scene of a fire, there are four key stages to response:
         

        1. MONITOR

        Essentially, observing the fire, its behavior and effects to evaluate whether fire management objectives are still being met. Satellite mapping and drone images enable ground crews to effectively monitor the fire from their base of operations, and even predict the course and spread of the fire.
        nasa-_SFJhRPzJHs-unsplash (1)
        2. CONFINE AND CONTAIN

        Managing a fire perimeter by a combination of direct and indirect actions. Taking the right course of action in this stage of response can reduce the damage and devastation caused by fire. Utilizing portable communication devices such as the RockSTAR, personnel can communicate with one another and base operations with real-time assessments and outcomes of direct and indirect actions.
        rockstar-2-1
        3. POINT/ZONE PROTECTION

        Assessment and protection of assets or highly valued resources, such as buildings. Access to cloud-based GIS data for this assessment is helpful as it contains essential data regarding property and ownership.
        building-fire
        4. SUPPRESSION

        This is when teams are deployed, sometimes en masse, to extinguish or limit wildfire spread. This can take a matter of hours, days or weeks and can involve huge and extensive collaborative efforts between states, agencies and crews to suppress a rampant wildfire. Reliable, robust, internet connectivity to track, monitor and manage personnel and response teams is essential to the safety of fire crews.
        FireCrew

        The role of satellite communication solutions

         
        Portable satellite terminals that deploy quickly can be brought into affected areas to effectively replace, or complement, damaged terrestrial networks. As connectivity comes from space and the hardware is mobile and deployed outside of the fire-hit area, it’s always available. While the terrestrial infrastructure that more typically delivers this connectivity may be disrupted or destroyed, satellites are highly reliable and can deliver connectivity, anywhere, without any loss of quality or capability.  
         
        Satellite images and weather data also help not only to assess the current situation of fire and the impacted areas, but combined with algorithms, can also help predict the course of wildfires. This will help firefighters to control the spread of fires and reduce damage. The nearest critical supplies can also be located easily from the accurate GPS from satellite data. Furthermore, data messaging systems make it easier to send messages from satellite terminals to firefighters about any changes in weather or wind direction.  

         

        A mobile, portable satellite communication solution – MCD-4800 “The Football”

         
        The MCD-4800 “Mobile Communications Device”, also known as “The Football”, is capable of providing high-speed internet, anywhere in the world, in less than one minute and with no specialist training. The auto-pointing BGAN satellite terminal is rugged, but lightweight, and can be used in extreme weather conditions.
         
        Users simply place the weatherproof case on the ground or any surface with a clear view of the sky, turn it on and close the lid. Within a minute the MCD-4800 becomes a powerful WiFi hotspot accessible by any wireless device within a 100-meter range for up to 5 hours on internal battery power.
         
        This auto-pointing solution uses the high-performance Hughes 9450TW in-motion BGAN terminal integrated with our proprietary mobile electronics for a ruggedized, self-contained, user-friendly, global communications link.
         
        With the adoption of portable, mobile satcoms and internet, the response times to fire events can be vastly improved, communication and coordination with other teams significantly enhanced and advanced warning systems more accurate. Furthermore, the MCD-4800 satellite technology helps promote safety and efficiency of fire crews and responders during fire disaster. The device has already been used worldwide to monitor events, improve responses and drive resilience post-disaster, providing infrastructure support.

         
        Ground Control’s emergency communications satellite equipment meets or complies with all SAFECOM requirements, for emergency interoperable communication equipment.

        VIDEO: The MCD-4800 “The Football” in action
         

         
        If you’d like to get in touch to discuss potential satellite solutions for your organization or agency, simply email sales@groundcontrol.com or phone us on 800 773 7168.

         

          Register for our newsletter to get a monthly round up of the latest news in satellite, M2M and IoT. No spam, no third parties, just great content from our team of experts - and you can opt out at any time.