Technology Profile: Staying connected

Imagine the potential of reliable mobile satellite connectivity supported by IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) technology to drive business? Almost 10 times faster data speeds, greater throughput, increased productivity and built-in flexibility to support new technology and feature sets?

Now imagine being able to access that powerful networking platform from existing mobile devices in areas beyond the reach of cellular and GSM networks. This is the future of satellite solutions, and it’s coming in the next few months.

Given historically low oil prices, the weak Canadian dollar and low-growth economy, satellite solutions present a means to cut costs and improve efficiencies at a time when businesses, particularly in the resource sectors, cannot afford to do anything less, says Jim Mandala, vice-president of Globalstar Canada Satellite Co., whose company is currently launching its second-generation low-Earthorbit (LEO) satellites.

Globalstar is the first and only satellite provider to completely update its satellite network, and is now in the process of updating all its ground infrastructure to allow users to realize the benefits of a high-performance IMS satellite communications network that can scale with emerging applications. It’s a leap forward in technology and hardware usage, and brings the consumer trend of 24/7 connectivity via smartphone devices to industries operating within the almost eight million square kilometres outside the reach of traditional cellular and GSM networks.

“It’s a completely new satellite technology and user experience,” says Mandala. “The difference is the equivalent of migrating from dial-up to high-speed Internet service.” What IMS satellite connectivity means on the ground For the first time, workers in remote areas will be able to fully access the network via voice and data satellite Wi-Fi hot spots through a downloadable app on their own mobile devices. This will allow workers in remote locations to use their personal mobile devices for voice connectivity, to send emails and text messages through the satellite network as seamlessly as they do in urban centres supported by cell towers and GSM networks.

The satellites being deployed by Globalstar are the result of a $1.1-billion US investment, and are estimated to offer data speeds that are 10 times faster. In addition, the satellites travel at an altitude of 1,414 kilometers, meaning there is almost no perceptible voice delay, compared with the noticeable time delay and echo effect of calls utilizing geosynchronous satellites, whose orbits are many times higher. M2M In this world of big data, the ability to reliably and securely connect machine-to-machine (M2M) networks in remote locations and use all the information being collected by fixed and mobile assets in real time is a key tool in driving efficiencies and productivity while keeping costs down.

It is particularly critical for oil and gas companies trying to maintain market share in this era of low oil prices. Going forward, when oil prices eventually rebound, those companies that have taken advantage of the benefits of satellite solutions, including small, low-cost, low-power transmitting devices will be well positioned for future growth, says Mandala.

The chip technology used in the latest satellite transmitters is designed to be easily integrated into a broad range of M2M devices and applications for automated meter reading, remote sensing, tracking and monitoring of assets such as oil and gas wells, hydro meters, weather stations, mobile truck locations and the operating conditions of vehicles.

“For example, up until the last year or two, a major Canadian hydro utility had to rely on a manual process for tracking millions of dollars’ worth of remotely located assets,” says Mandala. “Now, with satellite-equipped remote monitoring technologies, it is able to monitor assets in near real time allowing them to realize significant resource efficiencies and cost savings.” Safety and regulatory compliance for lone workers Pre-satellite, two-way radios were the only link remote workers had to issue distress calls.

Today, companies are required — and in some places mandated by provincial legislation — to ensure lone workers have a reliable means to connect, whether on the cellular grid or off. Now, satellite GPS communications devices can be deployed by multiple workers, providing a simple, cost-effective way to help address legislative lone-worker requirements, enable more accurate and consistent check-in procedures and improve overall worker safety.

“Next generation satellite infrastructure will pave the way for new GPS-enable satellite devices which will continue to revolutionize how companies keep lone and remote workers connected and safe,” says Mandala.

About the author: Jamie Zachary is the editor of PROCESSWest.

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