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ThurayaTelecom • February 15

Satellite M2M, The IoT, And The Public Sector

Accelerating national interests with remote IoT connectivity 

Little did Kevin Ashton know in 1999 that a catchy term he once used in a presentation about tracking technology would captivate the tech world 15 years later. “Internet of Things” (IoT) refers to a concept that’s been around for decades, but one that only became a buzzword in 2014 with Google’s acquisition of home device automation company Nest.

While organizations have been using connected devices and machine-to-machine (M2M) networks for a long time, the real potential of the IoT phenomenon has only been explored and universally attested recently. Today, IoT is all the rage and for good reason - there’s no doubt that its implementation is the way forward for developing more efficient, responsive, and reliable systems that gather data, generate insight, and  intuitively take actions in light of those decisions.

With a growing understanding of its wide-scale application and cost-cutting capabilities across vertical markets, the public sector has taken a keen interest in IoT and M2M technologies. After China took the initial step to add IoT to its strategic plans in 2010, governments worldwide have allocated annual budgets for M2M integration in countrywide projects. This year alone, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is reported to have dedicated $8B to IoT infrastructure.

As these technologies grow congruent with daily life, satellite-based IoT is increasingly relevant to the mix. Given that IoT devices are primarily used to eliminate the need for human interface, as well as provide real-time automated monitoring and control across distances, it’s often essential to enable its functioning in remote regions that lie outside the range of terrestrial network coverage.

Furthering Government Prospects & Public Welfare

Satellite connectivity is an absolute necessity in the optimized adoption of M2M technology, especially in the case of government-run projects involving diverse industries and dispersed assets across the country. It enables the collation and exchange of data — in real-time — from many inaccessible points and industrial zones to one central monitoring hub, enabling smart and efficient processes while reducing time, money, and personnel requirements on extensive operations.

Below, we explore how satellite M2M is integral, across the board, to public sector interests:

Safety and Security — One of the top priorities of any government is to ensure the safety and security of the nation and safeguard its borders, territories, population, and resources. IoT solutions like seismic sensors are ideal for use in remote border security and perimeter monitoring by civil defense and military teams. Real-time video surveillance, for example, is an enhanced capability in border protection. Many governmental authorities already have expressed interest in deploying these telemetry solutions for civil defense missions. Additionally, all critical infrastructure requires monitoring, especially in far-off, unmanned areas. Even private organizations working in remote regions, such as oil fields, have to adhere to government protocols for safety, often achieved via satellite-enabled remote asset control terminals.

Harvesting Green Energy — This is big on the to-do list of many environmentally-focused public sector agencies. As natural resources are fast depleting, there is an urgent global call to harness clean energy and develop sustainable practices. Remote connectivity is essential to efficiently monitor solar and wind farms, as well as other renewable energy sources. With a smarter understanding of how inaccessible appliances are working, personnel are better equipped to boost the production of clean energy.

Resource Protection — Government agencies have begun collaborating with satcom partners to use satellite M2M solutions for the smart monitoring of groundwater levels, and to manage and conserve water supplies in order to prevent droughts. In such cases, IoT solutions are ideal for helping to safeguard resources. Satellite M2M services can be used to study weather systems and forecast impending climate changes; monitor regions prone to calamities, like earthquakes and forest fires; and protect endangered habitats, as well as inland and aquatic resources.

Utilities — While utilities are often offered by private companies, they usually still fall under the jurisdiction of government authorities. With the introduction of smart metering and the monitoring of power grids and treatment plants outside areas of mobile coverage, satellite M2M delivers a scalable, efficient solution in high-volume data collection for electricity, gas, and water authorities. Moreover, an IoT solution helps ease the stress of meeting increasing demand for utilities, as consumption and supply are better managed with timely detections in delivery networks — for example, with smart sensors that can swiftly detect water pipe leakages.

Banking — Banking as an industry has been using an early IoT prototype — the ATM — for decades, lending customers access to financial services without having to meet a bank teller. Over the years, these virtual transaction trends have moved towards mobile banking services, and governments now are taking measures to add more efficiency to banking procedures. These steps include setting up real-time video for customer support and surveillance at ‘smart ATMs’; customized offers to smartphones, using beacon technology, when customers enter a bank branch; and POS terminals at establishments that allow customers the convenience of secure credit or debit card transactions from their phones.

IoT services by way of satellite offer many more applications — from smart agriculture, transportation, and fuel management to cargo and personnel tracking. As knowledge and legislation for convergence technologies become pervasive, governments around the world are set to embrace IoT solutions in every relevant industry.

Creating Benefits That Outweigh Risks

While most agree on the benefits of IoT, there are no doubt technological, regulatory, and other dilemmas associated with its implementation. That said, public authorities generally are open to new tech solutions, as long as they don’t compromise on information data security. As we rush towards an ever more connected future, the danger of hacking looms larger. Moreover, increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), while spectacular in its capabilities, comes with its own problems — a reduction in human factor with such technologies implies that system errors are harder to find, stop, and fix.

These examples pose an ongoing challenge for IoT service providers: to develop highly resilient IoT platforms with advanced encryption, as well as early warning and predictive systems. It’s our responsibility to not only develop intuitive capabilities for data exchange and monitoring, but also for elaborate protection and data leak detection. Another important factor when dealing with users from the government sector is timeliness; authorities are constantly bombarded with services and solutions and have rigid roadmaps and procurement plans.

As service providers, we need to distinguish ourselves not just with our product portfolios, but by having a superior understanding of the public sector’s operational needs and purchase cycles. It’s vital to know when to approach public agencies with a sale, and to be ready for how long the integration process may take in order to be recognized as a preferred partner for smart government needs, emphasizing solutions and not just products.

Connectivity In The Near Future

Despite the aforementioned hurdles, governments usually include IoT in their annual plans in some form or shape. Currently, the percentage spent is rather negligible in terms of overall budgets; private sector undertakings in the same vein are certainly moving at a more rigorous pace in comparison, and the public domain has a lot of catching up to do.

However, with the rising trend in smart urban spaces and smart cities, there is a surge in joint IoT initiatives as public and private entities work together on shared goals for their locale. The Asia-Pacific nations take a lead here — as Amy Kean of Mindshare Asia Pacific recently mentioned, this region is most eager to adapt to a connected future. Satellite service providers likewise have a lot more to tap into when it comes to IoT offerings; the future is rife with possibilities to further develop resilient IoT platforms with AI, data mining, and big data capabilities, which will be especially beneficial for governments.

About the Author

As Thuraya’s Chief Strategy Officer, Jassem Nasser leads the strategy and business development division, which includes Corporate Strategy, M&A, and investigating new ventures outside the company’s core MSS business. Jassem also manages Thuraya’s Corporate Affairs, including Regulatory and Spectrum Management & Development. Jassem has over 16 years of experience in the satellite industry, including roles providing strategic direction and overseeing spectrum and frequency management. He has been involved in setting up and managing a start-up satellite organization and guiding the company through its various stages of development by devising strategic direction and priorities, identifying and selection strategic options. Jassem earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications Engineering with first class honors from Khalifa University (UAE).

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