Thuraya Link issue 8 Nov 2014
Issue 10 | MAY 2015
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Governments Want Simplicity, Security and Reliability from Mobile Satellite Providers
Robert Demers, Senior Advisor at Thuraya, shares his view on how mobile satellite services need to be tailored to address the evolving needs of the military and government users.
Fahad Kahoor
Anyone who has ever switched to a new smartphone or computer knows that the transition is rarely smooth. Software never seems to load easily, printer connections need adjusting, passwords must be found, and online accounts have to be set up all over again.

Magnify that experience a dozen-fold and you get a sense of what military and government personnel face, as they are continually tasked with understanding and operating ever more technologically advanced weapons, communications, and other systems. Just like the rest of us, these government users face increasingly complex gadgetry every day. Each new electronic box or terminal has more buttons and complications than the one it replaced. Government users demand something simple and seamless that works every time—but that also functions as well in the dusty terrains of North Africa, as in the rainy tropics of the Philippines.

At Thuraya, we have witnessed a gradual evolution of the mobile communications requirements of military and other government customers over the past few years. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq coincided with the coming of age of the digital generation. Men and women entering government and military service today have only known a world in which they are always connected to their peers by a device that fits into a pocket. The need and demand for mobility in the field has led to a revolution in on–the–go communications, supported by satellite.

Government customers using commercial satellites were once satisfied with simply buying a fixed amount of transponder service. No more. This new mobile world has caused a shift in what government customers need—demand—from service providers:
1. A solution, not just equipment. A few years ago, we in the industry talked a lot about offering government customers commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment. As devices have become more complicated, simply delivering a box of COTS doesn’t work anymore. Many military units don’t have the personnel with the technical expertise to effectively put a communications network together. In fact, many military units around the world rely on staff contractors to maintain and update all varieties of equipment.

The problem with having the equipment but not the capability was driven home most tragically by the December 28 disappearance of AirAsia 8501 on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore. Indonesian ships and airplanes had radios to communicate with one another, but not the satellite connectivity essential to coordinating the overall search effort in the Java Sea from a central location. In a matter of hours, we were able to provide Thuraya IP satellite terminals and a link back to the primary coordination center in Jakarta, so that the radios could be used to communicate search progress and ultimately help officials find the submerged wreckage of the aircraft.
2. An integrated solution. Getting one type of information to integrate with another, such as coupling radar signals and surveillance video, has become mandatory for many government agencies tasked with monitoring vast geographic areas for terrorist or other threats. Such efforts create large networks of many small devices. These networks are not unlike an iPhone being used to adjust a home thermostat, turn on the TV, or monitor the home security system. But these large government-operated monitoring networks require satellites in order to seamlessly connect devices, especially if they are in motion. Thuraya recently installed one such network for an agency with jurisdiction over a major harbor in Asia. It involved taking images of ships entering and leaving the harbor, video surveillance of dock areas, auto license plate readers and other monitoring, all fed via satellite to a central location.
3. Bring Your Own Device. There probably isn't a military unit in the world that allows recruits to bring their smartphones during basic training. But after that initial period, such devices are never far from hand for these young soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women. Governments are increasingly interested in empowering employees in the field to use their own smartphones, apps and address books for work-related purposes over a satellite and other networks. These personal devices can connect to the network via local IP hotspots or through wraparound cases that convert the devices to satellite phones.
4. Small and portable. The mobile phone generation didn't have telephones connected by a wire to the wall at home. Nor do they expect such restrictions in the field or at disaster sites. Government users expect satellite communications devices that can be easily moved and set up in an instant. This requires small ground antennas, portability, lightweight power supplies, and ease of use. Messing with bulky satellite dishes or dragging around large electrical generators is no longer acceptable.
5. Security. We all now know that any device can be hacked by a determined, knowledgeable adversary. So the focus is no longer just on the firewall, but also on the information inside the network perimeter—as well as all the devices on the outside that are connected to the network. Mobile users on their own devices have made government networks more susceptible to security breaches via the Internet. Government customers have become justifiably wary about any connection to their networks. Commercial satellite operators providing service to governments have isolated their own networks from the Internet, as much as possible to avoid security breaches.
6. Flexible pricing and service plans. Anyone doing business with government agencies knows that price has become a major focus of contracts, to the point that the acronym "LPTA" (lowest price, technically acceptable) is often spoken with derision among contractors (especially those losing out on a bid!). But flexible pricing models are becoming the norm rather than the exception for satellite services. Customers understandably only want to pay for bandwidth actually used. The government customer also wants service plans that can be set based on data requirements. For example, services such as asymmetric streaming allow users to select from a range of upload and download speeds. Companies that provide optional pricing plans to government customers will be the ones who ultimately succeed.
Government customers essentially want simplicity, network security and equipment reliability—at a fair price, and without having to be confounded by the settings on the latest satellite modem. Governments around the world rely on the commercial satellite industry to provide the best service at the fairest price, and we should deliver.
The Affordable Satellite Phone: No Longer a Contradiction of Terms
Delivering Secure Satellite Communications for Critical Government Operations
Thought Leadership
Governments Want Simplicity, Security and Reliability from Mobile Satellite Providers
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