The tsunami of IoT application expansion is not likely to abate in the foreseeable future. New capabilities from smart consumer services to industrial use cases incorporating machine vision and complex system management are added to the IoT ecosystem regularly. However, much of these emerging concepts still rely on tried-and-true IoT processes. There continues to be a need for the classical ‘millions of sensors sending small bits of data’ IoT model. There are also significant new demands from enterprises to see more, know more, and do more, with mission-critical platforms and assets, through IoT applications. This puts enormous strain on existing infrastructure, and forces businesses to find a way to converge multiple, and sometimes disparate, communications platforms and networks to deliver the seamless IoT benefits all businesses demand.
Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) is the next logical step in realizing a one-portal view of systems and assets. In mobile telecommunications, FMC was the strategy for unifying wireless phones with business telephone platforms, eliminating confusion and streamlining contact. In the IoT world, the two major connectivity systems are the 4G wireless and satellite communications networks that serve both fixed and mobile endpoints. Enabling the convergence between these infrastructures certainly accelerates service delivery.
As most of us use wireless networks every day, we are well aware of the convenience and the frustrations of using this technology. In densely populated areas where 4G is widely available, bandwidth is usually more than sufficient for IoT applications. But venture a few miles offshore, or even off the major highways, and signal strength can drop precipitously. In these low- or no-performance areas mobile phone users may be dissatisfied, but still seem willing to accept the situation. In mission-critical IoT applications, the tolerance for loss of connectivity is much lower. The loss of network coverage can render the smartest of systems ineffective—making the convergence of satellite and mobile networks appealing to businesses.
Satellite communication has some blemishes, too. It carries a legacy of high cost, complexity, and inflexibility. Traditional enterprise satellite connections are handled by very small aperture terminal (VSAT) platforms that use a heavy and hypersensitive dish. Once aligned and locked in, throughput can be very consistent. Network services are usually purchased in fixed-bandwidth increments normally sized to accommodate typical traffic, with little flexibility for intermittent high-demand situations. When assets are in motion or relocated, repositioning the VSAT to maintain connection with a satellite is often difficult and time consuming, making traditional VSAT systems unsuited for IoT applications with assets in motion. However, new developments in lightweight software-steered antennas are opening new IoT mobile use cases.
Software-steered antennas electronically adapt to changes in signal strength and enable automatic switching between satellite transponders. This replaces the gyroscope-controlled servos which move VSAT dishes to maintain satellite connections. Combined with the lightweight construction of these new flat-panel antennas, the elimination of moving parts simplifies use and expands usability in IoT applications.
With improved mobility and portability of satellite access, a customer using both satellite and wireless networks must still manage the attributes and nuances of two completely different services, often manually choosing the most available network at any one moment. FMC for IoT automatically balances communications between endpoints and control systems using the best connection path at any time. From the user’s perspective, there is no preconception of which network is utilized, just the experience of seamless access without manually switching between disparate terminals or control screens.
IoT assets can be in fixed positions or in transit, and connectivity options vary based on location. The promise of convergence is to provide constant connectivity in any location, while delivering a unified single view to the user or control station. The cost per byte of satellite network usage will remain higher than 4G wireless, but through converging these two mobile-friendly network technologies, a new delivery model becomes possible.
Through balanced FMC services, usage-based network connectivity, with the capacity to support high-bandwidth use when warranted, is easily delivered. Eliminating fixed-bandwidth limits and fees goes toward eliminating the sometimes-heavy expense of maintaining an underutilized broadband pipe, or more importantly, throttling connectivity when a critical situation demands more bandwidth.
As systems get ‘smarter’ and the types and volume of information continues to expand, the strain on legacy infrastructure—and the expense for accessing these services—will only escalate.
Fixed Mobile Convergence, leveraging 4G wireless and satellite networks to deliver seamless connectivity through a single portal, is a proven alternative that gives businesses the anytime-anywhere IoT access they demand—at competitive price points—which will, in turn, fuel the growth of innovative IoT applications.
This article was written by Emmanuel Cotrel, Co-Founder of FMC GlobalSat. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategy, innovation, and go-to-market activities. Prior to launching FMC GlobalSat, he founded BlueNRGY LLC, a leading independent software company that provides data acquisition, control systems and big data analytics for solar power plants
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