5G from space, Industry 4.0 on water:  The Internet of Things via satellite

The world of satellite communication is changing, promising more data throughput, broader coverage, and lower price per bit. And not least: new satellite constellations are coming. Specialists from the Data Respons subsidiary, TechPeople, are helping one of the leading global satcom companies to stay ahead of the competition.

Earth planet and satellite view from space - 3d render

Data Respons subsidiary TechPeople, based in Denmark, is a specialist in providing expert to tech companies in need of embedded developers. You might consider that a niche business in the engineering consultancy domain, and in fact it is. But as embedded experts are in high demand – now more than ever – TechPeople has been growing steadily since its foundation in 2010.

Satellite communication plays a big part in the TechPeople success story, as the company Cobham SATCOM is TechPeoples single largest customer. Throughout the years TechPeople specialists have been continuously working alongside Cobham SATCOM’s own engineers, providing expert knowledge in hardware design, RF antenna technology, software etc., and thereby strengthening Cobham SATCOM’s position as a global leader in satellite communications.

The complete satcom chain

Cobham SATCOM is unique, compared to other players in the satcom market, as the company develops and produces equipment for the complete satcom chain. The only exception is the satellites themselves. Those are built by Boeing, Airbus and others.

Cobham SATCOM builds the ground stations, that connect the satellites to the public internet and to cellular networks. Also, they build the terminals connecting directly to satellites, custom built for planes, ships, and vehicles. Every application has different requirements. For instance, a satellite terminal on a ship needs to have a moveable antenna that can point very precisely to a satellite, even in high seas and rough weather.

In a nutshell, what’s currently happening in the satcom industry is driven by the same trend that has transformed your mobile phone into so much more than just a device for making phone calls. It’s about constant access to the internet, about transfer of large amounts of data, connected devices, IoT and all the other bits and pieces that make up today’s connected, always-on world.

Low Earth Orbit

Much is happening in the satcom world, and TechPeople specialists are playing their part in pushing the envelope of satcom tech. The probably most spectacular and heavily hyped newcomers are the LEO (Low Earth Orbit) constellations, backed by tech celebrities such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. These swarms of small satellites will be circling the Earth at about 800 km, while conventional satellites are much farther away, 36.000 km from the Earth surface. Another important difference is that conventional satellites are geosynchronous, meaning they follow the Earth’s rotation, while LEO-satellites are crisscrossing above us. The LEO-vision promises high throughput, low latency, global coverage, and disruptive pricing. However, LEO is still in its infancy, and although it’s taking much of the spotlight, other exciting stuff are going on regarding conventional satellite systems. They are becoming more powerful and efficient and thereby lowering the price for connectivity and opening new market segments for the satcom industry.

Maritime satcom

The maritime industry is an ideal case example of why and how satellite communication is changing and evolving.

Increasing amounts of data are being transmitted back and forth between ships and land-based control centers. Automation, decision support, remote monitoring of engines etc., all these things are becoming integral parts of shipping. Some people call it “Industry 4.0 on water”. Previously it was only Crew Welfare services like video streaming that needed powerful satellite links. Now the ship is integrated into a wealth of digital systems for coordinating traffic in harbors and channels, customs clearance, and much more.

More and more operations are handled by large control centers onshore, processing data from the ships and helping the crew to run the ship as efficiently as possible, for instance regarding fuel consumption. You even see that the crew, instead of taking time off when the ship is on the open sea, are given administrative tasks, that can be performed remotely with a computer and internet access.

300 ships

Cobham SATCOM is a world leader in maritime satcom. Throughout the years, Cobham SATCOM has equipped thousands of ships with antenna systems. The trend within this segment goes towards more powerful antennas and higher throughput through single or dual antenna setup. These requirements reflect, that satcom connectivity has become mission critical in the shipping business.

To meet this new need for powerful connectivity, satcom providers like Cobham are beefing up their products, among other things by utilizing higher transmission frequencies that allow for a larger transmission load. However, these frequencies are more vulnerable towards interference caused by rain, fog, or stormy weather.

Making this work, is one of a wide range of engineering challenges to be handled by the Cobham SATCOM developers and the expert consultants helping them.

0,1 % accuracy

Another challenge is developing new types of antennas. Not only is Cobham SATCOM building parabolic antennas that can point to a satellite with 0,1-degree accuracy, although the antenna is placed on a ship moving back and forth in high seas. Typically, two connected antennas are used to secure the connection.

All this requires expert knowledge in mechanics, control technology and software, including all that goes into state-of-the-art embedded solutions: GPIO pins, embedded and real-time Linux, protocol handling etc.

The emerging LEO constellations add an extra level of complexity. For instance, instead of pointing to one geosynchronous satellite, LEO terminals must choose which LEO satellite to connect to, follow it while it’s in range, and then jump to the next and the next.

5G and new markets

While satellite communication is becoming increasingly powerful, it is beginning to take on new roles in the communication infrastructure covering the globe. For instance, Cobham SATCOM is preparing to map the current population of geo-stationary satellites into the emerging 5G infrastructure, opening new business opportunities for satcom service providers.

Also, while the traditional users of satcom – government agencies and businesses – have a rising need for powerful connectivity, new users and applications are coming in. New markets open up, as the capabilities go up and the price per bit goes down. For instance, are content providers offering television based on the customer having his/hers own parabolic antenna, starting to offer TV On Demand instead of only flow-TV.

In short, much is happening in satellite communication, and specialists from TechPeople are helping one of the global satcom leaders stay ahead of the competition.

Meet the TechPeople

Photo of Jens Kolind

Jens Kolind is a senior test specialist focusing on integration, acceptance and performance testing of complex software and electronics systems. He has extensive experience in designing test methods and environments from the ground up, and working in large, international development teams.

Jens is currently engaged in a large new Cobham project, which develops ground stations and satellite terminals for a new range of geosynchronous satellites. The ground stations are the gateways between the satellite and various telephone networks and the internet. Jens is one of the people responsible for software integration and test.




Photo of Jesper Nordling

Jesper Nordling is a project manager specializing in IT and development projects. With 10+ years of background in Quality Management and broad experience in leading large development teams, Jesper can execute complex projects with tight deadlines. He is PRINCE2, LEAN management and SCRUM master certified.

He’s currently responsible for two projects. The first is the development of a new type of omni directional antenna for maritime safety. Regulators have introduced a new set of technical specifications regarding the ability of ships to connect to satellites even in very rough weather, to secure that emergency signals can be transmitted.