The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the factors moving Inmarsat from a satellite connectivity company into technology solutions.
“Satellite isn't the answer to everything, every single problem,” said Paul Gudonis, President of Inmarsat Enterprise. “We need to be able to offer a wide portfolio of solutions to meet the customer's requirements. Sometimes it might not be satellite at all. It might be cellular, fixed line.We don’t want to put the customer into one solution when it’s not the right answer.”
Founded in 1979, Inmarsat has provided mobile communications services for nearly 35 years, starting with the maritime industry and expanding to governments, broadcast media, oil and gas, mining and humanitarian aid organizations. As the need for connectivity has expanded beyond voice services around the globe, data and IoT have become increasingly more important.
A showcase for Inmarsat’s recent IoT efforts in Africa is Kigali, the capital of the Republic of Rwanda and home to more than one million people. Last month, Inmarsat launched a set of digital service pilots with the Rwanda government. A LoRaWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) with satellite connectivity provides a gateway for several projects, including a distributed air quality monitoring suite; a smart bus with satellite Internet providing connectivity for remote communities; and a precision farming initiative intended to increase crop yield and better manage water resources.
Information collected through sensors is sent back for analysis to whichever transport layer provides the “best” transport layer, be it cellular or satellite.
“SLAs on satellite are higher than cellular,” Gudonis said. “SLAs for cellular are on a best-case basis. Cellular gives exceptional data capacity. The point is we believe you do need both to provide in order to provide the right solution to the customer.”
Depending on the application, satellite can prove to be more economical according to Gudonis, with satellite providing a single price point and contact point for service delivery on a global basis, while cellular can be more expensive once roaming across multiple regions is factored in. Inmarsat has established cellular partnerships with Vodafone and Jersey Telecom so it can offer the best connectivity fit for customers depending on the requirements for an IoT solution.
IoT solutions deployed in the United States using Inmarsat services include partnering with ORBCOMM to deliver a truck fleet monitoring solution for Walmart and working with Galaxy 1 Communications to provide utilities and oil and gas with monitoring solutions for transmission grids and pipelines.
“We're starting to think about IoT in different ways,” Gudonis said. “It's a very exciting time in the IoT world. We're at the point where technology is starting to drive some really exciting solutions. We're looking at types of solutions that help us both from a revenue perspective and solutions that have a big global impact.”
Inmarsat's interest in and experience with IoT has given it traction with established global system integrators such as HP Enterprise, GE, and Capgemini.
“Certainly, in the short to medium term, [Inmarsat] is working in partnership with an ecosystem that can target certain sectors,” Gudonis said. “Rather than becoming a system integrator overnight, how can we enable services working with existing channel partners and also working with new companies and organizations? We're enabling digital services rather than delivering a pure connectivity pipeline.”
“Longer term, where does our future lay? Will it be more niche? Or system integration? It's too early to tell... Our main effort is the ability to deliver value within that chain [of partners] and not become an commodity providing a connectivity type.”
Adding more value to IoT solutions is something Inmarsat already is examining. The company has worked with geospatial and imaging companies to integrate IoT data with positioning information and imagery, providing situational awareness beyond raw numbers. An IoT alarm on a pipeline could trigger an asset to deliver a visual of a piece of equipment with an unmanned flying UAV “drone” or via satellite to provide confirmation of a pipeline break. A relief agency could use on-the-ground photography taken with a smartphone to trigger a larger search of relevant satellite imagery, providing a larger, more complete picture of conditions in an area.