The Power of Hybrid 5G Satellite Connectivity

Major connectivity service providers offer customers access to an integrated, global network that includes all available cellular, fiber and satellite options to continually provide the best communication path for their customers.

exploration has to stop—all because there is no way to transmit and analyze the data. The requirement for reliable, flexible communication has never been greater. No longer is communication just between people. It is between people and machines, and now with the rise in Internet of things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M) as well. Modern ships and drilling platforms rely on communications to manage and transmit data from equipment sensors and secure onboard networks, sending information back to offices on shore, so that any malfunctions are promptly identified, and remedial action taken immediately. In many instances, narrowband communication is adequate for monitoring, but this is often supplemented with the ability to switch to broadband if an exception occurs.

Pipelines that traverse thousands of miles of deserted landscape are equipped with digital sensors for early identification of any problems. Without these sensors, if a pipe was damaged and started to leak, the entire line would have to be inspected to find out where the problem was located. With digital sensors sending regular updates to a central point, it becomes easy to pin the problem down to a few miles, saving considerable time and money.

Remote mines are as dependent on a reliable communications infrastructure as offshore drilling rigs. Many mines rely on remotely operated or autonomous machinery, and the crews located at these sites have much in common with mariners, often spending many months away from family and friends.  Reliable connectivity—to keep in touch, entertain themselves and stay safe in challenging environments—is crucial to maintaining a happy, healthy workforce.

The importance of hybrid networks

Built-in redundancy is essential, as fiber gets broken, overhead cables fall down, bandwidth availability from WiFi and cellular networks can be inconsistent depending on usage, and satellite signals may be subject to interference or rain fade in harsh weather. Yet 100 percent uptime is a requirement in these remote environments.

There are now more access technology and network choices than ever before. Cellular networks vary from 2 and 3G in less developed regions, to LTE and 5G in developed countries. WiFi hotspots continue to increase in number, as some of them now connect to satellite. Fiber networks are expanding their reach and capacity as dark fiber is lit up. Traditional wide beam geostationary satellites (GEOs) have been joined by high throughput GEOs (HTS), medium earth orbit (MEO) and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. 

MEO and LEO satellites bring additional benefits to users besides enhanced capacity. First, lower latency; GEOs orbit the earth at 36,000 kilometers, while current LEO and MEO constellations operate at orbits varying from 550 kilometers to 8,000 kilometers, translating to fiber-like latency. This is very important for applications such as autonomous and remotely controlled vehicles, and M2M communications. Second, LEOs operating in polar orbits enable connectivity to extreme northern and southern latitudes that can’t be served by GEOs.

In addition to redundancy, hybrid networks provide flexibility. As needs change during oil or gas exploration and construction, vast amounts of seismic data and streaming footage needs to be transmitted, and large crews operating critical infrastructure need to be supported. When production starts on an energy site, crew size diminishes, as does the amount of data needing to be transmitted. 

The reverse, however, happens at mining sites. At one mining camp in Africa, a hybrid network using fiber, LTE cellular and MEO connectivity was created to support a site that will scale from 7 to 34,000 people. Leveraging a hybrid solution allows connectivity to scale with demand, keeping the solution cost-effective and efficient.

More immediate needs for hybrid connectivity occur as planes and ships move out of the footprint of one satellite into another or move out of reach of port WiFi or cellular (LTE or 5G) into areas that can only be served by satellite. Savvy cruise lines are taking advantage of partnerships with global service providers that are able to provide this seamless hybrid connectivity on multiple paths and orbits, so the onboard experience is continuous and smooth.

For all these reasons, hybrid communication networks are essential for remote site operations both onshore and offshore. Equally essential is the need to ensure that the transition between one connectivity source to the next is seamless, and for this a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is needed. SD-WAN creates a virtual WAN using capacity from all the paths available in the network, and checks every few milliseconds for reliability, bandwidth, latency and interference, and automatically routes traffic to the highest quality link available.

This is the hybrid network of the future—and the present. Major connectivity service providers offer customers access to an integrated, global network that includes all available cellular, fiber and satellite options, including the new generation of MEO and LEO satellites, with automatic, seamless switching, to continually provide the best communication path for their customers.


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