Latin America, Oil and the Race to Retrofit

IIoT in Oil

Latin America has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world behind the Middle East, yet it’s never been known as an oil-producing maverick due to external and internal hindrances, including U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and a regulatory framework in Mexico and elsewhere that tends to dampen competition. All that is about to change.  With geopolitical disruptions wracking the Middle East and Russia, importers looking to diversify their oil supply have set their sights on Latin America — and for good reason. The discovery less than a decade ago of around 11 billion barrels of crude oil reserves off the coast of Guyana made headlines globally, with news coverage reaching a fevered pitch when the oil started gushing into pipelines. The “incredibly short” five-year timespan between discovery in 2015 to full-blown production in 2020 was “unprecedented,” according to The discovery, and the oil-and-gas exploration since then, has huge implications for the global market and for Latin American oil producers. It offers a partial solution to a looming problem: a source of clean, cost-efficient oil, which will be in high demand during the decades-long energy evolution. To stay competitive and claim its stake as part of the solution, Latin America’s existing onshore oil fields, which historically operate well below their production potential, have shifted into high gear to optimize performance, increase operational efficiencies, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is a challenge, however, faced by many existing producers: aging infrastructure. Data Within Reach Aging infrastructure located in harsh, remote environments like the Maracaibo Basin in Venezuela, which is surrounded by mountain ranges and an almost constant veil of overhanging clouds, or the Sureste Basin in Mexico where more than 50% of the basin area is located in a deep-water Campeche slope, are not be built for data at scale. The challenge of outdated infrastructure lies in leveraging data from the increasing number of sensors at the edge for data collection, storage, analysis, and connectivity across the enterprise. IIoT devices have long been MacGyvered with twine and duct tape. They use different protocols within decades-old SCADA systems. These disparate systems hurt production potential with two significant barriers: equipment from a variety of vendors along with little or no historical documentation to reveal who or what the modifications were and machine languages that don’t talk “nicely” to one another. While we don’t have statistics showing the number of aging pipeline networks in Latin America, there is evidence that outdated equipment reduces oil and gas opportunities. In early 2024, the U.S. Energy Information Administration looked at Venezuela’s energy landscape and found that “much of Venezuela’s crude oil production capacity and infrastructure have suffered from a decade-long lack of capital and regular maintenance.” Yet, replacing a network from scratch is costly – and unnecessary.  Retrofitting existing infrastructure makes sense, leads to increasing business value from your operations, and funnels data to key decision-makers throughout the business (yes, even beyond the operations team – more on that in a bit). To support our worldwide network operator customers, we often team up with in-region trusted distribution and system integrator partners. This helps our customers experience the FreeWave difference – an end-to-end Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) data solution – with local expertise and ongoing support. One project we’re working on is based in Peru. The infrastructure is more than 15 years old. Over the years, personnel have changed and there has been no consistent tracking of data and processes. All this has led to knowledge gaps, with questions like: What equipment do we have in the field? Where can we increase efficiency? What data do we have that we don’t access? How can data help us reduce costly downtime? What data do decision-makers in different parts of our business need? How can satellite connectivity improve uptime and data access? In established oil fields, a rise in IIoT sensors measuring things like temperature, pressure, and flow is generating massive amounts of data. But too often, data generated at the edge remains siloed, beyond the reach of decision-makers. Or, because IIoT devices have been MacGyvered with twine and duct tape and, therefore, use different protocols within decades-old SCADA systems, standard protocols simply don’t communicate well. Retrofitting aging SCADA infrastructure means leveraging data for better data management, transfer, analysis, and visualization. The solution integrates IIoT sensors, edge computing, cloud analysis for extensive processing of data from different sources, and satellite connectivity. First, though, comes the convergence conversation. Unpacking IT/OT Convergence for Better Decision-Making FreeWave’s end-to-end solution includes the FreeWave® Insights™ data platform, connected devices like our FreeWave Fusion™ platform for edge processing and connectivity, ORBCOMM’s feature-rich satellite terminals, and satellite service plans through our partnership with Viasat. The unmistakable trend we’re seeing from our work in Latin America and other regions is is Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) convergence. In the past, these two areas were worlds apart – and it was understandable. Each had its own agenda. They didn’t play in the sandbox together. Today, they must and can. Oil producers racing to retrofit their infrastructure are recognizing that convergence is essential. In an article by McKinsey & Company, “While the rationale for converging IT and OT originated years ago, the emergence of IIoT is driving momentum today—particularly IIoT’s need for data from a vast number of sources. Compared with a traditional IT stack, the IIoT-based industrial automation stack adds a new layer for analytics, end-user digital applications, data management, and storage.” An operation and IT alliance amps up computational power in the cloud and gives a clearer insight to more users. FreeWave is closing the IT/OT gap for oil producers in Latin America that have aging infrastructure needing to get data from sensors and machines in the field, converting that data through our platform and delivering it via a single pane of glass – a user interface that provides uninterrupted visualization of data to real people, alerts, and alarms that enable data-driven decision at the point of decision-making. While technology has evolved, OT has always been

Edge Security in an Era of Distrust

Cyber security picture of lock

Unlike other IIoT security models that rely on a trusted perimeter, a Zero Trust Security framework provides broader coverage by distrusting every network device and user along the data path. Working in cybersecurity, the good guys are expected to think like the bad guys. Let me explain. Institutions world-wide are still guarded when it comes to cloud computing, and while the cloud generally offers greater protection against cyberattacks than on-premise data storage and processing, it is not impenetrable to hackers. Despite this leeriness, roughly 60 percent of all corporate data already exists in the cloud. And cloud migration continues to accelerate. By 2025, 85 percent of corporate IT departments will have adopted  a “cloud-first” strategy, prioritizing cloud technologies over on-premises solutions. That’s why, when developing the FreeWave® Insights™ cloud-based data platform, our team assumes the “bad actor” role. To ensure the integrity and security of data in the cloud, our team is charged with finding and exposing any weak spots. We must anticipate every conceivable threat and vulnerability. We think like the enemy so we can forge armor that guards against brute attacks and sneaky infiltrations alike.  Zero Trust, Cloud, and Cybersecurity And that brings me to another part of my job: helping customers see the good in the cloud (in cyberspace), sometimes convincing them that it truly does not harbor threats as ubiquitous and unconquerable as the “vicious, Lovecraftian monsters” that lurked in the low-lying cloud (of the atmospheric variety) in the horror film The Mist. I can do so with confidence because our Insights platform — in conjunction with FreeWave’s Fusion™ radios — uses a Zero Trust Security framework to keep data secure all along the data pipeline and into the cloud. We’ll delve into Zero Trust Security in a bit, right after this plot twist: concerns about cloud security are indeed legit, but in the IIoT world, the cloud represents just one part of an ever-expanding attack surface of potential entry points for cybercriminals. It’s not so much cloud adoption as the rapid expansion of IIoT ecosystems — where numerous devices are connected and continually exchange data — that poses the greater cybersecurity threat. The proliferation of IIoT devices broadens network vulnerabilities, as each device becomes a potential cyberattack vector. That’s why a cybersecurity framework must extend from the cloud all the way to the edge, encompassing every networked IIoT device. This is where Zero Trust Security comes in. Never Trust; Always Verify A Zero Trust Security framework regards all network devices and users as suspect and ignores data from any source until the sender provides verifiable proof of identity. Unlike Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other conventional security models that control access to a trusted perimeter, Zero Trust Security requires multiple layers of authentication and authorization as part of a continuous process. A Facilities Management Advisor article aptly illustrates the difference by likening a VPN perimeter to airport security: You show your ID at the checkpoint, and once inside, you can “roam freely and check out all the shops, terminals, and gates.” Potentially, a fake ID could provide entry to the perimeter and unimpeded access within it. But if Zero Trust were in play, “you can access only the terminal, gate, and plane you are authorized to use when you get through security.” And what does it take to pass through security? Strict access controls include various cryptographic techniques including encryption (public) and decryption (private) “keys” and digital certificates. (I Googled “How to explain public and private keys to laymen” and up popped this discussion, which paints a clearer picture than the way I tend to describe Zero Trust cryptographies: as an elaborate secret handshake known only to card-carrying club members.) Besides assuming that every network-access seeker is an impostor or a malicious actor until proven otherwise, Zero Trust Security limits access based on the principle of least privilege, meaning that devices, users, and applications are only granted the minimum level of access required to perform their tasks. In addition, Zero Trust Security divides firewall-protected network zones into smaller, isolated micro-segments — each with its own access controls and encryption — to further prevent lateral movement by evil geniuses who manage to circumvent the first line of defense. End-to-End Data Pipeline Security The FreeWave Insights data platform takes Zero Trust Security all the way to the edge. The platform allows for the secure flow of information from IIoT devices and other data sources to the cloud for analysis and then to an onscreen user interface, or dashboard, which custom-displays different data sets for different users depending on their position and permissions.   FreeWave’s Zero Trust Security framework starts with our Fusion radio gateways (coming soon!) that collect and transmit data from IIoT devices in the field. An easy-to-install application is all it takes to transform Fusion radios into cybersecurity fortresses by activating Zero Trust verification and encryption. The encryption process essentially wraps data in a Zero Trust packet for secure transfer to the cloud, where another app unwraps, or decrypts, the data and delivers it to the end user. But first, the Insights platform prioritizes, analyzes, and graphically represents the data based on the user’s dashboard preferences. FreeWave customers might have hundreds of IIoT sensors — many of them unsecured — operating across several industrial sites. All of these devices are integrable with our Fusion-based data encryption software and our cloud-based Insights data platform. Notwithstanding my penchant for envisioning the worst-case scenarios, I know a good thing when I see it. And Zero Trust Security is a good thing. But don’t take my word for it. According to IBM’s most recent Cost of Data Breach Report, Zero Trust strategies reduced the average cost of a data breach by $1.76 million in 2023. And, in its Market Guide for Zero Trust Network Access, Gartner asserts that Zero Trust architecture “erects true, identity-based barriers that are proving more challenging for attackers to circumvent than traditional network-level VPNs and firewalls.” Bottom line: Zero Trust Security is the best defense against cyberspace villainy.

What is “Platform as a Service” and How Does it Improve Efficiencies in IIoT Ecosystems?

What I’m about to tell you will change a year from now — and even by the time you read this: As I write, there are about 17.08 billion connected IoT devices worldwide.  That figure mushrooms daily. In fact, by 2030, the number of active IoT devices is expected to double. Put another way, according to IDC data, 152,200 IoT devices will connect every minute by 2025. Why am I mentioning these fun facts? Remote asset monitoring is the most popular use case for IoT. Yes, the MOST popular. At industrial production sites the world over, IIoT sensors (short for Industrial Internet of Things sensors, as IoT devices are referred to in such applications) continually measure pressure, temperature, water level, wind speed, air quality, ambient conditions, safety parameters — the list goes on. I’ve worked with IIoT technology in various capacities since its infancy, so it’s impossible for me to see the proliferation of IIoT sensors and not envision the enormous potential the data offers to different decision-making levels, from engineers in the field, to regional managers, to top leadership.  But in recent years, as the IIoT sensors market expanded, the promise of efficiency was tempered by something else I couldn’t help but notice. Wasted effort. And lots of it.  With each new IIoT device brought to market, manufacturers spent untold amounts of time and money making it live up to its potential. Time and again, they were building and rebuilding the same technology to enable data-based decision making, miles away from the device itself. Essentially, IIoT manufacturers kept reinventing the wheel. That is, until my colleagues and I saw the way to a solution.  Platform as a Service Comes to the Rescue I live in Colorado, and while I’m not far from the woodsy mountains, I can honestly say I’ve spent zero time pondering the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?  And yet I ask you to consider this: If an IIoT device on an offshore oil rig (or some other remote location) senses something amiss, and there’s no one onsite, does anybody hear? For all practical purposes, the answer is no. The device itself is just a piece of hardware. It can emit a signal of sorts, but in order to be understood and acted upon by humans, the signal must not only be transferred but also translated into intelligible data. And just because a transmission is intelligible doesn’t make it meaningful. For that, the data must undergo software analysis on its way to a user interface, or point of human interaction. What starts out as zeros and ones becomes knowledge along the way. Onscreen, the user sees an interactive IIoT dashboard, which graphically represents — or “visualizes” — data so as to provide at-a-glance, actionable insights regarding remote operations. So, when a sensor detects a pressure spike or something else awry, the aberrant measurement doesn’t fall on deaf ears but takes the form of an alert, which is “heard” and heeded at the end of the data chain.  At the start of the data chain — commonly called the edge — is your sensor. On the other end is the user interface. In between is a middle layer of sorts, which connects sensors to software and, ultimately, humans. This middle layer is called a platform, and every sensor needs one. The platform allows for the flow of information from end to end and also contains the tools needed for analysis. It gets the data where it needs to be, in a format that’s useful to the person receiving it. So, for every IIoT device developed, manufacturers also built out a platform. Over time, a pattern emerged: Regardless of the manufacturer or specific type of device, the resulting platforms were mostly all the same. These platforms shared so many basic functions and requirements that their makeup was roughly 70 percent identical.  The remaining 30 percent of platform design varies by use case and other factors. Take, for example, a fictitious tech company called Joe’s Tree Growth Sensors (a nod to both my passions: Colorado and technology!). Several of Joe’s sensors monitor the growth of trees intended to provide shade in a public park. Elsewhere, Joe’s sensors monitor the growth of trees on a pine plantation. Sitting at his computer in the comfort of his office, the park manager wants to see his tree-growth data presented in a certain way, with emphasis on crown measurement. The sales manager of the plantation, however, needs to see alerts when the trees are ready to harvest. And across the hall from the sales manager, the plantation’s Director of Tree Health needs to see indicators that trees have a growth-stunting nutrient deficiency. Still, the thought that every device represents a specific and representative platform gave me pause. That is a lot of dashboards, proprietary links, and so on. Data overload. Clearly, it would be more cost-effective to invest resources on customizable parts unique to each application and end user while outsourcing the development of the platform’s all-purpose — or “generic” — design elements. And Joe can accomplish this feat by leveraging Platform as a Service (PaaS) as opposed to building a platform from scratch for each newly invented IIoT device. Joe’s tree-loving customers win big, too, because the platform, with its customizable dashboard, delivers data they predefine as relevant.  Introducing the First Customizable Data Platform for Industrial Operators While Joe is imaginary, IIoT manufacturers and remote operators are already seeing real results with the very real and available FreeWave® Insights™ cloud-based data platform, which comes complete with user-friendly tools for dashboard creation and customization. (The words dashboard and platform are sometimes used interchangeably, but we consider the dashboard as the user interface within the IIoT platform.) The dashboard is both a control panel and a visual representation of key data your IIoT devices and sensors collect.  A well-designed dashboard conveys information hierarchically through charts and other data visualizations, empowering users

IIoT Data Delivery in Oil and Gas Production: How to Cut Through the Noise and Cut Down the Costs

When it comes to IIoT data transmission, “talk” isn’t cheap. Here’s how to reduce data transmission costs and make sense of endless, ever-increasing chatter across IIoT devices. In the oil and gas (O&G) industry, where remote and harsh production sites abound, reliance on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is growing by the day. Sensors in the field transmit real-time data on equipment performance, environmental conditions, and safety parameters — often to a SCADA system that’s been in service long before IIoT devices became ubiquitous. Some data points mean the difference between success and failure — or even life and death. By reporting elevated pressures in pipelines, for example, IIoT sensor data helps avert disaster. By measuring the volume of oil that flows from a wellbore into pipelines, companies can collect every penny owed to them for what they extract. Because safety, profitability, and other business imperatives rely so heavily on vital measurements, this data is sometimes hailed as priceless — provided companies alchemize it into insights. Nevertheless, companies don’t want to overspend on leveraging data regardless of its potential ROI. At the same time, however, they keep adding more and more IIoT devices out in the field, raising costs as well as other concerns associated with data transmissions. What’s That Noise? One concern is the unintelligible noise created by devices using all sorts of different messaging protocols that the SCADA system can’t understand. Imagine for a moment that the United Nations has erupted into bedlam. Representatives from different nations are shouting in different languages. The poor secretary charged with taking minutes only speaks English and can’t make sense of the rapid-fire information coming at her in French, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, and a whole host of other languages. The scene is chaos. Something similar happens on a production site where IIoT devices use different protocols, or “languages,” to transmit and receive data. Existing SCADA systems can be scaled to “comprehend” more than one language, but implementing this capability for various and sundry protocols can be cost-prohibitive. Adding to the confusion, some sensors have a voltage output as opposed to a protocol output. Some communicate via an Ethernet port while others use a data or digital link. Some devices use obsolete or proprietary protocols that aren’t readily understood by SCADA systems. By and large, companies that use SCADA networks experience this as a massive problem, as though a Tower of Babel is impeding dataflow and, therefore, operational efficiency. But the solution to the problem is rather simple and comes in the form of an actual tower — a radio tower, to be exact. Translating IIoT Data for SCADA Networks Atop of this tower is a radio that serves as a communications hub, or gateway, collecting data from all the IIoT devices within its range and sending it to FreeWave Insights® Data Platform for instantaneous cloud-based translation into language the SCADA system understands. It’s a plug-and-play solution that works with any SCADA system, with limited — if any — upgrades or installations required. For example, FreeWave’s Fusion Bridge radio gateway offers these and other benefits, as well, including cost savings on cellular data. Where cellular is used for connectivity, it’s sometimes the case that each and every IIoT sensor connects to its own cellular device, which transmits the data. This is a spendy setup because each of those cellular devices, which could number in the hundreds or thousands, costs between $8 and $20 per month to keep in service whether data transmits or not. Cell phone users of a certain age can recall being billed for every outgoing text message. Later, your provider only charged you for text sent to users of a different provider. Next, you could buy data plans and send texts to whomever, so long as you didn’t exceed your plan limits — in which case you’d be charged a pretty penny for the overage. Today, consumers can buy unlimited data plans for cellular phone usage. As of yet, however, there’s no such thing as an unlimited data plan for IIoT data transmission. Data plans are available for purchase, and providers — knowing that data stream disruptions can upend business operations — have mastered the art of the upsell:  persuading companies to pay for more data than they’re likely to use as a “just in case” insurance measure. The alternative is exceeding the data limit and getting stuck with a hefty surcharge.  By connecting directly to the IIoT sensors and sending the combined data in fewer packets, FreeWave’s radio gateways reduce the number of cellular data transmissions, thereby reducing costs. The Business Case for Satellite Remote Monitoring for SCADA Systems So far, we’ve focused on data transmission via cellular, but many O&G operations are located in remote places where cellular service is spotty or even nonexistent. That’s where satellite connectivity comes into play, but satellite’s playing field is about to expand. In a bid to reduce telemetry costs, O&G companies have started to deploy satellite networks even in situations where cellular is a viable option. That’s because the cost of data transmission via satellite has decreased so much that it’s practically neck-and-neck with cellular. Cellular still outpaces satellite in terms of latency, but the distance is narrowing. As a Global Authorized Reseller of ORBCOMM© and a Connectivity Wholesale Partner in Viasat’s ELEVATE program, FreeWave believes that satellite is a future-proof connectivity solution for remote operations. But why not have the best of both worlds? ORBCOMM’s dual-mode terminals switch from LTE to backup satellite transmission when needed for cost-effective, fail-safe routing.       You Have More Control Over Transmission Costs Than You Think When it comes to IIoT data transmission, “talk” isn’t cheap. Whether hitched to cellular or satellite, overly “chatty” sensors are another driver of data transmission costs and bandwidth consumption. You know how you can set up bank alerts to tell you when transactions occur and your balance changes? Imagine if your bank app pinged you constantly to let you know where your balance stands regardless of whether it changes.

SCADA + Satellite Equals Industry’s Latest Power Couple

When it comes to remote industrial operations, there’s only one constant, and that is change. Change can occur in an instant — a burst pipe, an equipment malfunction, a flash flood. But, more often, change creeps up slowly and then suddenly looms large. Take, for example, the worsening labor shortage. Nowadays, if something does go wrong in the field, you might be hard-pressed to find someone to go out and fix it without leaving a gaping hole in another part of your operations. Changes give way to more changes, but they also give rise to certainties. For instance, industries with large-scale remote operations know that automating equipment and functions — and monitoring those automated systems from afar — is imperative in today’s world, where resources are short yet production demands are a tall order to fill. That’s one reason why the global industrial internet of things (IIoT) market size is projected to reach a staggering $1,683.30 trillion by 2030, up from last year’s value of $321.81 billion, according to a market analysis by Grand View Research. It’s also certain that, in some respects, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As digital transformation across various industries kicks into high gear, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) — a decades-old but highly implemented technology heavily used by oil and gas, water treatment, energy and manufacturing — is adapting to meet the demands of the modern industry, proving it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And that brings us to another certainty that still comes as a surprise to some SCADA users: Satellite connectivity has emerged as one of the fastest, most reliable, and most secure methods of transferring data from remote IIoT devices to existing SCADA systems. Today’s satellite systems are easy and inexpensive to deploy, and they make IIoT technology easier to scale. Space, it turns out, is the next new frontier for industrial leaders. During “McKinsey and the World Economic Forum 2023,” futurists predicted the space market to reach $1 trillion in the next decade with the number of satellites tripling during that time. While quick to acknowledge and adapt to changes that affect day-to-day operations and key performance indicators, SCADA users by and large have not been early adopters of  satellite technology over the past decade, in part because of its historic reputation of being pricey, having high latency, and providing limited bandwidth. The world of satellite has changed. And FreeWave is stepping up to play matchmaker. We’re building an evolutionary path toward an end-to-end solution (more on that in a bit). Reliable, consistent connectivity is key. FreeWave is  a Global Authorized Reseller of ORBCOMM and a Connectivity Wholesale Partner in Viasat’s ELEVATE program (Viasat, headquartered in Carlsbad, California, just completed its acquisition of London-based Inmarsat). It’s time, in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, for one of industry’s long-standing staples, SCADA, to join forces with modern industry’s rising star — satellite connectivity. Satellite Adoption’s Meteoric Rise How can companies be certain that satellite is the future-proof connectivity solution for remote operations? Follow the money. Satellite IIoT revenue is expected to surpass $130 million by 2032 in North America alone, according to Viasat. Globally, the compounded annual growth rate in that time span is estimated at 27 percent. By sector, the oil and gas (O&G) industry leads the pack, with satellite IIoT investment more than doubling over the next decade to about $115 million worldwide in 2032. Smart agriculture, transportation and mining also are pack leaders, with the utilities industry not far behind. Growth might accelerate even faster were it not for the persistence of outmoded notions about satellite communications. When they think of satellite, some corporate decision makers picture a dish as wide as an above-ground swimming pool that costs about $5,000 just to set up, plus $500 to $1,000 a month to operate. But that’s like judging a job candidate based on his 10-year-old paper résumé instead of his up-to-date LinkedIn profile. It’s true that satellite communications were relatively slow and clunky a decade ago, but satellites these days can be as small as a petri dish and cost as little as $500, with monthly service available for as low as $30. Companies with remote operations have relied mostly on cellular connectivity and other terrestrial solutions to transmit remote data to their SCADA networks. But as IIoT continues its push into underserved locations — from remote grazing pastures in Wyoming to rugged open-pit lithium mines in Western Australia — satellite offers distinct advantages. Going back to our earlier example of a burst pipe, equipment malfunction or unexpected weather crisis – that is all too common for remote industrial operators – satellite provides reliable and real-time connectivity. Here’s why this is important. In sparsely populated or harsh environments, cellular service might be limited, spotty, or altogether unavailable. In especially isolated areas, where a cell tower sighting is about as likely as a Yeti sighting (not the outdoor product goods, but the fabled ape-like creature), satellite connectivity may be the only viable solution for monitoring SCADA equipment. Where cellular coverage is available, sensor data travels wirelessly from tower to tower until it reaches the SCADA master station. Along the way, landscape features like mountains, buildings, and even clumps of trees can interfere with transmission. For this reason, satellite is a great “insurance policy” for remote connectivity that needs continuous uptime. By contrast, satellite communication does not depend on land-based transmission, so landscape features won’t block the signal. Data travels from sensors to a satellite in space and bounces back to the master station without interference except for extreme weather events that can sometimes cause a signal delay commonly called “rain fade.” FreeWave and its partners have an answer for that. With the acquisition of Inmarsat, Viasat’s fleet provides full global coverage via 19 satellites in space spanning the Ka-, S-, and L-bands. L-band signals can penetrate through rain, snow, and other inclement weather, so signal reduction is not an issue. L-band communication also offers

3 Customer Impacts for Satellite Connectivity from Viasat’s ELEVATE Partner Event


With a plate of bangers and mash in front of me and a bank of windows, I marveled at the views. We were on the 40th floor of Duck & Waffle, with a bird’s eye view of Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, London Bridge, and Wembley Stadium.  We were at the epicenter of everything British. I visited none of these places. Instead, I experienced something even better: a front row seat into the dramatic impact satellite connectivity is defining success for industrial companies. The Viasat ELEVATE Partner Event was the first of its kind. Tech innovators from around the world gathered to learn and share stories about how satellite is transforming communications for remote operators in oil and gas, agriculture, mining, logistics, and more. Viasat’s ELERA coverage map Beyond the event, ELEVATE is also a partner program to ramp up the IoT ecosystem through education, collaboration, and idea-sharing for IoT solution providers like FreeWave, system integrators, machinery manufacturers, and OEMs. Viasat is a global company of more than 8,000, a rising Fortune 1000 enterprise, which acquired UK-based Inmarsat in early 2023. Viasat covers 99% of the U.S. with Inmarsat’s ELERA satellite network providing satellite access to many parts of the world using the reliable and weather-resistant L-band network. Together, they are driving new terminal development, lowering the cost of satellite connectivity, and speeding up real-time, two-way information for remote operators who previously felt satellite communication was cumbersome, expensive, and slow. And it was. But that’s the old story. That’s why I’m excited to share three themes that emerged for me during our visit across the pond. 1. Radical innovation is driving IoT adoption in new markets and lowering the cost threshold. Here’s a non-scientific way of summing up the first theme: there’s a whole lot of R&D going on in the world! Viasat has 19 satellites in orbit with 11 on order. Impressive. They are investing in teleports for the L-band network, undeniably the best spectrum for data transfer over satellite. Translation for the rest of us? Mobile satellite communication became 20x faster in Q1 of this year. Using the same terminals with new software, this means you can send data more efficiently and more affordably. Spectral efficiency will exponentially increase the functionality of IoT devices for many solutions. Technology, and specifically data, only has meaning when people use it to better their lives. Earlier this year, as part of our 30th Anniversary vision for the future, FreeWave recommitted to not only building great tech, but to understand our customers’ day-to-day needs, tech stack outlook, revenue goals, challenges, and business vision. We talked to hundreds of customers, beta testers, and potential customers. At the top of their list: zero trust security, compliance monitoring, a leaner tech stack, real-time connectivity, remarkably better operational performance, and cost effectiveness. This is why we went to ELEVATE: to keep delivering on that wish list. And while we may have missed the sights of London, we saw our collaboration with other partners as being like a pit crew for remote industrial companies in hard-to-reach places. One company, for example, has reduced video compression by 80%. This is a game-changer for a rancher with thousands of acres because while sensors might show how much water is in a tank, ranchers are spending 100K a year to see their cattle. With video compression integrated into FreeWave solutions, they can save time and money on truck rolls. Many applications, from homeland security to smart oilfields to refrigerated cargo on a ship, can benefit from this. With the progression of satellite reliability, we’re excited to be able to bring solutions that include data-intensive video streaming requiring IP cameras. We’re designing solutions for a customer installing electric fences around government and private campuses. New IoT tech tied to satellite defies the myth that we can’t be everywhere all the time. Turns out we can. 2. Channel partners are not afraid to build things, together. The ROI of mobile satellite communication is really impressive when you are able to enhance production, throughput, and safety. Fearlessly building things together, for the betterment of our collective customers, is definitely a second theme we took away from the event. Companies we align with have deep roots in specific technologies: push-to-talk, remote employee safety, cameras, backhauling unmanned vehicles for government, just to name a few. Bringing complementary pieces into our portfolio solves customers’ bigger problems. Attending ELEVATE signaled the dawn of a new age where technology is amplified by software, satellite terminals, and collaboration of many great minds thinking together. In the end, we are made better together as channel partners, leveraging strengths, knowledge, and abilities. It makes us better, faster, stronger. It makes us better for our customers. That’s our goal as an innovator. 3. Satellite aligns with a more sustainable future. While Sputnik, the first satellite, was launched in 1957, I feel like the Space Age is just beginning here on earth. It is a key part of a more sustainable future. In an article in SpaceRef, Inmarsat’s President Mike Carter put it this way: “The ELEVATE community will play an active role in addressing the planet’s really big challenges, helping build a more sustainable, efficient, and safe global supply chain.” After experiencing ELEVATE, I’m a believer. Here’s why. If you can get real-time data remotely, you’re not burning fossil fuels to gather insight. If there is machine-to-machine “dialogue,” you streamline people’s time. If you let the ground reveal what a sprayer needs to know, you might use water more efficiently. The role of satellite communication helps solve today’s critical issues. Increasing yield and output without increasing the percentage of cost keeps consumer goods affordable. Making lives and work better is what IoT is about. It’s what FreeWave is about. Helping make lives better has been a core belief of ours for decades. FreeWave’s Platform-as-a-Service Brings Remote Operators Closer to the Truth We’re not alone. For me, that was the big takeaway from Viasat’s ELEVATE. We have access to many different ELEVATE partners and their technology superpowers. These will help us bring to market

Shedding New Light on Industrial Solar Power System Performance


It’s not easy to write about solar energy without getting carried away with metaphors. In a world facing a worsening climate crisis, solar power — as a renewable energy source — represents a ray of hope, a bright spot, a beacon of light. Solar power’s day in the sun has been a long time coming. Before he died in 1931, inventor Thomas Edison reportedly told friends, “We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind, and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!” Today, many diverse industries are putting their money on solar power. But, in many cases, it’s not a sense of urgency about “going green” that drives them. In industries operating in farflung, remote locations, the use of solar power is usually driven by pure necessity — there’s simply no other viable power source. While there’s excitement around the promise of solar energy, my conversations with industry leaders often center on the problems associated with remote solar power systems, including a lack of visibility around solar-powered battery performance. Since battery failure can cause safety hazards and even halt production, operators take extreme — and expensive — measures to prevent it.  Our customers’ pain points led to the development of a breakthrough, all-in-one-box solution that can be easily added to existing infrastructure to slash maintenance costs and reduce risk factors by providing critical data on remote solar power system performance.   I invented this technology, but before I tell you all about my “baby,” let’s look more closely at the pain points it helps to address and the cost savings and other benefits it provides.        Eliminating the Guesswork Around Solar-powered Battery Performance  While solar-powered devices reliably monitor field operations as a whole, a lack of visibility around the performance of the solar-powered batteries themselves is a huge blind spot and cost driver.  Oil and Gas (O&G), wastewater management, and utilities are among the major industries that rely on solar power, principally to operate remote sensors and devices that send critical information back to a centrally located SCADA system. This data tells the SCADA operator what’s going on in the field.  For example, O&G personnel are alerted if equipment goes down or if various pressures and temperatures reach unsafe levels. Powering the devices that relay this information depends on reliable battery performance, which, in turn, depends on the availability of sunlight to power the batteries.  Touting the pros of solar power, Elon Musk famously said the sun “shows up every day” and “just works.” In reality, the sun doesn’t always shine sufficiently to fully charge solar batteries, and, as we all know, it clocks out every night without fail. So, operators have tried to optimize battery performance by doing calculations to determine the amount of current needed to power the devices, including an estimate of autonomy time — the number of days that a battery charge will last should the solar panels stop absorbing sunlight. While these calculations initially suggest which sizes and configurations of solar panel and battery systems are needed to produce the required current, they don’t take into account equipment deterioration over time or the power requirements of any equipment added down the line.  Hours of autonomy, so painstakingly calculated in what amounts to a paper exercise, are also affected by extreme ambient temperatures and other conditions. To avoid power disruptions and production downtime, O&G producers have taken to replacing all of the batteries every six months, regardless of need or individual battery performance. It’s not uncommon for a major producer to have several thousand remote, solar-powered sites, so battery storage and replacement are substantial budget items. One major producer mentioned they spend $1.4 million annually — just on batteries. Callouts and lockups are also expensive — and less predictable. A callout occurs when a system goes offline and stops sending SCADA communications, triggering a truck roll to the site to determine the cause. Equipment lockups require technicians to drive to the site to power-cycle the affected assets no matter where that site is, all for a process that takes 20 seconds to perform, sandwiched between hours of drive time.  Considering that each and every truck roll costs as much as $2,400, eliminating set-schedule battery replacements, manual power cycling, and most service calls could easily save millions of dollars. So, let’s talk about the solution.  Introducing Solar Site Analytics Having collaborated with customers to understand the problems and limitations they were experiencing with solar-powered operations, we developed a patent-pending solution that provides complete visibility of solar-powered field operations, along with other essential features. Contained in one compact box, the product packs smart monitoring and analytics capabilities that prevent production losses, reduce labor costs, improve worker safety, and predict power system degradation or failure, including: Accurate hours-of-autonomy calculations in real time Real-time updates on battery and solar panel sizing requirements for maximum efficiency Battery capacity levels, which indicate when a battery actually needs to be replaced Automatic power cycling in the event of a lockup Analytics that detect anomalies and predict maintenance needs before solar power system components go down Automatic load shedding and load prioritization to protect batteries from excess voltage As an added feature, it also includes a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controller — the most efficient controller for industrial solar power system applications The  product can connect to a customer’s existing SCADA system or connect directly to the FreeWave cloud-based data analytics platform. With it, operators can monitor temperatures, pressures, and other metrics, along with battery and solar panel status and performance — from capacity levels and days of autonomy to predictive maintenance forecasts. FreeWave’s patent-pending remote solar power system manager has been in development for years and, in nearly a decade of field testing, not one instance of critical failure to monitored system components has been reported. And, the monitor offers a swift return on investment, paying for

A Story Three Decades in the Making


Milestone birthday alert. FreeWave turns 30 in 2023 and I’d like to take you on a journey of data over the last three decades – taking a look at where data has been and its sci-fi-like role in our future. Since FreeWave is all about transforming data into real knowledge for real people, I drew from a broader perspective about the bits and bytes of the data of life. The ideas here are inspired by FreeWave’s innovation team. From a serial inventor to our founder, each has shaped the field of technology in their own right. Sure, the first time someone uttered the words “big data” (October 1997, in case you’re curious) is interesting, but how has the term itself changed the way we live and work? As Steve Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” Thus, this is more taking stock of data’s backstory over a cold IPA than a mundane timeline. Thirty candles on the cake commands a little self-reflection. The wild days of our youth are behind us. We’re all grown up now, and while data may be following its own trajectory, the parallels are pretty fascinating.  I start where all great stories begin. My “why.” I grew up in the Midwest where a lot of the technology that we use today was born and innovation spans generations.  I remember “playing office” with with my father’s paperwork at home (I guess remote offices were a thing, back in the day). He worked at Motorola (a company I would later join) for decades. He was a regional sales rep during the the early 80s when he was on special assignment, working on this thing called “cellular.” His company car’s trunk was filled with black boxes – and there was even a phone mounted in the center column between the front seats. It was cool to use. I thought I was cool for being able to use it. So, I was hooked, not only on technology, but the data seemingly flying there and there to make that all possible. From there, I guess I just followed in Dad’s footprints, although I chose a marketing path, and 40 some years later, here I am, still watching technology expand. Still fascinated by how those ones and zeroes are writing the world’s story. It’s 1993: Do You Know Where Your Floppy Disks Are? The year is 1993. Bill Clinton is president, Beanie Babies have hit the market, Intel has introduced the Pentium microprocessor, and 3½ inch floppy disks in bright colors are scattered across desks (unlike its austere sibling, the silver compact disk). In a small office somewhere in Boulder, Colorado, the FreeWave cofounders are meeting with a couple of ladies who make dreamcatchers. FreeWave was born among the likely stacks of floppies used to store code for FreeWave products to come. And, we can’t forget that the then new Colorado Rockies threw out its first pitch in the National League West (to date, we have never won our division – but, boy, we’ve got great mountain views!). “When we first started, wireless was used in many applications, but not to anywhere near the extent it is today. The early applications for our products were the precursor to IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) and showed how important data was,” says Steve Wulchin, CEO and cofounder of FreeWave. After earning his MBA at the University of Texas, Steve was hired by Hewlett Packard. His first desktop computer at HP had a 5MB hard drive (yes, megabytes!). Cell phones and the internet didn’t exist, and Apple was a company that was pretty much left for dead by the rest of the tech world. That, he says, is the cool thing about technology. “Look at where we are now,” he says. “We may not have flying cars, but we do have a lot of unbelievable things that few could have imagined back then.” Like technology, life has its own twists and turns. “I never planned to move to Houston post-college, never planned to get an MBA, and absolutely never planned to start a company,” says Steve. Yet, he did. FreeWave has come a long way and is now innovating around end-to-end solutions so companies better understand operational, performance, and revenue opportunities through their data. Also from the 90s, computer scientist Michael Lesk writes: “There may be a few thousand petabytes of information all told.” (IDC predicts the global datasphere will reach 175 Zettabytes by 2025.) Using data as insight also saw the light of day. In 1993, digital mobile phones went from analog to digital, giving way to applications, data transfer, and mobile hotspots. In 1995, M2M began using cellular as a backhaul solution. And in 1999, SMS pricing and data plans fell to affordable rates. Things, the Rise of Data in the Aughts and the Value of Insight Once people realized Y2K (for zoomers, this was the potential crash of computers on December 31, 1999) was a non-issue, the world was off and running. We snapped photos with our phones, put our taxes on flash drives, carried a thousand songs in our pocket, and connected on Facebook. During the 2000s, “things” like washing machines were predicted to connect to the internet and order detergent. So far, most of us are still putting Tide on the grocery list. However, IoT has indeed given rise to a tsunami of data. According to the IoT Analytics “State of IoT—Spring 2023” report, the number of global IoT connections grew by 18% in 2022 to 14.3 billion active IoT endpoints. In 2023, the global number of connected IoT devices is predicted to grow another 16%, to 16.7 billion active endpoints. In the plainspoken world of marketing where I play, a “billion active endpoints” is a lot of data flowing through a lot of connected things. The term “big data” was first used at an IEEE conference on visualization in 1997. Michael Cox and David Ellsworth authored “Application-Controlled Demand Paging for Out-of-Core Visualization,” stating: “Visualization provides

The Whats and Hows of the Ultimate Dashboard for Industrial IoT

The Whats and Hows of the Ultimate Dashboard for Industrial IoT

If you use the internet of things (IoT) devices to monitor or automate certain business operations, you may be wondering what to make of all the data those devices generate. Collectively, IoT devices across the globe will generate almost 80 zettabytes of data by 2025, according to International Data Corporation (IDC) projections. A zettabyte equals a trillion gigabytes. In layman’s terms, we’re talking about oodles and scads and gobs of data. At the business level, data collected from IoT-enabled devices could conceivably be entered into a spreadsheet, but data presented in this manner becomes overwhelming and even incomprehensible. A much better way to store and make sense of your data comes in the form of an IoT dashboard, which visually represents relevant data in such a way that you gain at-a-glance, actionable insights regarding your operations. An effective IoT dashboard allows you to make data-driven decisions to optimize efficiencies, troubleshoot problems, and make other adjustments and improvements that could potentially impact profit margins. Dashboard Design and the KISS Principle — Keep it Simple, Stupid Think about the dashboard display in your car. It doesn’t show you everything there is to know about the vehicle. Imagine how overwhelmed and distracted you would feel if it presented you with minutiae such as the condition of your tire tread, how many cubic inches of trunk space you’re using, the precise amount of antifreeze you have, the decibel level you top out at when singing along with the radio, and so on, ad nauseam. All this information crammed onto your dashboard would make it difficult for you to drive and make important, time-sensitive decisions, like when to stop for gas. That’s why the dashboard display is limited to what you need to know to drive safely and efficiently: How much fuel do you have? How fast are you going? How many miles per gallon are you getting? A well-designed IoT dashboard also only shows you data that you’ve prioritized in accordance with your business objectives, with the ability to pull up additional data points as desired. A well-designed dashboard prompts you to a view of data sets that you can select, creating an unfussy, easy to understand, and up-to-the-minute snapshot of in-field device and system-level performance.  Effective Dashboard Design — It All Starts with You When it comes to selecting the best IoT dashboard for your organization, the first step is to define your business goals. Before requesting demos or engaging an IoT dashboard vendor, identify what you want to learn and achieve with the data you collect. Your business goals will determine the dashboard design you choose, as well as the type of data and performance indicators you need to track to meet your goals.  For example, if your business goal is to improve the efficiency of your manufacturing process, you might want to track equipment downtime, production output, and raw material usage. Another scenario might be an oil and gas company wanting to track  performance by optimizing existing wells, improving oil recovery, and minimizing its carbon footprint or emissions.  Having defined your business goals, you can then determine which metrics matter most and how best to display them to facilitate decision making. Then, you can look for a dashboard that has the necessary features and functionalities to help you meet your business objectives. Dashboard Deliverables — What You Should Look for When Evaluating Your Options    IDC estimates there will be 55.7 billion connected IoT devices by 2025. The IoT dashboard and platform market, though still quite young, is growing exponentially. With an ever-increasing number of options, choosing which vendor and product will best support your business goals can be as easy as working with a leading IoT network provider. We will discuss what to look for when considering your options, after a brief clarification of terms.    You may hear the words dashboard and platform used interchangeably, so think of the dashboard as the user interface within an IoT platform that allows you to interact with your connected devices. The dashboard is both a control panel and a visual representation of key data your IoT devices collect. The platform is the dashboard’s pre-built foundation. Platform-based dashboards are typically more practical than out-of-the-box dashboard solutions, provided the platform is well-engineered. And a well-built platform is, first and foremost, generic. A Solid Generic Framework with Customizable Features and Functionalities In the case of information technology platforms, “generic,” ironically, is a positive descriptor, synonymous with user-friendliness and adaptability. Generic IoT platforms allow for customization, and FreeWave’s data platform comes with an array of templates and widgets that allow you to create a custom dashboard almost as easily as snapping together those beloved Lego® building blocks from your youth. The lesson here is the less “generic” the platform, the greater the likelihood you’ll need to hire someone to configure your initial dashboard and reconfigure it time and again as your business strategy evolves. Effective dashboards are intuitive and interactive. They are not a data dump, but rather convey information hierarchically through charts and other data visualizations, enabling you to extract actionable insights, receive alerts, identify patterns and trends, make projections, and run various scenarios with the aid of built-in analytics and machine learning. If you want to dive deeper into your data, interactive drill-down and click-to-filter features guide you through multilayer displays. You by no means have to be a programmer to design an effective IoT dashboard, but if you need a little extra assistance, look to an IoT platform provider for help. As a convenience to customers, FreeWave is enhancing its distribution network with specialists trained to assist in defining your user interface, in accordance with your business goals.  Decision-making Support Through Data Storytelling Designing an industrial IoT dashboard begins by defining what data you want to see and why. It’s an involved process, but the end result should be a simple data story, with key takeaways highlighted. Once you’ve created your ultimate IoT dashboard, you’ll gain a competitive edge for your organization as the intelligence embedded

IoT and the Carbon Market: How Data Can Help Drive Decarbonization

IoT and the Carbon Market- How Data Can Help Drive Decarbonization

Let’s set the stage for what greenhouse gasses are by using a familiar scenario. You’re walking  in a greenhouse. That warm, damp air that you feel on your skin and the additional sunlight that  warms the space likens it to  a 24/7 hot yoga session for plants. That, in a simple example, is the greenhouse gas effect.  Now, take that greenhouse and expand it to the size of the planet. Imagine the world as one large terrarium with man-made greenhouse gasses (GHGs) trapping heat in the atmosphere. The impact, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report, is measurable and critically damaging to life on planet earth.  Global temperatures are expected to rise at least 2.7C this century. The report goes on to say that GHGs need to be halved by 2030 to avoid a climate catastrophe.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the leading GHGs is carbon dioxide (CO2), which accounts for 79% of all GHGs from human activities. Reducing CO2 (or decarbonization) is critical. The EPA points out that carbon emissions alter climate patterns and that “human health, agriculture, water resources, forests, wildlife, and coastal areas are all vulnerable to climate change.” Fortunately, data available from Internet of Things (IoT) technology can help accelerate decarbonization efforts as explained, in part, below.  The Intersection of IoT and Carbon Markets As the world faces the challenge of reducing GHG emissions, industries are turning to regulated carbon credit markets and voluntary carbon offset markets to help them shrink their carbon footprints. Carbon markets — where carbon credits and offsets are sold and bought, similar to commodity futures like grain — provide a way for industries to compensate for unavoidable emissions by investing in certified projects that reduce or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These projects mitigate the environmental impacts of industrial operations while helping organizations work toward net-zero commitments and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting goals. Carbon credit markets create accountability. Along with international pacts to drastically lower GHG emissions, consumer demand to reduce environmental harm is spurring carbon market growth. This demand is driven by deep-seated concerns that are literally keeping Americans up at night. A new survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reveals that one-third of adults (32%) “always or often” lose sleep due to worries about environmental issues. Investing in carbon offset projects shows that an organization’s commitment to combat climate change goes beyond lip service. A worldwide awareness of climate change could be one reason companies are taking note. The voluntary carbon market recently exceeded $1 billion in global value and could surpass $30 billion in annual value by the end of the decade, according to a Bain & Company report. While investments are clearly on the rise, “the carbon market has reached a crossroads,” the report states. That’s because carbon markets today are built largely on trust — and as it turns out, that trust is tenuous.   Enter the critical role of data. Verification methods for carbon offsetting lack uniformity, which raises uncertainties about the fair market value of credits as well as doubts about the efficacy of the projects they fund. As a result, many organizations that need carbon offsets to meet their net-zero commitments have nevertheless chosen not to buy them. For carbon markets to achieve their potential, reliable emissions measurements and data are needed for valuation and verification.  “Zero Trust” Begets Absolute Trust Leveraging IoT technology consisting of sensors, network configurations, and cloud-based analytics can significantly improve the accuracy, reliability, and scalability of the carbon offset verification process. That’s where FreeWave comes in and its partnership with Inmarsat to provide global coverage, collecting IoT sensor data from anywhere and transporting it to the cloud for analysis and action. The FreeWave platform has reputable third-party auditors who analyze data to confirm the efficacy of certified carbon offsetting projects. For example, in a reforestation project, auditors can accurately measure and convey to offset buyers how much carbon is being sequestered, and it won’t be long before buyers, through a dashboard, can track these measurements themselves and compare them against a projected scenario of how many tons of carbon emissions would have occurred were it not for the project. Using incontrovertible metrics to assess project performance increases investor confidence, while sellers can ensure that their credits are backed by measurable emissions reductions. This could ultimately help move the voluntary carbon market toward a more transparent, zero-trust model. When there’s absolute trust in carbon market performance, the value of carbon offsets will increase. That’s good news for industries like smart agriculture that can potentially capture more carbon than they produce, enabling them to sell offsets as an additional revenue stream. Beyond Carbon Markets — Sustainability Best Practices Carbon offsetting is part of a holistic sustainability plan that starts with reducing the use of fossil fuels and pollutants, taking carbon reduction efforts as far as possible before offsetting any remaining emissions. Here, too, IoT and FreeWave come into play, deploying technologies that improve operational efficiency while protecting and conserving natural resources.  Growers, for example, can use sensor data to optimize efficiency for irrigation and fertilization programs. IoT data allows agriculture and other industries to monitor and manage their environmental impact. It also gives them data-based ESG impact reports that they can use to their competitive advantage — and to discredit accusations of greenwashing (exaggerated claims of environmental practices). Most business leaders (76 percent) in major industries doubt their peers’ ESG reporting, according to recent research by satellite solutions provider Inmarsat.  Beyond the environmental and humanitarian imperatives, investing in climate-smart IoT technologies can be part of a long-term revenue enhancement strategy. We at FreeWave believe that products that are verifiably carbon-neutral will warrant premium pricing in the eyes of environmentally conscious consumers, just as produce grown organically commands a higher price. The Journey to Net-Zero  Most business leaders believe that data collected via IoT solutions is critical to building trust (81 percent) and improving ESG outcomes overall

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Designed, manufactured and tested in the USA.

© 2023 FreeWave Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.