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 secure, high-speed transmission, making it ideal for sending large amounts of data from extremely remote locations to the central SCADA station. This allows remote operators to respond to real-time field condition reports, including fault detection in machinery.

An End-to-End Solution Reduces the Tech Stack and Gives You More Control

While there are a number of companies that offer satellite devices and data plans, FreeWave is a company of self-appointed sciency inventors hungry to solve real problems for industrial leaders. Our engineers and computer scientists have developed an end-to-end solution using edge radios, connected satellite devices, data plans and our proprietary data platform called FreeWave Insights™ — the only data platform that allows SCADA users to store data for on-demand recall (instead of losing the data), visualize that data as well as send alerts and alarms.

This is not a one-sided story. Two-way communication is an important attribute of FreeWave’s satellite solution, leveraging our rugged radios (technology that continues to prove the test of time) along with Viasat’s satellite services and ORBCOMM’s satellite terminals. In most use cases, two-way communication is needed to optimize remote industrial operations. At FreeWave, we often say that IIoT sensors are like having “eyes and ears” on an unmanned site. Moreover, IIoT, automation, and two-way satellite communication add helping hands to those same sites. Where workers were previously sent out to twist valves and do other menial tasks — sometimes venturing into risky conditions — those critical functions are now automated or performed from afar. Communication to and from the SCADA master system also allows remote operators to reset or update firmware from the comfort of an ergonomic office chair.

Satellite Technology Outpaces Cellular for Remote IIoT Applications

As IIoT pushes into increasingly remote locales, satellite solutions are positioned to keep pace with IIoT demand in these areas in a way that cellular simply cannot.

And that push is accelerating. The number of IIoT devices remote operators will be adding to their SCADA networks to stay competitive and compliant will continue to grow exponentially. All told, the number of internet of things connected devices the world over will double by 2030, from more than 15 billion today to about 30 billion. That makes for a steep bar chart

Most if not all industries face enormous pressure to ramp up production while using fewer resources. Agriculture, for example, must produce more food for the growing population and more feedstock for the burgeoning bioenergy market, all with a shrinking labor force and sustainable practices. At the same time, energy producers are bracing for regulatory requirements that might require them to account for certain aspects of their operations that they haven’t monitored before.

Although increased demand drives new investment, expansion, and greenfield development, modern industry’s most pressing challenge is how to coax higher yields from existing fields, be they soybean fields or oil fields. IIoT is a crucial part of the solution. According to a McKinsey report, most of IIoT’s value stems from “connecting and optimizing existing infrastructure and augmenting it with select new machinery on an ongoing basis.”

As a wireless solution that’s frugal with power, satellite connectivity gives companies the freedom and flexibility to scale their IIoT applications quickly and easily as their needs and business goals evolve. Satellite is the only ubiquitous data transmission option available today, with 99.9 percent global coverage and 99.9 percent reliability “in the vacuum of space,” according to Britannica. 

So, by the numbers, satellite connectivity makes sense. But does satellite “speak” SCADA’s language?

The short answer: yes! Misguided concerns about language translation and encryption are one of the reasons that some companies have yet to deploy satellite terminals in extremely remote locations. It’s true that adding IIoT sensors to remote operations in stages inevitably results in a plethora of devices that communicate in different LPWAN languages. However, FreeWave radios, like those in the FreeWave FusionTM portfolio, can alleviate the heavy amounts of data being sent to and from the satellite network. As sensor data is sent to our cloud-based platform for “translation,” the data converts to whatever communication protocol — or “SCADA speak” —  the customer uses, from OPC-UA to MQTT.

Hybrid Satellite-Terrestrial Connectivity

Far from obsolescing, the SCADA market is growing steadily, at a CAGR of 7.4 percent through 2030 — not in spite of IIoT but because of it, according to a market research report by P&S Intelligence.

Fast, reliable, and secure connectivity via satellite enables companies to analyze and act on SCADA data to make swift decisions as well as longer-term forecasts and strategic plans.

Connect with a FreeWave expert to learn how satellite connectivity can make the difference in your organization’s ability to scale and adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.

Transform Your Operations with FreeWave’s End-to-End Solution Gain greater control over your success by fully understanding every part of your business with satellite solutions available today, from FreeWave.
  • ORBCOMM’s satellite terminals are customizable and configurable. ORBCOMM’s dual-mode terminals switch from LTE to satellite transmission for cost-effective, fail-safe routing.
  • Business-focused data plans from Viasat means reliable, global satellite coverage. IsatData Pro (IDP) data plan is the most reliable, secure, and scalable data plan for satellite, today.
  • FreeWave Insights™ data platform puts a bow on all this to ultimately transform your operations and business providing alerts, alarming, and visualizations in one, ready-to-use data portal.
  • FreeWave Fusion™ radios portfolio can alleviate the heavy amounts of data being sent to and from the satellite network.
Explore our full suite of satellite solutions ready to connect you with your data, today.
Picture of Jeff Horton
Jeff Horton

Jeff Horton is the Chief Revenue Officer for FreeWave, provider of industrial wireless and IIoT solutions for people passionate about the beauty of a data-informed world.

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Designed, manufactured and tested in the USA.

© 2023 FreeWave Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.