VSAT as Packet Data Communications Medium For IoT And Specifically Industrial IoT (I2oT)

The World Economic forum, in collaboration with key industry roleplayers, has compiled an interesting report "Intelligent Assets Unlocking the Circular Economy", which should be a must-read for all those interested in IoT. The key message in this report is summarized as follows:

Instead of the linear "take - make - dispose" model, the dominant economic model of our time, we should harness the technology and apply the following principles:

  • Preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resource flows
  • Optimize resource yields by circulating products, components and materials in use at the highest utility at all times, in both technical and biological cycles
  • Foster system effectiveness by revealing and designing out negative externalities

This is mainly achieved through the following basic benefits of IoT.

  • Knowledge of the location of the asset
  • Knowledge of the condition of the asset
  • Knowledge of the availability of the asset


Coming from an Industrial Data Communications background where purpose-made, complex and expensive SCADA and Telemetry systems were used to monitor and control devices, it is refreshing to see that the IoT hype will make monitoring and controlling things within the reach of everyone. Sensors collecting raw data, computing devices to interpret the raw data, and cloud-based platforms to visualise data, are becoming extremely affordable. As an example, the internet is riddled with instructions and videos enabling children and techies programming Ardinuo's and Raspberry PI's to do useful things.

IoT does, however, come with its own complexities. Security is most certainly a crucial factor and also, as always, is having reliable data communication. Monitoring and controlling high value assets is in most instances not in locations where data communication is available, and if so, reliable. GSM networks are probably seen as the de facto communications medium for packet data , but should certainly not be seen as the only option.

With the new era of satellite connectivity in the form of High Throughput Satellites (HTS) fast becoming a reality, coupled with a reduction in bandwidth costs on legacy C- and Ku band satellites, satellite connectivity is perfect for low-volume packet-data communication. Some satellite OEM's have created terminals specifically for IoT applications. It is projected that by 2024, 5.3 million VSAT terminals will be used for IoT applications.

At a recent technology seminar hosted by a major banking group, Q-KON CEO, Dr Dawie de Wet, explained how VSAT communication is competitive compared to other communications mediums such as ADSL, 3G and Fibre, specifically in the sub 10Gb per month usage space. Simple maths calculated VSAT services to be at the R0,08c / Mb price point. Sure, the upfront CAPEX required for the terminal equipment is more expensive than a 3G modem, however it is anywhere, always on, constant / predictable and secure communication. Paying sub R10 000 for a VSAT terminal, and a few hundred rand for data to monitor a mission critical asset such a R800 000 generator delivering power to a plant at a remote location, makes the business case feasible. Typical data required to monitor a generator 24/7 amounts to between 10 - 20 Mb.

VSAT is by nature also the perfect point-to-multipoint broadcast medium, and hence ideal for the perpetual software updates required by connected devices. Follow-up articles will zoom in on how the satellite industry has changed over the past few years and what is becoming a reality. The key message here is - when designing a data communications network for IoT applications, do not discard satellite as a communications medium.

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