Connectivity across
the digital divide

The traditional terrestrial model of connectivity focused on areas of populous. Because of expense, more remote areas are characterised by poor service delivery and the inability to benefit from technological trends and business innovation.

There is a growing awareness of satellite technology's potential to move from a backup system to a mainstream connectivity tool and address this divide. Modern technologies and customer expectations (driven by the recent pandemic) commands for good connectivity and resulting services that require continuous or on-demand data.

By using satellite technology, rural communities and remote industries are no longer left in a technological void, reliant on slow and expensive terrestrial network development to improve their connectivity. This levelling-up of global communications could not have happened at a better time: the optimisation of world-wide resources is critical to most of the challenges that humanity now faces. 

Connectivity solutions have extended to maximise the technology experience. Today, satellite technology not only connects people and IoT, it also connects infrastructure. The interplay of infrastructure monitoring with data inputs from the surrounding environment (connection everywhere) has become an essential component to mitigate risks, and for contingency planning in modern business and climate change diagnostics. From environmental watch groups, logistic providers, educational institutions, public transport, to the financial sector; every conceivable industry is engaging with satellite data to make better decisions and connect instantaneously with their stakeholders. 

Arguably, this functional change within the satellite industry is as big a change as cellular was for the telecommunications industry. The big catalyst allowing for this change has been the emergence of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite networks. With satellite constellations orbiting much closer to earth, they are enabling lower latency. Their lifespan ensures that the technology is current and, with economies of scale, these constellations are significantly cheaper to launch. It is this satellite infrastructure that is can better support the full potential of technologies to be experienced. Enhancing terrestrial network services, bridging the connectivity divide in remote areas: the possibility of a world in which everything can be connected is now being realised.

New levels of connectivity will allow all users to understand the state of their environment and the state of their infrastructure. This transformation is being applied globally, and is starting to erase differences in precision applications for rural communities and remote enterprise. With this new continuum of connectivity, comes a plethora of opportunities and possibilities. 

"Projects like BRAIL (backhaul and radio access integrating LEO) have already demonstrated the capability of connective technology between networks and how different sectors may benefit."

Understanding infrastructure 

The collapse, degradation or physical changes of infrastructure, has the ability to impact negatively on production, livelihoods, and safety. Connecting vulnerable or critical infrastructure to monitoring solutions enables stakeholders to monitor possible changes in characteristics to evaluate risks and predict outcomes. Common examples of this are in the monitoring of dams, bridges, and roads to understand changes that may be occurring due to long-term environmental impact or even climate change. For example, with advances in LEO technology, even the minutest change in a bridge structure can be detected in units of millimetres. This degree of accuracy is achieved by using satellite technology, allowing for an uninterrupted and continuous supply of data to build historical references that are independent and unbiased. The added advantage of using this technology is that the information received remains unaffected should a terrestrial catastrophic event occur. It also allows users to monitor infrastructure of interest remotely, away from any potential danger from any location. 

"With increased urbanisation, climate change challenges, the depletion of natural resources, and population growth; the pressure on the agricultural sector to produce more with less requires an ever-increasing scientific approach."

Precision farming 

One significant benefit to increased connectivity will be the ability to draw upon technologies that optimise farming methods, livestock and crop resource management, and equipment utilisation. With increased urbanisation, climate change challenges, the depletion of natural resources and population growth; the pressure on the agricultural sector to produce more with less requires an ever-increasing scientific approach. This focus on science to maximise results calls upon continuous monitoring and data analyses from the field. Satellite technology enables this approach and closes any potential gaps when operating on-demand data systems in remote locations. The ability of every linkage within the supply chain to react to conditions improves efficiency, yields, reduces risk, and improves overall consumer food security. 

Projects like BRAIL (backhaul and radio access integrating LEO) have already demonstrated the capability of connective technology between networks and how different sectors may benefit. With the ability of continuous connectivity to improve agriculture established, the next challenge may actually be in designing tools that cut across all skill levels to maximise supply and demand further.

The author Richard Dolamore is Communications and Special Project manager at Satellite Applications Catapult, one of a network of UK-based technology and innovation companies aiming to drive economic growth through the commercialisation of research in the global space market.  

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