Innovative satellite solutions for utilities


Purpose-built terminals provide real-time IP data services, allowing utilities to extend their visibility and control across the entire power grid. However, room for improvement remains.

Service pricing is still expensive and satellite terminals and data services are not designed to cellular network standards, limiting convergence with the broader IoT/ M2M ecosystem.

EchoStar is developing a cost-effective, reliable satellite solution for utilities that evolves along three axes: terminal evolution, application enablement and smart data plans.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International Issue 4-2020.
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Terminal evolution

Terminal evolution is the foundational layer. Although technology has dramatically improved over the past years, mobile satellite terminals are still very expensive compared to cellular IoT/M2M devices. They are also often complicated to install and may require skilled staff to operate. A first step towards realizing the promise of IoT/M2M is the integration in a single enclosure of mobile satellite and cellular technology. This brings together the best of both worlds; broadband capacity through cellular and ubiquitous network coverage through satellite. It also enables users to define smart traffic routing policies to best serve applications.

An even more interesting evolution, in terms of footprint and cost, is the development of smaller and cheaper direct-to-satellite devices enabled by the increasing deployment of low-cost satellite constellations. While today’s technology is not yet mature enough for carrier-grade deployments, global connectivity and service continuity across existing and future cellular deployments (e.g., 5G) are key for the success of a new class of standard devices.

Echostar satellite infrastructure

Application enablement

Application enablement is the next layer. It is well understood that connectivity is being commoditised. In the terrestrial world, mobile network operators learned from experience and now offer a verticalised approach to IoT from chip to cloud services. In the satellite industry, this is on the horizon but with the wave of innovation around devices and low earth orbit constellations, applications will soon start to play a central role. Applications are the key to the digital transformation strategy many organizations are implementing, and it is fundamental that devices and network infrastructure deliver data securely and target quality of service (QoS). Devices will natively host applications and support zero-touch provisioning strategies for cloud integration.

Today cellular networks’ data services are limited to VoLTE [voice over LTE] and Internet, but future network infrastructure will support multiple classes of QoS for the given services and access point names (APNs). This will expose a rich set of APIs for seamless third-party integration, key to the development of value-added services.

Smart data plans

The bonding element and third layer for devices and applications is billing. Traditionally in the satellite industry, M2M/ IoT connectivity is billed by megabyte, is expensive compared to terrestrial alternatives and does not consider the traffic frequency of the applications. On the other hand, in the M2M/IoT cellular world, users are charged by the number of messages exchanged per day/per device. While satellite networks are more expensive to operate than terrestrial networks, there is a great opportunity for existing and emerging satellite operators to offer appealing data plans bundling heterogeneous technologies and traffic patterns to better address utility market needs.

EchoStar is driving innovation in utilities through the development of new purpose-built devices converging in the broader M2M/IoT ecosystem; device-to-cloud integration for application enablement; and the introduction of flexible and cost-effective service pricing. This will help utilities improve reliability for consumers, enable digital transformation and improve overall return on investment. SEI

About the author

Telemaco Melia, Senior Director at EchoStar Mobile, has the responsibility to coordinate commercial operations for the European market and define strategic corporate development. Melia has covered various roles in tier one telecom manufacturers. He holds an MSc in Informatics, a PhD in Telecommunications and an MBA from ESSEC Business School.

About EchoStar

EchoStar Mobile Limited, an Irish company with commercial operations headquartered in the United Kingdom and a data centre based in Germany, is a mobile operator that provides connectivity across Europe through an integrated satellite and terrestrial network. EchoStar Mobile is a subsidiary of EchoStar Corporation, a satellite global provider.