Deploying satellite technology with SCADA and M2M services

To effectively protect, manage, and leverage infrastructure investments, companies are using M2M and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) technology to keep complex systems running at peak efficiency. While cellular-based transmission may work in high population areas, it can be unpredictable due to congestion and urban canyons. It may even be non-existent in remote locations.  According to the International Telecommunication Union, 90% of the world is covered by a mobile cellular network, but what happens when you are working in that other 10%?



To effectively protect, manage, and leverage infrastructure investments, companies are using M2M and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) technology to keep complex systems running at peak efficiency. While cellular-based transmission may work in high population areas, it can be unpredictable due to congestion and urban canyons. It may even be non-existent in remote locations.  According to the International Telecommunication Union, 90% of the world is covered by a mobile cellular network, but what happens when you are working in that other 10%?


 For businesses with assets that move, are situated outside of cellular or network service ranges or for those that require uninterrupted communication for security purposes, cellular networks do not provide the mandatory constant and reliable connectivity.


Deploying any system to remotely monitor mobile and fixed equipment provides many benefits. Management knows immediately when a piece of machinery requires attention rather than finding out too late during the next scheduled site visit.  Timely information about asset health and behavior combined with software applications that organize data and implement work flows, save time and streamline processes that previously required paperwork and manual decision-making.  According to an Aberdeen Report, the assistance of automation to support key field service processes and workflows has enabled companies to shave 43 minutes of time spent on administrative tasks and paperwork for their service technicians per day.


When monitoring assets remotely, managers can see the status of equipment from an office computer. This reduces the need to send a technician to check on the status of the equipment on site. Some monitoring solutions also include the ability to send commands to the equipment “over-the-air”, enabling changes to be made from a central location without sending a technician. According to another Aberdeen report, it costs approximately $220 to deploy a truck for service. If a company can fix the problem remotely the first time it could save at least $220 on just one piece of equipment.


Remote monitoring also provides detailed information on the way equipment is used. Whether or not machinery is operated safely and in good condition is vital information needed to prevent accidents, improve operator behavior, schedule maintenance and ensure warranty compliance.


Within the last 20 years satellite technology has gone from being a very expensive and unpredictable choice to an available, dependable and cost effective solution. Before, typical satellite airtime plans averaged in the range of $100/per month/per terminal (for broadband systems). Driven by competition and increased service availability over the last few years, satellite airtime costs have become very competitive, especially when roaming across numerous cell provider networks. Typically, users do not pay for airtime as a standalone, but rather as a bundled service with an application. Satellite applications, for instance, are commonplace for substation automation, distribution automation, automated metering and mobile workforce.


The ability to compensate for areas where there is either no or poor terrestrial or cellular coverage is one of the key value propositions of satellite.   SCADA monitoring systems that require the report of events such as problem notification, the transmission of trending information or the ability to control equipment, packet data satellite terminals can be a cost effective system to purchase, install and operate without compromising the visibility between headquarters and remote assets.


For areas where high-bandwidth networks, like GPRS, are not available or unreliable, packet data satellite terminals can be used to provide remote monitoring and control of SCADA systems. Figure 1 shows an example of the SCADA architecture when using packet data satellite terminals.



Click image to enlarge


Putting Satellite Technology to the Test


Explaining the benefits never paint the picture as well as real life examples.  A few applications that confirm clear return on investments include:



  • A large US Water Utility was losing 25% of its water in transit due to leaks and burst pipes.  With satellite technology collecting data for the central office, in the first three months of deployment, the Utility detected over 30 customer leaks ranging in size from 4,000 to 42,000 US gallons per day. An infrastructure investment was not required and operations efficiency was improved with faster detection, isolation, and resolution of leaks.

  • A large oil and gas producer in North America uses packet data satellite terminals to monitor hourly and daily production of over 1,600 gas wells. Production data is supplemented by customized pressure thresholds that automatically open or close valves, generate alerts and most importantly, avoid accidents or production loss. With remote monitoring, the oil and gas producer was able to increase production and at the same time reduce site visits from twice a day to twice a month.

Typical applications that would benefit from using this satellite communications architecture include:



  • Remote monitoring and management of the entire framework – A two-way communications system allows commands to be sent to the monitored equipment “over-the-air” from a central location. Utilities and smart grid companies can navigate the data to save time and streamline processes by remotely monitoring usage, alarms and notifications and responding in a timely manner.

  • Security – Electricity, gas or water usage can be reported frequently so significant changes can be detected rapidly and addressed promptly.  This is particularly useful for detecting unauthorized consumption.

  • Cathodic protection – Pipelines typically have a special coating that has been supplemented with cathodic protection. Remote monitoring and remote telemetry solutions allows a central location to measure the operation and effectiveness of remote and pressed current cathodic protection systems along a pipeline. In the event of a leakage the utility can stop it immediately, which is of value from an environmental perspective and from a lost revenue perspective.

  • Managed operational costs – Usage can be set according to time of day and season. This helps manage capacity and costs as it offers an opportunity to change consumption patterns that take advantage off-peak periods.

  • Regulatory compliance –Government entities are increasingly setting regulations that require the installation of equipment that controls and regulates energy use and smart metering is increasingly becoming a mandatory part of many energy reduction plans.  

Today’s satellite networks have advanced to become enterprise-class platforms that provide connectivity anywhere on the globe. Satellite technology is a cost-effective and secure solution to maximize SCADA and M2M systems.


Jenn Markey is the Product Management Director for SkyWave, a global provider of wireless data communications for the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) market. Jenn has more than twenty years of global technology marketing and product management expertise and holds a Master of Business Administration from York University.   Jenn can be reached at jenn.markey@skywave.com.