The digital transformation and modernization efforts that we’re seeing across the government and military involve the adoption of more than just one solution, technology, or system. Digital transformation is an overarching umbrella for a wide range of exciting new advancements that are revolutionizing how the government and military fundamentally operate.
But very few of the technologies that are being embraced by the government and military as a part of their ongoing modernization initiatives have the transformative potential as the Internet of Things (IoT).
For those that aren’t familiar, IoT involves the proliferation and deployment of network-enabled and connected devices and sensors that have the potential to measure and monitor the environment around them. The data that these devices and sensors generate can then be aggregated and analyzed for actionable insights.
What makes IoT so exciting is its ability to shift government agencies from being reactive – identifying problems after they arise and addressing them – to being proactive – identifying red flags and factors that indicate a problem is arising, and taking proactive steps to keep it from becoming an issue.
However, for IoT programs and initiatives to be successful, the devices and sensors need to be connected, so that their important data and findings can be accessed and analyzed in a timely and relevant fashion. With devices and sensors often needed in remote, austere environments, satellite becomes a natural and logical choice for connecting IoT devices at the tactical edge.
One of the companies leading the charge on satellite-enabled IoT initiatives is OQ Technologies, which recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with GovSat to develop and test satellite-based IoT products aimed at defense and government sectors.
We recently sat down with the company’s Founder and CEO, Omar Qaise, to discuss the importance of government IoT initiatives, and learn more about the MOU between OQ Technologies and GovSat.
Here is what he told us:
Omar Qaise: OQ Technology is the only company in the world that uses standardized 3GPP cellular technology for Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) to connect devices to satellites. We are taking advantage of market and technology gaps not covered by existing satellite communication, particularly for low-power, low-cost, small messaging IoT devices.
In 2016, 3GPP introduced NB-IoT, making our proposition unrivaled in the satellite world. Based on this standard, OQ has developed algorithms and add-on software to make sure IoT devices can seamlessly switch between terrestrial and satellite connectivity to overcome connectivity issues in remote locations without modifying the cellular standards. As an early result, we won multiple contracts with ESA under the Luxembourg Space Agency national program, LuxImpulse.
The company also has developed a technology that allows it to use the cheaper standard mobile chips for its satellite connectivity, instead of the expensive satellite chip that would have to be installed and used when leaving terrestrial networks.
This unique combination of seamless connectivity using standard mobile chips at a fraction of the cost makes it ideal for applications in industries such as oil, gas, logistics, mining, and defense. Particularly in rural and remote areas such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas, where infrastructure is lacking.
GSR: How pervasive are IoT initiatives across world governments today?
Omar Qaise: Local authorities all over the world are facing growing pressures from their government to achieve targets on climate change, improve social care and overhaul waste management – all with budgets squeezed tighter than ever. As a result, we have seen great interest by local governments in IoT technology solutions to help meet their budget and social goals, achieving scale by addressing multiple use cases at once.
There are various ways in which the Internet of things is being used in governance including healthcare, education, smart infrastructure, remote oversight of transport and agricultural systems, and disaster management. Fortune Business Insights reckons that the global IoT in smart cities market alone will grow fivefold, reaching USD 582.38 billion by 2028, up from USD 110.56 billion in 2020.
GSR: What are some of the different ways governments can utilize IoT sensors and solutions to better accomplish their missions?
Omar Qaise: Through IoT devices and a low-latency or real-time connectivity network, the government can monitor, map and analyze at scale. Take healthcare, for example, where the use of the IoT allows to flag any issues earlier and prevent the escalation of problems while the individual is at home.
The push towards smart lighting in cities will use low-power IoT networks to connect the lights, which will be undertaken on a huge scale. Councils will be able to switch on and off certain sections of the lighting estate depending on the activity, which in turn reduces energy consumption. To do this, streetlights need smart controllers that receive and transmit wireless signals to the lighting unit.
Military users such as the U.S. Department of Defense are making strides to expand 5G research and ultimately, deployment. They are expecting benefits of 5G in battlefield environments among other uses. In October 2020, the DoD awarded contracts totaling $600 million to perform testing and evaluation of 5G technologies at five military installations across the country.
Connected devices would allow the efficient tracking and management of military assets, giving real-time visibility of stock and supply and the means to forecast which products are in demand or excess. Being able to receive speed and motor status, overall engine times, and fuel economy for vehicles with embedded sensors would improve fleet management. Information that would be difficult to come by without the IoT.
“Local authorities all over the world are facing growing pressures from their government to achieve targets on climate change, improve social care and overhaul waste management – all with budgets squeezed tighter than ever.” – Omar Qaise
Sensors attached to a soldier’s clothing can enable proactive health surveillance and provide crucial and timely insights of remote battlefields, allowing officers to make better-informed decisions.
The gathered data from battlefield situations would allow us to improve the augmented reality for remote training programs. Together with artificial intelligence, connected devices can also improve the accuracy for autonomous reconnaissance and recognizing targets.
It’s not limited to land-based devices either. Military use cases include communications with drones, mine detection, harbor protection, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), networks of underwater robots, submarines communicating with a land-based command post, as well as drone attack detection and warning system on borders. Even search-and-rescue has potential; there’s almost no limit to possible applications.
GSR: What role does satellite play in government IoT initiatives? Why would satellite connectivity be necessary to enable government IoT programs?
Omar Qaise: 5G is a core technology upon which modern societies, their economies, and their militaries will rest. It will be crucial to how industries compete and generate value, how people communicate and interact, and how militaries pursue security for their citizens.
While the utility of satellite communications is somewhat limited within cities and in city-to-city communications, where fiber and WIFI are readily available, integrating satellite and terrestrial systems will be necessary to meet the full spectrum of future demands likely to be placed on 5G networks. These include increasing traffic and number of connections outside of dense city centers in more rural and remote areas with the proliferation of IoT devices, providing coverage for devices on the move such as a ship at sea or a truck or car driving across the country.
Nearly half of the world’s population lives outside urban areas where affordable and high-quality Internet to the home or 5G mobile networks via a terrestrial network may not be available. Mobile network operators face huge pressure to provide ubiquitous coverage with less investments. Especially, after a two-year period that saw the terrestrial roll-out of 5G fall behind schedule.
“Connected devices would allow the efficient tracking and management of military assets, giving real-time visibility of stock and supply and the means to forecast which products are in demand or excess.” – Omar Qaise
Satellite-based connectivity also functions as a backup to provide necessary resiliency. For governments, the high availability of 5G networks during natural or manmade disasters demands that there be redundant connectivity paths employing alternate technologies when the primary terrestrial link fails.
GSR: OQ Technology recently signed an MoU with GovSat. What does this MoU do? What will the two companies be developing together as a result?
Omar Qaise: OQ Technology, together with GovSat, will collaborate on developing and testing satellite-based IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) products aimed at defense and government sectors.
OQ Technology will modify its user terminals from S-band to operate on higher X-band frequency, used for the military. Tests will be performed to demonstrate the link over a Lux GovSat GEO satellite. This means special defense IoT use cases can benefit from OQ’s 5G IoT solution.
GSR: Why was GovSat a good choice to partner with OQ Technology for this MoU? What does GovSat bring to the table?
Omar Qaise: Getting access to the government – and more so to the defense sector – can be difficult. Partnering with GovSat, a specialized GEO operator, seemed the perfect solution to provide 5G IoT and machine communication to critical SATCOM applications in these sectors. They have the know-how and experience of delivering secure, non-preemptible, reliable, and accessible satellite communication services to customers such as NATO, the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD), and the Belgium Navy.
Through GovSat, OQ Technology will be able to access its satellite capacity. GovSat will also support us through their satellite hub infrastructure and by providing uplink services.
“Through IoT devices and a low-latency or real-time connectivity network, the government can monitor, map and analyze at scale.” – Omar Qaise
I believe that by combining OQ Technology’s 5G products and services with GovSat’s end-to-end SATCOM solutions, we can offer highly scalable applications for air, land, and maritime missions globally.
GSR: What about the GovSat X-band and Mil Ka-band coverage makes it ideal for sensitive government and military applications?
Omar Qaise: GovSat’s coverage is critical for government customers and NATO operations. Its reach spreads Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South West Asia with maritime coverage for the Atlantic, Baltic, Mediterranean, and Indian Oceans.
Their high-powered fully-steerable spot beams in X- and Military Ka-Band, and a global X-Band beam, in addition to a secure service hub, assure secure operations and resilient SATCOM capabilities.
GSR: When development is done, and OQ Technology terminals work with the GovSat GEO satellite service, what will it enable existing GovSat customers to do that they can’t do today? What will it enable for existing OQ Technology government customers?
Omar Qaise: Our customers will receive real-time 5G IoT and machine communication for critical SATCOM applications. For that, OQ Technology will provide user terminals, satellite hub equipment, and remote management capabilities.
The company will also re-design its satellite IoT user terminal to fit the GovSat frequency band, and it’ll upgrade the antenna of its user terminal.