New adventures in Wi-Fi (and other communications technologies)

10 March 2017

Phil Meyers, Head of Innovation, Inmarsat Enterprise

  • enterprise

  • broadband
  • m2m

Making claims is pretty easy; this is what we’re going to do in the future, this is how we’ll do it, this is what it might look like. However, I think that it’s only when you really go out and do something in the real world, with real people, that you develop a deep understanding of your subject matter. Theory is great, and very important. Practice is better.

I’ve come to the conclusion over the last few months that this really rings true for technology, and in particular networks with un-manned sensors, where seemingly, and quite literally, almost anything can happen.

In the Inmarsat Enterprise team (we look after anything that’s on the land, from media broadcasts to mines, oil wells to smart cities) we recently announced that we’ve purchased a LoRa network server capability. This means that we’re able to extend the range and applications of our BGAN terminals to include low-power, wide-area sensor networks. This is hugely exciting for us, our sales teams, our partners, and our customers; but the journey hasn’t been smooth.

In theory, setting up a LoRa network with a BGAN is easy: solar array and battery for power; BGAN terminal pointing at the satellite with an ethernet cable to a LoRa gateway for connectivity; carefully place a few sensors on what you want to monitor; connect all the data to an app and away you go.

Who knew, WHO KNEW, that when you put sensors in a natural, relatively remote environment that the local wildlife would get so interested? So far, we’ve had trees that were so thick that they played havoc with the signal, ant infestations in ground based sensors that affected the readings and even hard-core industrial, tree-mounted sensors that have been chewed to a pulp by, of all things, monkeys! If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry!

But… this is why practice is better for us and our customers. The more that we do in the real world, the more robust the solutions we create, and, more importantly I’d say, the more we as a team develop the skills needed to be able to deal with problems, the better we can help our partners and customers, whatever their challenge. We’ve become much more agile as an organisation in the process both in the project management sense, and the literal sense, those monkeys move fast! And yes, for the record, we solved all of those issues, I know you were worried!

All of that leads me to the actual point of this blog, what we’re doing next on our adventure into the Internet of Things; the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda this May.

Charged with placing digital transformation at the centre of the socio-economic development of sub-Saharan Africa, the summit will see 30 heads of state and 300 mayors attend numerous sessions and events to understand what technology can do for their citizens in the near, medium and long-term. I’m glad to say that Inmarsat Enterprise, along with our colleagues from the Global Government team, has agreed to be a platinum sponsor of the event.

It would be very easy to turn-up in Rwanda and show some videos of remote connectivity that we’ve provided all around the world over the last 20 years. It would be really easy to tell each of the VIPs and their associated entourages what we could do in their city, what it might look like if we did. But we’ve decided not to do that.

Along with a few trusted partners, we have set ourselves the lofty goal of connecting Kigali before the summit, and showing the attendees our capabilities in real time, in a real city, with real use-cases, all focused on improving the lives of the residents.

We’ll set-up the LoRa infrastructure and some of our other technologies (all focused on the local issues) through April and early May, ready for the summit on the 10th and onwards from there. It’ll provide a perfect showcase of the technology (and us), and leave a blueprint for Kigali that can be used after the event to benefit the lives of over 700,000 residents.

I just hope there are no monkeys…


About the author

Philip Meyers is Head of Innovation for Inmarsat Enterprise. He has almost 15 years of experience in telecommunications and has spent the last few years concentrating on satellite solutions for consumers, and developing Inmarsat’s technology agnostic LPWAN strategy. Passionate about technology and communications, Mr. Meyers implemented the first public LoRa network in the City of London, allowing applications in both asset tracking and smart building management, using satellite as a backhaul.

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