Satellite Network to Reach the Unreachable Spot
CREDIT: Iridium Communications
Although no corner of the globe seems beyond the reach of electronic communications, there are remote mountains and vast stretches of ocean that remain dead zones. Across these electronically black expanses, passenger jets fall off radar screens, armies lose contact with their commanders, and communities remain isolated from the modern world.
A global network of satellites could now allow more far-flung airplanes, ships, vehicles and even Special Forces units to have a connection anywhere, anytime, through a growing array of connectivity devices.
Iridium Communications' 66-satellite network, the world's largest, can provide crucial communications across the 92 percent of the world where you won't find cell phone signals or land-based Internet connections , said Matt Desch, Iridium's chief executive officer.
The satellites already cover "every inch of the planet," Desch says, but the real change comes from smaller and cheaper connectivity devices that make Iridium's satellite communications available for many more uses.
"It used to be a thing the size of a brick that cost $800," Desch told InnovationNewsDaily. "When you make that a thing the size of a silver dollar that costs $100, then you can put that in millions of applications, including consumer devices."
One such device is an Automated Flight Information Reporting System developed by AeroMechanical Services. The system can track planes at all times. It even can upload black box data instantly through its Iridium satellite connection if a passenger jet suffered depressurization or went out of control.
U.S. Special Operations Forces have used Iridium's service with secure satellite phones when doing stealthy missions in remote area. Ships that carry Iridium communication terminals can make free calls over the satellite network to the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations, which coordinates between merchant shipping and naval warships patrolling the pirate-infested danger zone off the Somali coast.
Desch, Iridium's CEO since 2006 and a recent appointee to President Barack Obama's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, says his company hopes to shrink its connectivity devices down to chips that cost tens of dollars at most. If it succeeds, that could boost the number of satellite connections from hundreds of thousands to perhaps tens of millions in a decade or two.
So far, Iridum has about 250 partner companies building satellite connections into various devices. But Desch foresees a near-future when satellite connections become cheap enough so that practically every modern vehicle or device could use them.
Delivery trucks could upload their latest schedules or drop-offs without needing a cell phone signal. Car manufacturers might track vehicle safety statistics by knowing every time that an airbag inflates in one of their vehicles. Even individual shipping containers or cargo units loaded onto ships, trains or trucks might use satellite connections to report on their location and condition.
"We're getting to the point where we can provide that connectivity at a very low cost," Desch said. "We're going to provide the secret sauce."
Satellite connections still won't compete with Wi-Fi or cell phone connections when it comes to high-speed Internet or heavy data transfers , but they offer a secure backup in case the other connections drop out, Desch said. And many future applications that need true global connectivity may find that satellite connections provide the only way forward.
"Everyone has brilliant ideas and then realize they're constrained by where cell phones could be," Desch said. "We're everywhere. We're the glue that pulls the planet together."