Satellite Communications: The Key to Ensuring Resilience in Critical Infrastructure
As well as using low cost satellite for monitoring your boat there are other important uses our technology can be used for. Let's have a look at what this means for Critical infrastructure
Critical infrastructure is the backbone of a well functioning society. These are the industries that provide essential services such as power, water, oil and gas, defence, and transportation. The failure of these systems can have catastrophic consequences, from economic disruption to potential loss of life. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that these critical infrastructure systems are reliable, secure, and resilient. Risks to these systems are increasing due to severe weather incidents, cyber attacks and terrorism.
As all these industries rely on communication systems for their operations and management it is vital to ensure these networks are also resilient. One way that critical infrastructure organisations can improve their resilience and redundancy is by implementing private communication networks that are separated from public carriers. Private communication networks are owned and operated by the organisation, providing exclusive access and control over the network infrastructure. Private networks are often implemented in critical infrastructure industries tailored to their specific needs and ensuring they can operate reliably and securely in all circumstances, without the risk of being compromised by failures or congestion within external supplier systems.
However, even private networks are vulnerable to failures or outages. This is where satellite communications come into play. Satellites can provide critical infrastructure organisations with a reliable, low-power, and flexible communications solution that can support remote monitoring and control of infrastructure systems, enabling early detection and response to potential issues or outages.
One industry that has extensively used satellite communications for ensuring resilience and redundancy is the power industry. In the event of a natural disaster or extreme weather conditions, power systems are often the first to be impacted. Satellite communications have been used by power companies to remotely monitor and control their infrastructure systems, ensuring that they are always operational and reliable. For example, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, a private satellite network was deployed to enable communication between remote power generation sites and central operations.
The water industry is another critical infrastructure industry that has utilised satellite communications for resilience and redundancy. In 2013, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment utilised satellite communications to monitor the water quality in remote areas of the state. This enabled them to detect and respond quickly to any issues with the water supply, ensuring that the residents of Colorado had access to clean drinking water.
The oil and gas industry is another critical infrastructure industry that has extensively used satellite communications for ensuring resilience and redundancy. In the oil and gas industry, remote drilling sites and pipelines can be located in some of the most remote and harsh environments on earth. Satellite communications have been used to remotely monitor and control these systems, ensuring that they are always operational and secure.
Satellite communications provides a resilient independence of communications because it can be deployed without reliance on ground based infrastructure that may also be affected by the same causes that have generated a critical incident.
One of the most significant advantages of satellite communications is their ability to provide network diversity. Network diversity refers to the use of multiple communication technologies to provide redundancy and resilience in the event of a failure or outage. Satellite communications can provide network diversity by offering an alternative communication channel that is independent of terrestrial infrastructure. In remote or hard-to-reach locations, where other communication technologies may not be available or may be unreliable, satellite communications can provide a reliable and robust communication channel.
Another advantage of satellite communications is their ability to provide global coverage. With a satellite network, critical infrastructure organisations can communicate with their systems in remote or hard-to-reach locations, regardless of the distance or terrain. This is particularly important for critical infrastructure systems that are located in remote or harsh environments, such as offshore oil rigs or water treatment plants in remote geographies.
New generation narrow bandwidth satellite services, such as Swarm Technology, have the potential to play an important role in critical industry applications. Swarm Technology offers global narrowband connectivity for IoT devices, sensors, and other low-power applications. These satellites operate in a network that enables multiple low-power devices to communicate with each other and with ground-based infrastructure, providing continuous coverage over a wide area. Where satellite communication may have previously only been considered for high value or high risk assets, these new low cost services provide opportunity to deploy satellite communications much more extensively. This can be particularly useful for critical infrastructure systems that require constant monitoring and control, such as pipelines, water treatment facilities or remote telecommunications infrastructure. With a large constellation of satellites and multiple ground stations the Swarm system provides a further layer of communication resilience.
The February 2023 cyclone incident in Aotearoa / New Zealand’s North Island demonstrates the impact of a major event. Widespread devastation was caused to road, power, water and telecommunication infrastructure. The inability to visit sites meant that operators did not know the status of their networks - whether they were destroyed, had loss of power services or loss of data connections. A low cost satellite connection may well have provided status information of assets to assess what level of recovery was feasible or the remediation priority.
In conclusion, critical infrastructure systems are essential to our society, and their reliability, security, and resilience are paramount. New generation satellite communications offer an additional layer of resilience and redundancy for private networks implemented by critical infrastructure industries to ensure that their systems can operate reliably and securely.