Smart city connectivity: Is there a place for satellite tech on the menu?

Wed, 2015-03-11 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

Satellites are used in a number of ways, from data communications and telecommunications to broadcasting. Internet service companies, government agencies, the military and others increasingly depend on them. If you watch cable TV, chances are you can thank satellites. At its most basic, satellite technology makes connections between one point and another (or several) possible.

Martin Weisner, director of satellite and smart cities at Stream Technologies, thinks it is time for the satellite industry to zero in on smart cities.

But there are plenty of ways to get connected now
Granted, satellites aren’t going to walk in the room and clean up. There is plenty of established competition, from cable and fiber optics to microwave and power line communications. And there’s the issue of transmission delay in some satellite applications. But the technology has advanced rapidly and as many relatively new technologies do (think smart grids, smart buildings and smart transportation among others), those advances will be coming faster all the time.

Weisner, speaking at the Connectivity Conference in London recently, used China as an example of how satellite technology would be a good fit for smart cities. A report from Via Satellite quoted him: "China is building 20 cities at a time, and looking 20 or 20 years in the future at a time [with these smart cities]. They want to talk to one connectivity supplier. With smart city development, you need to be on the menu of connectivity. What we see with people in China is they don’t have a problem with satellite. The first question is how easy is it? It is then easier to accept a use for it."

What city leaders could soon be hearing
Yes, Weisner was exhorting the industry to take note of the smart cities initiative as an opportunity for expansion. He wasn’t making a direct sales pitch to city leaders who are considering ways to make their cities smarter, more efficient and more livable. But he might as well have been.

Further advising the industry, he commented “Satellite needs to be relevant. It needs to be on the menu [for smart city developers]. It has to be easy to integrate. If you are not on the menu, at least be partners with companies that are on the menu. Satellite is more difficult to understand [so] we need to make it easier to integrate with other technologies. Satellite is both ahead of its time and seen as an old technology. There is room for satellite for a long time. Smart cities will need a lot of connectivity and we should share in that.”

City leaders who have embarked on smart city makeovers already know they need solid partnerships with their technology providers. If the satellite industry heeds Weisner’s advice, cities may find themselves being courted by prospective new partners who will be eager to:

  • Integrate their services with other communications technologies (they’re not mutually exclusive)
  • Help cities design their connectivity efforts from the ground up
  • Do the heavy lifting incorporating new and complex technologies may require

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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