Inmarsat phone apps: Developers and satellite technology
|Richard Harris in SDK Monday, October 30, 2017|
Satellite communication software for mobile app developers from Inmarset can help businesses improve their communications.
We sat down and had a chat with Inmarsat,a mobile satellite communications company, to talk about the developments between mobile phones and satellite technology. Responses are from Michele Franci, CTO of Inmarsat.
ADM: Tell us about the current state of mobile development and space communication?
Michele: Our purpose is to connect people and machines anywhere in the world - on land, at sea, or in the air - and our strategy is to become a digital services enabler, providing the best networks, solutions and services. In an age of digital disruption, where the world is always ‘on’, we now demand rather than expect our communications to be without boundaries or constraints.
Satellite communications has a critical role to play in this rapidly evolving environment, characterized by the cloud, big data and machine-to-machine technology. Inmarsat is at the forefront of global, mobile connectivity that enables the activation of these new solutions. We are leading the way with a host of intelligent transport solutions, such as smart shipping and the connected aircraft, which were not possible even just a few years ago.
Since 2015, Inmarsat has been harnessing a culture of innovation by opening up our platforms to developers. We believe that by building strong relationships with the developer community and providing a supportive environment in which they can share ideas and invent new applications and services, we can foster a new age of innovation for satellite connectivity.
ADM: Why should developers care about communicating with satellites in space?
Michele: It is important to draw a difference between activities in the space segment, often called upstream space applications and earth based applications of space communications, often called downstream applications.
By space segment, or upstream, we mean developments in satellites, launch services, land earth stations and space operations services
By earth based applications, or downstream, we mean developments in terminal equipment, the equipment owned by end users that sends and receives the satellite signals on the ground; network solutions equipment, the hardware and software accessories used to run a fully featured satellite or hybrid network solution; and then the applications that end users use that consume satellite bandwidth, these could be as simple as a smartphone application and as complex as a machine to machine solution for tracking containers in a shipping port.
While there definitely are more opportunities opening up in the upstream arena where expert knowledge of space environments and technologies is still needed, the largest impact on developers in terms of scale we see being in the downstream.
In recent years Inmarsat has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars on our hardware and software platforms that external partners can use to develop with satellite communications.
Communicating with satellites is embedded in our daily lives, even though people may not realize. From receiving navigation signals, monitoring weather changes, to providing vital communications to areas and people that are not able to connect easily via other means. Developing apps for all these forms of communication, whether people to people or machine to machine, will help to increase the accessibility of satellite services, reduce the service cost, as well as ensure the industry evolves itself to meet the demand from the next generation.
ADM: Can you explain how the technology works, and how a developer would use it within their app?
Michele: We have a hardware toolkit of core modules that enables hardware developers more readily to integrate satellite IP communications into their systems, for example, an IoT solution might use one of our modules inside their equipment to connect a meshed network positioned in a remote area.
We have a software toolkit that enables developers to build software applications and solutions for customers who use satellite bandwidth without having to understand proprietary satellite technology, i.e. they can develop against standard formats of API to enable them to operate their services more effectively. For example, an application provider of crew welfare applications for merchant shipping vessels can better control their application performance on board ship.
In summary, now that this more easily accessible developer toolkit exists and will continue to grow, we expect a wider community of hardware and software developers to be able to cost effectively build satellite capability into their solutions, enabling them to sell their solutions to new markets that require connectivity n remote locations or in situations where resilience is paramount.
ADM: What are the major benefits, and drawbacks when programming this way?
Michele: The benefits of app development are significant. From Inmarsat’s perspective this will help to speed up the app turn over time that third party developers may need to spend as we are providing a suite of easily accessible documentation on top of the industry standard interfaces for exchanging data. Second, this will also increase the number of satellite related apps available to users as developers are no longer required to be an expert in the space industry before they can write any satellite related app. This in effect has enabled Inmarsat to leverage a wider pool of talents that are traditionally only found in the domestic mobile app development world. From the developers’ perspective, this has opened up a new area of opportunity that used to have a very high entry bar. We have full confidence this approach will stimulate the industry with good growth and return.
No doubt there are also drawbacks in this approach. For example in this new ecosystem, Inmarsat no longer has full end to end control. Equally we need to protect the good reputation Inmarsat has earned in the past by providing excellent service while working in a new model where we are hosting third party applications. Nevertheless, we have confidence this is the right direction of travel which is why we are promoting it at the Inmarsat World conference.
ADM: Can you give me some examples of apps exclusively using this type of communication today?
Michele: One of the apps that we are currently working on with a partner developer is Unified Threat Management (UTM) service which aims to provide client with perimeter security controls as the core component of an overall “defence in depth” corporate security strategy. Control of the service subscription management (activation, suspension, de-activation, resume and termination) will all be achieved by standard API exchanges with an appropriate layered architecture that modern app development adopted.
Once deployed, depending on configuration, UTM will be able to analyse and inspect traffic on-board of the remote client, and identify any possible threats. This analysis will generate logs and events that will be uploaded through the Inmarsat network, again via standard APIs to the security control centre and end users.
ADM: What is Inmarsat World you are planning in Portugal?
Michele: This year, we are gathering the very best talent from Inmarsat’s ecosystem at the Inmarsat World Conference, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal from 6 to 8 November 2017. For the first time, we’re bringing our 1000+ strong community together, from sales to software developers, equipment manufacturers to regulators, component to solution suppliers, plus hand-picked end customers whose challenges are shaping our industry. It is an opportunity for this close-knit group to share latest developments, listen and exchange insights on industry trends shaping the satellite industry to innovate and create satellite-enabled solutions.
We have also been investing heavily in the creation of software and hardware toolkits aimed at enabling developers to integrate satellite capabilities into their solutions. Given the growing need for ubiquitous connectivity, we are expecting more developers to start building hybrid connectivity solutions that include satellite services. In this respect, Inmarsat has been working with organisations as well as start-ups to improve communications in industries including agriculture, energy, mining, transport and fishing.
Inmarsat World Conference: 6-8 November 2017, Lisbon Congress Centre, Lisbon, Portugal.
About Michele Franci
Leading the CTO organization, Franci’s focus spans the policy and regulatory framework, securing spectrum and orbit resources, influencing the processes for the adoption of international regulations and obtaining the necessary authorizations to access national markets for Inmarsat services.
Prior to joining Inmarsat, Michele was SVP for Planning and Procurement at SES where he was responsible for the SES fleet management, mission design and development, satellite and launcher procurement and risk management.
Michele brings more than 25 years experience in the satellite communications industry, including overseeing over 30 launch campaigns, with roles at Arianespace, Fokker Space, and ESTEC.
Read more: https://developer.inmarsat.com
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