Orbiting 35,000 km from the surface of Earth are 14 satellites of the Inmarsat constellation. Placed in a geosynchronous orbit, these satellites can provide mobile and data coverage to the entire surface of the planet. They communicate with portable terminals on Earth, and are used particularly in areas where there is no reliable terrestrial network, like the middle of the sea or in the air.
Their protocol was recently upgraded to provide new and improved services. When such upgrades happen, all the customers of the satellite network also have to change their protocol. This presented an opportunity for Honeywell‘s engineers in India, who in just over a year designed and launched a next-generation portable satellite terminal that makes full use of the new protocol.
“We were one of the first companies to enter the market with a new product, and we are proud to say that all the work was done out of our India technology centres,” says Ajeya Motaganahalli, CTO of Honeywell SPS (Safety & Productivity Solutions) India.
The challenge was that everything – from the physical layer, to the motherboard, the antenna, the software stack and even the circuitry – had to be developed from scratch, because the product is a complex interaction between hardware, software and firmware.
The portable satellite terminal, called a SAT-IDP terminal, can track, monitor and control high-value assets in virtually any environment anywhere in the world, using the Inmarsat network. It could be shipping containers, industrial equipment, or mining and agricultural equipment, anything related to logistics.
Once an asset has been equipped with a SAT-IDP terminal and deployed, the terminal can be programmed to send and receive customised data – including temperature, humidity, vibration and shock – from internal and external sensors. “This is a machine-to-machine (M2M) communication device. We can have sensors that have the capability to detect the leakage of petrol from a pipeline on the other side of the world,” Motaganahalli says.
The design and development of the terminal required a deep understanding of satellite radios and hardware and software wireless design. Expertise in electromagnetic interference, electronic magnetic compliance, and electronic printed circuit board layouts were critical to handle challenges with product certification.
At its core, the terminal uses a software defined radio that supports Inmarsat’s new protocol within the existing form factor of the previous M2M terminals, which have a large installed base. “Support was added for additional inputs and outputs, accelerometer, bluetooth communication, and geo-fencing capability to allow customers to continue to handle all their existing use cases and enable new ones,” Motaganahalli says.