Northern Sky Research

A Trend towards Dual-Mode SCADA/M2M?

May 16th, 2011 by Jose Del Rosario   More from this Analyst | Profile

SCADA/M2M service providers, including those in the transportation sector, have generally provisioned offerings based on three technology camps: satellite only, terrestrial only, and dual-mode. Orbcomm and Skywave (among others) provision dual-mode services, while satellite-only and terrestrial-only providers have been mulling dual-mode prospects for some time. In comparing camps, tracking traffic and revenue streams may provide an indication of which solution is “better” and may compel those in the satellite camp to finally take the plunge into offering dual-mode solutions.

SkyBitz is one such company that may be on the verge of making that leap. The company announced in April 2011 that Star Transportation ordered 1,300 units of its satellite-based Gemini Series GLS400 asset tracking solution for their fleet of trailers. In February 2011, SkyBitz also announced that Tankstar USA, a provider of liquid and dry bulk transportation for long-haul, short haul and just-in-time operations selected the terrestrial GSM network-based SkyBitz Falcon Series GXT1000 to track its fleet of tanks that service the cement industry.

The two solutions offered by SkyBitz are (for the moment) mutually exclusive, although research indicated that SkyBitz actually had an agreement with WhereNet Corp. (now called Zebra Enterprise Solutions Corp.) to supply a dual-mode global tracking solution for sea containers in May 2002. There are traffic and usage requirements that call for terrestrial-only or satellite-only solutions, and the transportation and cargo market certainly falls within this category. Assets that fall within urban and suburban areas naturally use terrestrial technologies, while services for long-haul trucks use satellite platforms to achieve coverage and range.

The leap to dual-mode is a risky one given the requisite investments to develop a solution that may not be compelling from the end users’ point of view. Extra costs are likely to be incurred in provisioning equipment and service, which may lead customers to simply pick a single-mode solution based on their needs.  In short, the jury is still out on whether there is indeed a need or a compelling value proposition for dual-mode offerings.

Yet, the question to go dual-mode not only remains but is a nagging one, and the reasons for dual-mode systems, in NSR’s view at least, have merit:

  • First, cost considerations tend to favor terrestrial offerings, but coverage favors satellite solutions.  With the increasing trend towards a mobile workforce, m-Commerce and a mobile economy, both cost and coverage have to be addressed.
  • Second, there is a move from narrowband data to more wideband/broadband requirements. Terrestrial systems have cost advantages “per bit”, but HTS satellites, Iridium NEXT and other next-generation systems can provide cost savings as well. If an asset is within the terrestrial technology’s coverage, the application will run on the less expensive terrestrial platform.  When terrestrial coverage drops or is unavailable, the system then looks for the satellite link once again, achieving the cost/coverage requirement.
  • Finally, dual-mode systems provide redundancy.  The terrestrial network may become unavailable for a number of reasons that could include emergency situations, network disruptions and others.  Having another mode, in this case the satellite capability, enables this redundancy for applications that are mission-critical.

It is worth noting that in December 2010, SkyBitz was awarded a U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) contract, which runs through December 2, 2015, and also became an official Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) vendor. Applications that include tracking, monitoring and managing military equipment and assets will need to be served. In NSR’s view, a dual-mode offering that provides cost-savings, ubiquity and redundancy may be in the offing.  Given the trends or forecasts that the military vertical will account for a high share of revenues, a single order for dual-mode systems should help the jury decide, at least for SkyBitz, on the dual-mode prospect.

Bottom Line
The jury is still out on developing dual-mode solutions, but market developments may point service providers in the satellite camp to go that direction.  Perhaps the most compelling reason of all is that a satellite player with a terrestrial offering casts a wider net in terms of servicing clients.  The idea is not to target end users that will likely need ubiquity only or target customers with limited range with cost advantages.  Rather, the idea is to target both with a single dual-mode offering where economies of scale achieve cost savings overall.

Companies in the dual-mode camp probably know traffic patterns and revenue breakouts on both the terrestrial and satellite networks, but it probably does not matter much to them since in the end, the end user is satisfied with the service, whether it is on a terrestrial or satellite link.

Information for this article was extracted from NSR's report Global SCADA, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and LDR via Satellite Markets, 2nd Edition