With the number of connected devices due to hit 46 billion by the end of this year, it is no secret that connectivity demands are on the rise. Although internet usage across Africa varies, regions like Southern Africa have a high internet penetration rate of 62%, which is above the world average. Even regions of the lowest internet penetration in the continent such as Eastern and Middle Africa, show around a quarter of the population with access to the internet. It is clear that staying connected is an important aspect of modern life, across Africa and the rest of the world.
Within an industry setting, connected devices are also vital. From mines based across the continent, to active oil and natural gas rigs, automation is playing a key role in the modernization of the energy industry in Africa. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are being utilized to streamline operations and maximize profits by increasing efficiency and minimizing the risk of error.

LEO satellites for off-grid connectivity
While urban centers such as tech start-up capital Lagos, and oil-rich Port-Harcourt have access to higher internet speeds, for rural locations access to broadband is not always as easy. Often located beyond the reach of terrestrial networks, sites such as mines and oil and gas drilling sites must have alternative ways of connecting to the internet. Thanks to the potential of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, this demand for reliable broadband can be met, even in the most challenging locations.
As an alternative to terrestrial connectivity, the assumption may be that satellite internet is not as fast or reliable – but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, recent testing has shown that LEO satellites can provide connectivity speeds higher than that of a fiber connection. The impact of this is an instantaneous response, the same or better than you would experience in an urban office environment.
Oil and gas industry performance testing of Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite looked at overall performance of throughput, latency, packet loss and jitter across applications including videoconferencing, video streaming, web browsing, file transfer, voice and remote desktop. These tests were used to represent the typical usage of connected applications by staff at remote energy sites, to gain the most accurate idea of how useful LEO connectivity could be to the energy industry.
Results showed latency of just 35 milliseconds. When you consider that a delay of 100 milliseconds is generally regarded as instantaneous, the true speed of the connection becomes clear. Other performance factors demonstrated the ability to move data reliably across the satellite. More testing over the robust Ka-band link demonstrated latency, data rates and application performance that are equivalent to a fiber-connection.

What does this mean for the industry?
The results of this testing show more than just fast internet speeds for the energy sector – they have wide implications for crew welfare, and the future of IoT in industry. As the evolution of 5G is giving rise to innovative IoT use cases, we are seeing an increase in technologies which require a real time connection. Those such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems not only thrive under high internet speeds – but require them to function. As such, energy operators must implement sufficient connectivity solutions to benefit from new technological advances and stay ahead of the competition.
For crew, there are benefits both on and off shift. Applications like video calling mean that less staff are needed to travel to remote sites. If someone on site can accurately relay a problem or question in real time, a colleague who is located thousands of miles away can offer a solution in seconds. Not only does this mean less staff are needed to make the time consuming and expensive journeys to remote sites, but operations are streamlined as well with downtime decreased and profits increased as a result.
While not on shift, crew are able to access a plethora of entertainment and communication services, improving quality of life while working at remote sites. Most applications that rely on the internet such as video calling, live gaming and television streaming are impossible, or at best frustrating, without a reliable internet connection. With LEO satellite connectivity, a real-time connection is enabled, and crew are able to spend their personal time reconnecting with loved ones or relaxing with a movie (that doesn’t buffer!)

Low latitude makes it possible
While satellite connectivity has been used for decades, not all satellites are created equal. Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites have been around for half a century, and due to their size and large distance from the Earth’s surface, it only takes three to cover the globe (although there are now many more than this in orbit.) However, for a signal to travel up to a GEO satellite, and back down to Earth, the distance is the equivalent of circling the Earth twice. That means they come with the burden of high latency and are not useful for high-speed applications.
Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites are much closer to the Earth’s surface, so although you need more to cover the same area, latency is greatly reduced. In recent years, this has enabled applications such as safety monitoring, which needed a quicker connection than a GEO satellite could provide. But for devices that need a real-time connection, even the latency of a MEO satellite is too much to handle.
LEO satellites are used to meet this demand, situated just 500-1,600km above the Earth’s surface. It is their proximity which allows them to offer an instantaneous connection. Although they are ideal for providing real time connectivity, their latitude means they cannot cover a large area of the Earth’s surface, which is why we are seeing entire constellations of LEO satellites beginning to fill our skies. Mass production is making LEO satellites more financially viable, and technologies which were not previously able to rely on a satellite connection are able to thrive, even in challenging locations.

Working together for seamless connectivity
The popularity of LEO satellites, and exceptional results of recent testing, does not mean GEO and MEO satellites are not still valuable assets. Operators should be adding LEO connectivity to their toolbelts of connectivity infrastructure and implement a solution which utilises all available satellites.
Similarly, 5G should be considered. Billions of pounds of investment into 4G and 5G infrastructure means they are very advanced, and suitably compliment the use of Wi-Fi and private LTE. For example, sites that are within the reach of 5G, but also may need to rely on satellite connectivity, should implement a solution which seamlessly manages the transition between terrestrial networks and different satellite types. This means whichever signal is going to serve them most effectively is used, and an always-on effect is reached using complimentary technologies.

A connected future using LEO satellites
The recent testing of LEO satellites has showed that rural sites such as mines and oil and gas platforms are able to utilize the same reliable connectivity as urban, office settings. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on the internet, and innovative technologies become available, operators can leverage connectivity solutions to maximize productivity, streamline operations, and keep crew satisfied.