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The Future of Mobile Connectivity

Written by Tristan Wood

How is Connectivity on the Move Possible?

  • How is connectivity on the move possible?
  • How can we meet the growing demands of embedded connectivity in a highly mobile world?
  • What is hybrid connectivity, and what are its advantages?
  • Hybrid connectivity technologies

Communication on the move can present many challenges, especially when there is a need to operate over large, diverse geographical areas or across the global theatre. Urban canyons in major cities dominated by dense concrete structures can render satellite links inoperative, while cellular coverage can be limited outside the main conurbations, even in the most developed economies. Add to this the demand for connectivity of new and emerging technologies, such as drones, M2M, and autonomous vehicles and transport, and it’s not difficult to see how today’s conventional infrastructure—and business models—are being challenged.

The rapid and continuous transfer of data today permeates every aspect of modern life, dominated by countless connectivity-dependent services. Defense, space, connected and autonomous craft, emergency services, telehealth, AI and ML, and a host of other applications demand not just a connection, but an “intelligent connection.” This opens considerable opportunities for telecommunications, OEM, and other technology-led businesses to transform their operations and consumer-facing services.

In the aviation industry, power-by-the-hour, automation, and security are reshaping the entire industry. IoT and Industry 4.0 are transforming the productivity of OEMs as well as of maintenance and repair operations, ushering the emergence of new paradigms, such as Aircraft-as-a-Service (AaaS) and smart aircraft. In the automotive sector, connected vehicles and the shift to electric and autonomous cars heralds a fully digitized world. Cars are increasingly pre-configured for incremental upgrades via OTA systems throughout their lifecycles. Overall, the ability to integrate existing with future connectivity services can enable more efficient systems and workflows, and there are many underlying communication technologies—and even more service providers—willing to pick up this baton.

However, despite recent advances in telecommunications technology—such as 5G cellular services and disruptive low-cost LEO satellite services—there is no single network service to address the exponentially growing demand for seamless connectivity on the move. Nor can any provider offer a single comprehensive solution to the problems of coverage, bandwidth, reliability, and cost.
Agnostically using any network, based on location, cost, or quality of service, should dramatically reduce the impact of the problem, and yet awareness and application of “bonding” technology is nowhere near where it needs to be as machines and people demand ever faster, “always-on” connectivity.

Away from conventional cellular networks, fixed satellite architecture has been a primary broadcast medium for mass markets and geographic reach, and provides rapid deployment in emergency situations and in diverse remote area applications, including those of natural disasters. Satellite communications on-the-move (COTM) and communications-on-the-pause (COTP) have harnessed ever-evolving smart antennae design and stimulated the use of multi-channel systems to improve resilience and optimize performance. Yet, because of its premium infrastructure, satellite communication can be more expensive than other types of broadband that offer similar or faster speeds.

The capacity for selective routing to satellite networks, alongside the ability to make use of other available networks lies at the heart of “hybrid connectivity.” At the core of hybrid is SD-WAN, a technology that uses software-defined networking concepts to distribute network traffic across a wide area network (WAN). This architecture creates a virtual overlay that bonds underlying private or public WAN connections, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), Internet broadband, fiber, wireless, or LTE. As a result, hybrid SD-WAN networking can agnostically combine and transition between these networks.

In truly hybrid, or “heterogeneous,” networks, multiple network technologies must seamlessly work together, actively sharing the load and resources by combining and binding together a variety of bearers—from cellular and LTE to satellite and WiFi—into a single “pipe.” In this way, it can deliver a faster and more reliable service.

In practice, a hybrid platform goes several stages further than that, adapting to a range of other variables that depend on each bearer’s performance and any other environmental conditions affecting it at any one moment in time, to optimize performance and reduce costs. As an example, a hybrid platform might restrict the use of expensive or inefficient bearers.

Like the least-cost routing of voice calls, parameters can be set to allow for the most cost-effective bearer to be used if it’s good enough. For instance, cellular can take preference over satellite if the performance is adequate, thus reducing the costs of always using satellite. The same principle must be applied to the handling of Quality of Service (QoS) to ensure the performance of critical applications in the face of limited network capacity and rapid variations in bandwidth and latency.
Livewire Digital’s research and development of hybrid communications started in 2012 as part of a situational awareness project for the European Space Agency. To achieve full hybrid connectivity, RazorLink was developed, an industry-first SDN solution that seamlessly and dynamically bonds any number of bearers—satellite, cellular, point-to-point radio, Wi-Fi, and terrestrial services—that are in line with user-defined objectives and prevailing conditions [1].

For instance, continuous and fast Internet connectivity can deliver significant benefits to rail operators and passengers. Designed to meet the challenges presented by a fast-moving train traveling through different areas of network coverage, smart networking enables a dynamic connection to various operators, using a range of underlying communication technologies such as 3G, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi, and satellite.

Likewise, the bonding and optimization of the communications path can allow drones to deliver live low-latency video and advanced 3D world sensing & mapping data. This is already being deployed with great success in the UK police and first responder markets.

Meanwhile, in maritime settings, where most ocean-going vessels access satellite communications for telephone and data services, there is a growing need for always-on connected services for engineer management and security applications. Third-party products can assist to a degree by allowing a vessel to select a particular service, but only limited services can be used at any time, and each switchover necessitates many onboard applications to re-establish their links with the shore. With more services, a higher demand for bandwidth, and a growing pressure on cost, this is no longer a viable approach. To address these challenges, hybrid connectivity improves the performance of applications over high-latency satellites, poor-quality cellular coverage, and intermittent Wi-Fi links.

Back on land, and in conurbations especially, the evolution of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) is ushering in a new era of transportation, promising safer roads, efficient mobility, and unparalleled convenience. However, at the heart of this transformation lies a critical technological need: the seamless integration of multiple network technologies—a true hybrid network.
With CAVs, a truly robust communication infrastructure is not just a necessity; it’s the lifeline ensuring these vehicles navigate, operate, and communicate flawlessly across varied terrains and conditions. Imagine a scenario where a train, guided by well-defined tracks, faces challenges in maintaining consistent connectivity. Now, magnify this complexity many times over for autonomous vehicles, crossing borders, and dealing with a wide variety of infrastructure and signals.
As automotive autonomy advances, the roadmap for CAVs demands not just innovation but adaptability. Manufacturers must design flexible architectures that accommodate increasing bandwidths and actively support distributed hybrid network structures.

Growing demand for reliable connectivity in global mobility markets, such as aviation—manned and unmanned—and maritime, makes peak-time capacity and multi-dimensional networks that can draw upon the right options at the right time more important than ever.

Ubiquitous connectivity on the move is set to become the default minimum for an increasingly interconnected world, in business, government, for those on the move, and in the home. To date, hybrid connectivity solutions have been based on switching or failover using classic routing techniques that operate well over fixed infrastructure. Applying this technique to connectivity on the move, where the availability and characteristics of networks change rapidly—resulting in intermittent connectivity, poor performance and difficulty in scaling—will no longer be acceptable, and no longer accepted by consumers and regulators. A technology that can seamlessly combine multiple networks into one fast, secure, and highly resilient service is already here. It is a “true hybrid” solution, already being developed for a rapidly changing world.

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • FEBRUARY #403 – Get a PDF of the issue

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Founder and Managing Director of Livewire Digital at 

Tristan Wood graduated from York University having gained a BSc Hons in Computer Science, and has since spent over 30 years as Managing Director of Livewire Digital. Tristan's creative and innovative approach to problem solving, along with his drive, determination and passion, have been instrumental in the realisation of the RazorLink technology; providing hybrid SD-WAN solutions to the European Space Agency, Inmarsat, and defence organisations for secure and resilient communications.

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The Future of Mobile Connectivity

by Tristan Wood time to read: 6 min