What is SATCOM on the Move?

What is SOTM or SATCOM on the Move?

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- everything RF

Apr 21, 2022


SATCOM on the Move (SOTM) is a type of Communication on the move (COTM) solution that provides satellite network connectivity. It is a term used to refer to vehicles (usually ground vehicles but occasionally marine and airborne too) that are equipped with antennas to establish communication with satellite networks and maintain that connection while the vehicle is moving. SOTM solutions combine mobility and reach-back communications to meet the needs for accessing and sharing high-definition video, voice and data while being on the move.

Satellite networks are truly global networks that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. But accessing these networks requires satellite terminals with powerful antennas to remain still in a place and align the antenna dish with the position of the satellite to maximize connectivity and data transfer rates. SOTM was developed mainly to introduce on-the-go connectivity in satellite networks and offer similar levels as mobile connections via terrestrial infrastructure. It uses several antenna technologies like flat-panel antennas, phased array antennas, electronic beamforming etc. to maintain a high-quality connection while moving.

SOTM adds mobility to satellite networks and provides truly global on-the-go connectivity compared to terrestrial networks that are limited by line-of-sight connections. SOTM can be used to send live, full-motion high-definition audio and video from a moving vehicle to the main station. It can also provide high-speed internet connectivity and allows users to make phone calls, conduct video conferences etc. Satellite networks are not as secure as other networks and are especially susceptible to cyber attacks, network tapping, spyware etc. by hostile adversaries to extract sensitive information. SOTM terminals can provide an extra layer of network security by providing selective access, VPN connectivity, encryption and other security features. It can also improve GNSS connectivity for location tracking, fleet maintenance etc. applications.

SOTM was mainly developed for military and defense applications in mission-critical scenarios. Stopping or halting military vehicles carrying network equipment to connect to the main station made them easy targets for enemy forces. Hence, these communication vehicles needed extra protection to keep communications intact for critical missions. SOTM allows these vehicles to connect to the network without halting and maintain connection even while moving making them harder targets and safe from attacks. In military and defense settings, SOTM equipment is also mounted in marine and airborne vehicles providing network connectivity to all kinds of military forces (army, navy, marine corps etc.). SOTM's added network security layer also protects sensitive military information from getting stolen.

SOTM solutions are useful when existing communications infrastructure is destroyed or simply not available. Emergency services like the police, fire brigade or homeland security need to swiftly set up a working communications environment in emergencies like natural calamities, large-scale fires, capturing criminals etc. In all these cases, information - mainly in the form of video - has to be transmitted from the scene of the incident to a command center, aiding the decision-making process. SOTM systems can also be set up to run autonomously to reduce the time needed to configure them for satellite operation in emergency situations.

SOTM solutions can be fitted in vehicles of reporter and camera teams of broadcasting companies converting various events like local news, gatherings, sports events, accidents etc. Before SOTM, these broadcasts were usually relayed over a helicopter via terrestrial and microwave links which is very costly. Using ground vehicles with SATCOM antennas in these scenarios requires time to be set up and calibrated which results in a delay before they are ready for operation and transmitting on-air. SOTM systems can be configured to the satellite networks beforehand as they can maintain connectivity even while it's traveling. This allows the reporters and camera teams to focus on covering the event rather than technical aspects like network configuration. It also allows media fleet managers to track the locations of their camera teams and remotely grant them transmission capacity when and where needed.

Some vendors currently developing SOTM systems are INSTER Getsat, EM Solutions, Alico Systems, Boeing, Gilat Satellite Networks, ND SATCOM, Comtech Mobile, Datapath, ReQuTech, General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies, iDirect, Inmarsat (BGAN), L3, Raytheon, Exelis, Step Electronics Australia, ViaSat etc. Spectra Group (UK) Ltd has even developed something called SlingShot, which is a lightweight unit that can convert existing tactical UHF and VHF radios to SATCOM frequencies offering a straightforward and cost-effective way to achieve tactical and secure SOTM.