Rendition of connected transportation. Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation.

While transportation cybersecurity spending is expected to increase from $8 billion currently to around $14 billion by 2022, according to ABI Research, the industry could still be vulnerable. Michela Menting, digital security research director at ABI Research, told Via Satellite that this market has picked up over the last few years thanks to smart airports, e-enabled aircraft, automated/driverless trains, connected vehicles, and self-driving cars. This means the development of operational technologies has been much faster than it has been in the past. She believes it is only now that the effect of digitization is being felt within the transportation sector.

But according to ABI Research’s “Critical Infrastructure Security: Transport” report, this rapid digitization is presenting huge problems. Menting believes there is very poor cybersecurity being applied or implemented within transportation operational technologies and control systems. She said this includes critical functionalities such as engine and flight control, electronic positioning systems, chart displays, and navigation systems within aircraft and ships. For example, Menting highlighted the fact that many of these systems now use commercial off-the-shelf software and are internet connected through Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

“The infrastructure operators are not implementing the appropriate cybersecurity mechanisms in these control features as they would in an IT environment. They are simply not familiar enough with cybersecurity in control systems and that is a huge problem, because as they implement these connected technologies, they are ignoring the huge risks that are being introduced into these operational technologies,” said Menting.

The warning is stark. With satellite companies already well entrenched in terms of connected aircraft and ships, as well as developing plans to play in the budding connected car sector, cyber-attacks involving transport companies could clearly have an impact on their business.

Menting conceded that the communications systems are definitely “highly vulnerable” and that this includes the satellite channel. She said the use of protocols and networks commonly used in IT systems is widespread, from LAN to cellular. While the use of 5G is being actively debated, 3G/4G is already in widespread use. “In addition, there is high usage of short-range connectivity like Wi-Fi, RFID, and Bluetooth and other proprietary IoT protocols such as Zigbee, 6LowPAN, etc. Satellite communications have been the traditional channel for maritime vessels and aircraft, at least for navigation and guidance, and more recently for infotainment, [high speed data communications for passengers and crew],” she said.

Menting points out that security has been less of a concern for this medium. She believes the more pressing risk is really at the end points where the communications start and end. Those end points are now connected to other systems in the craft/vessel or at the terminals/ports that are digitized and have an IP address. Insecure endpoints are a potential threat vector that can make use of the satellite communications channel to potentially transmit erroneous or malicious data, she says.

With connected transportation becoming more of a reality, the threats to this sector are on the rise. When asked what role the satellite industry will play as this sector starts to develop, Menting pointed to aviation and maritime, and said it will also have an increasing role when it comes to the connected car.

For cars, she believes satellite will be used increasingly beyond simply navigation and said that to see the successful implementation of driverless cars, there must be a secure connectivity element. This includes the short-range connectivity to roadside units, and connecting to the wider infrastructure will require expanded satellite services. There is currently a debate on whether 5G is going to be that next communications channel, rather than Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). Menting believes this will lead to an opportunity for satellite operators to provide that secure connectivity element, including critical updates and real-time information about the roadside traffic.

“On a larger scale going forward, new connectivity requirements will emerge beyond traffic-related services and connect around smart city and smart home elements. I think there is a role for satellite operators there. Cybersecurity adoption in the transport sector is still very nascent and immature. There is plenty of scope for satellite players to extend their role within the secure communications element,” she added.

So, while that is the good news, the connected transportation market seems more vulnerable than others to a crippling cyber-attack. Menting said if you look at cyber-attacks within the transportation sector, the issues have been around human error and accidental misuses of systems, and that so far, we have not really seen a fully-fledged cyber-attack. But just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean there are not warning signs.

“We have had some cybercriminal enterprises ongoing, although most of it specifically targeted rather than large scale indiscriminate cyberattacks — although the latest bout of ransomware is revealing vulnerabilities in the transport infrastructure,” said Menting. “In the maritime sector, organized crime groups have been hacking cargo management systems to check if shipping containers have been flagged as suspicious by border control, or to fake delivery data to allow criminals to obtain delivery of valuable containers. There are also instances of ships falsifying automatic identification system’s data in an attempt to avoid boarding and inspection of containers.”

Menting cited a recent event involving British Airways as an example of the damage that could be done. The grounding of the airline’s flights due to a power outage could be seen as a wake-up call as to how a cyber-attack could cripple the business. “There is a negative perception of cost, and a low perception of risk. If the risk is not perceived as dangerous enough or real enough, operators are not going to implement really comprehensive security. They will do the bare minimum. But the transport industry is part of the critical infrastructure, so they should really think about it differently,” commented Menting.

However, it appears the risks are not being taken seriously enough. “The problem with connected digital systems is that a threat actor just needs to find the weakest link. They can easily get into a critical system by penetrating a weaker, or more vulnerable adjacent connected system. The transport sector hasn’t really made the effort to research and assess those types of risks fully. They understand the IT risks, but they have not done that full risk assessment on the operational side,” added Menting.

According Euroconsult’s latest report, Prospects for L-Band, IoT & M2M Markets, the Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) market will grow from 4.3 million MSS terminals in 2016 to more than 12 million terminals by 2026. M2M/IoT (machine-to-machine, Internet of Things) devices will have a significant share in this subscriber growth, while their contribution to operators’ revenues should be more limited. MSS wholesale revenues are expected to grow at a CAGR of 2.2% between 2016 and 2026, driven by MSS aero broadband demand, M2M/IoT applications and other MSS services increasingly addressing lower-end segments and emerging regions, such as the promising small boats segment.

The diversification and improvement in MSS products should be enabled by recent and upcoming MSS systems including Iridium NEXT (under deployment), Inmarsat’s I-6 (expected in 2020), Thuraya’s next generation constellation (planned for 2020 but no satellite yet ordered) and a new generation of hybrid networks from Globalstar and Ligado Networks. These systems should allow for new, higher data-rate services, and will combine with new ground solutions and terminals.

“Increasing competition from VSAT mobile solutions, due to more efficient equipment and lower capacity costs, is expected to weigh on MSS’s market share in the high-end, high-ARPU markets,” said Pacôme Révillon, CEO of Euroconsult. “MSS operators will thus have to review their positioning and address new segments less addressable by VSAT solutions, such as smaller classes of ships, aircraft, not to mention potential upsides related to connected cars and IoT.”

The global IoT market, including terrestrial IoT, should experience exponential growth in the coming years; MSS operators are reinforcing their position in the segment, with the number of M2M/IoT terminals reaching over 20% growth in just the first half of 2017. Moreover, about ten constellation projects targeting IoT are currently under consideration by start-ups, intending to benefit from the momentum of the sector.

Single-digit growth is expected for the global MSS market, despite lower global MSS ARPUs over the period due to increasing VSAT competition:

  • Maritime MSS wholesale revenues are expected to decrease with a -2% CAGR over the next ten years, an effect of the migration toward VSAT solutions in the medium to high-end maritime markets, while low ARPUs of small boats should not offset that churn.
  • The land market is expected to grow at a fast pace in number of terminals at a 10-year CAGR of 12%, with growth led by the increasing demand for M2M/IoT terminals.
  • Driven by strong growth in broadband terminals from business aviation as well as cockpit connectivity for commercial airlines, aeronautical wholesale revenues are expected to increase with a 4% CAGR over the coming decade.


For many, locating a parking spot is the bane of city living. Apparently motorists spend an average of 90.5 hours (four days) over the course of a year trying to find somewhere to park. Surprisingly, this is also an issue for telecommunication operators, who are increasingly struggling to find “parking spots” for their satellites in outer space.

Telecom operators are limited in their choice of parking spots because there are only 1,800 available spaces in the geostationary orbit, which is located approximately 35,786 kilometers above the Earth’s equator and revolves at the same rate as the Earth’s rotation. There are other space orbits, closer to Earth, which satellites are launched into, but they have unique advantages and disadvantages and are appropriate for different satellite uses.

Telecommunication satellites are mostly parked in the geostationary orbit because the speed of orbit allows them to appear in a fixed position in the sky. They are therefore stable for ground stations, allowing them to ensure a continuous service. Spots are limited to 1,800 because the satellites have to be safely distanced two degrees or 1,000km apart in order to avoid collisions and interference.

Consequently, there is an ongoing fight amongst telecom operators over this limited geostationary space, particularly over parking spots where the coverage area on Earth that the satellite can “see” covers market hotspots.

Satellite dishes seek out signals from space.

As telecommunication satellites are critical to so many aspects of modern life, this is a real concern. They allow sinking ships to communicate a distress signal; those living in the most rural parts of the countryside to access the internet; companies to video conference a colleague on the other side of the world; and (most importantly to some) fans to watch live football on a Saturday afternoon.

The use of telecommunication satellites has continued to increase since they were first launched in 1962. Their applications are now very much a part of day-to-day living. The loss or compromise of many of them would therefore have a major detrimental impact on the delivery of essential services and a significant impact on the functioning of the state. As the literal space for telecommunication satellites is increasingly becoming crowded, operators have to be inventive if they are to continue to find parking spots. And this inventiveness is not always very positive.

Finding a parking spot in space

Orbital slots – the “parking spots” of space – are allocated to telecom operators via national administrations (such as the UK’s OFCOM) by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). There is no cost for an orbital slot, but allocation is on a first-come, first-served basis. If an operator’s competitor files by just a day before them, then they have priority.

Although the allocation of a slot does not come with an ownership right to the areas of space, it does grant an operator exclusive rights to the resource for the lifetime of its satellite (usually 15 years). Typically, the operators then keep refiling for the slot and replace old satellites with new ones. So, for all practical purposes, they keep the orbital slot indefinitely. This blocks other players in the market, who are left to beg, buy or lease if they need a slot that has already been allocated.

Historically, buying or leasing orbital slots involved the exchange of significant sums of money. In 1988, for example, the Kingdom of Tonga auctioned five of its six orbital slots for US$2m per year, since the capacity exceeded its own requirement. This equated to a daily cost to the buyer of the slot of approximately US$5,480, which makes hospital car parking fees seem relatively cheap in comparison.

The ITU is now far more rigorous in its checks to avoid cases such as this. They try to ensure that there are “genuine” intentions for orbital slots. Nevertheless, satellite operators regularly file for more slots than they can physically use, claiming they are insuring against risk of failure. In reality, they apply for these slots to obstruct their competitors from accessing them – or use them as bargaining chips to trade for more favorable slots.

Empty spaces

This means that lots of the parking spots in space are not actually being used, obstructing future operators and countries from entering the market. Consequently, the ITU have recently stipulated that operators have five years to bring a satellite into use (with a maximum two-year extension) before their parking spot expires. But because operators are not financially penalized for an eventual no-show of their satellite, in fact they still have nothing to lose by keeping empty spots.

This is particularly worrying given how overcrowded the geostationary orbit is becoming. The finite number of geostationary slots pushes telecommunications operators to pack as much as they can into their parking spots, stacking a number of different antennae onto a single satellite to increase capacity. But there is only so far such an approach can take you. One UK-based operator is also exploring the possibility of launching its telecom satellites into medium Earth orbit. This innovative approach is disregarded by other operators because of the high levels of radiation and the complexities resulting from the higher speed of the medium-Earth-orbit.

So the only real way for operators to overcome these restrictions is to buy other telecommunications companies. This limit on parking therefore means that there are an increasingly small number of telecommunication operators in the market. As such, calls for a complete overhaul of the regulatory framework, which was written in 1975, are growing.

Currently, your satellite television provider is likely to be dependent on a single operator that has rights to the space above your home – and this is not helping the cost of your monthly bill.

Representatives from marine and IT-industry have teamed up to enable fully remote-controlled vessels in the Baltic Sea in three years and to achieve autonomous commercial maritime traffic by 2025.

The founding partners in the One Sea – Autonomous Maritime Ecosystem, are ABB, Cargotec (MacGregor and Kalmar), Ericsson, Meyer Turku, Rolls-Royce, Tieto and Wärtsilä. The association of Finnish Marine Industries supports the work, and the Finnish funding agency Tekes has invested in the ecosystem. The One Sea project is being led by DIMECC (Digital, Internet, Materials & Engineering Co-Creation).

“Our One Sea ecosystem is the natural next step in the digital transformation of the marine industry. Several new business initiatives in the autonomous maritime traffic have already been started and can be expected in the future. The companies and organizations collaborating in One Sea are forerunners in their respective fields and the fact that our ecosystem is industry-driven separates it from many of the more or less academic exercises. One Sea ensures a well-researched, tested and highly capable autonomous shipping network,” said Harri Kulmala CEO of DIMECC.

The effort to create products and develop software and solutions to enable autonomous traffic has already been started in the participating companies. In order to promote autonomous traffic around the globe, the One Sea – Autonomous Maritime Ecosystem has taken upon itself to introduce roadmaps towards an autonomous maritime future.

The roadmaps include a timeline towards 2025 and major themes to be investigated and levels of maritime autonomy – all minimizing accidents, decreasing the environmental footprint of marine traffic, and advancing possibilities for efficiency improvement and new commercial ventures. The roadmaps have been created by the representatives of the companies included in the ecosystem and verified by a national advisory board as well as an international advisory board.

The expected timeline for autonomous maritime traffic shows that the regulators will have to increase the pace at which new regulations are approved. The technologies are advancing at such speed that the rules and regulations risk becoming obsolete. Fortunately, forward thinking national and international units are doing their best to enable autonomous traffic even within such a short timeline, DIMECC said.