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In an exclusive interview with CIO Applications, Robert Landsfield, CEO of SkyMira, talks about the company's two-decade rich history, its journey, and how it has continued to ward off the competition by innovating and evolving with the changing times.
Please walk us through the journey of SkyMira over the last two decades and how that has shaped the nature of your business today.
SkyMira has been in business since 1998. That means our track record of providing communication technology solutions for clients started before the internet of things. Our roots have always been in writing software that primarily goes over satellite packet data terminals which means better coverage and more flexible applications for our clients.
The initial application we started with was email for maritime companies, and we provided one of the top three SMTP email services that ran over Outlook Express using the satellite packet data terminal. It wasn't long before our customers began asking us to solve other problems they were having related to workflow and paperwork rate. For example, they wanted to turn their grocery orders, payroll, and logs into electronic information. So we began writing applications for that.
Then, of course, GPS tracking and machinery monitoring followed suit. So, we've always had expertise in integrating various IoT components, whether it's a sensor or an email, and integrating it into a workflow. One of our greatest strengths is the way we work to understand very clearly how changing certain aspects of any technology will impact workflow.
Fast forward to today, one of the new elements that has come into being is Radio over IP. SkyMira’s use of RoIP is the most recent chapter in our 22 year history of using leading edge technology to solve our customer’s communication challenges and improve workflow – by now adding a voice component and integrating land mobile radios.
Can you give us an overview of your portfolio of solutions?
We still support traditional IoT such as GPS tracking among other solutions. The new element is the radio over IP. Radio over IP (RoIP) is a generic term that describes applying Voice over IP (VoIP) technology for two-way radio networks to increase range, reliability, and interoperability. RoIP technology is widely used by government entities, law enforcement, energy companies, and other commercial and casual applications.
RoIP technology’s advent in the market has changed two things:
Number one, in a typical land mobile radio network everything is limited by a terrestrial network and its small footprint. In contrast to this, RoIP technology enables audio to be sent over the internet and then consumed differently on the back end according to the needs of each integrated device.
For example, one of our largest customers is the federal government. We service a law enforcement entity that dispatches units all across the U.S out of a single location in Phoenix, Arizona. We have vehicles that are spread out from Maine, through the eastern seaboard then out west to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. With a standard land mobile radio network, you wouldn't be able to dispatch in that instance, because it would be cost-prohibitive to string towers all across the U.S. With our technology, we take that audio from these vehicles, put it on the internet, and then transmit the AES-256 encrypted PTT traffic into this dispatch center.
SkyMira’s use of RoIP is the most recent chapter in our 22 year history of using leading edge technology to solve our customer’s communication challenges and improve workflow
The second thing RoIP does for you is that it is going to get you much closer to the Nirvana of disaster proofing. For instance, in Connecticut we recently had a tropical storm. It not only disrupted land mobile radio communications, but took down cellular data in broad areas of the state for an extended period. Since then, we've been working with companies here in Connecticut that don't want that to happen again. So the second major benefit of Radio over IP is that it can get you close to disaster-proofing – that goal of being able to survive any event while maintaining instant communications.
Could you also comment on the internet of things solutions based on GPS that you bring to the table?
Our business lines are threefold: RoIP, IoT, and Workflow Automation software services. All three of these solutions are tied together and basically work to solve the problems of the manager who says, “I've got some folks out in the field and I need to have a common operating picture on what they're doing out there."
You may remember when a group of firefighters was killed probably six or several years ago because, basically, the team didn’t know where they were. This raised awareness which led to a bipartisan bill called the Dingell act that requires all agencies to track where their vehicles are. As a result of that, we have a government contract for one agency where we're tracking 705 wildland fire vehicles and integrating that information not only for their own use but also for interagency websites and portals that share it. Now, with IoT, they have a common operating picture in the wildland fire arena. Other agencies are in the pilot testing phase right now, and we are rolling out similar systems for them as well.
Other IoT applications include Tank level monitoring, natural gas well compression, security sensors and machinery monitoring.
We also excel in workflow automation software. Generally, this makes the biggest difference for people deployed out in the field. We make a customized workflow for each application. For instance, maybe you have a field ticket, a group of 10 people and a bunch of equipment out in the field, and want to capture information even when they’re out of cellular coverage. Depending on your workflow, you might want to add a satellite component or have the information flow when they come back into IP coverage. We've been in that vertical for a long time, and it continues to be an important part of our business.
How do you help your clients get up and running with your automation solution?
On the workflow side our initial conversation is usually in a room with a pile of paper the client is using in the field or for various parts of the organization. We work with the people that process this information, punching it into systems so that it flows from an operational picture into accounting systems and so forth. The first thing we do is map that entire process. The second piece of the puzzle is figuring out where automation and various technologies can be applied to increase efficiency. At that point, we have a pretty good understanding of the costs involved and do a clear financial analysis before starting the implementation process. That is basically the process on the workflow side.
We follow a similar process on the RoIP and IoT sides. We start by asking, “What do we have today?” and “What are the goals?” After this, we can see where the client is experiencing holes in land mobile radio coverage so that we can fill in the gaps.
What are some of the misconceptions you come across when engaging with clients?
The first one is cost. Most clients assume that integrating RoIP will be very expensive. However, the new satellite solutions on the market now have a very competitive flat rate which makes budgeting and analysis quite easy.
The second common misconception has to do with latency. Historically, satellite communications had a significant amount of latency. Today, when you put together the codecs in use today, the satellite bandwidth now available, and the IP networks in place, latency is on par with LTE and 5G. When we do on-site demos, we find people are pleasantly surprised that those issues have disappeared. So, those are two areas that many people have misconceptions about because of historic technology weaknesses which aren’t really a concern anymore.
What are the short and long-term goals for SkyMira?
One of our biggest strengths is the way we provide interoperability between systems. Radio interoperability has always been a challenge. Radio over IP solves that to a certain extent. We deploy workflow expertise and technologies which make interoperability even easier. Then, in addition to the radio side and creating seamless interoperability with voice over IP, we have excellent cellular push-to-talk apps that smoothly integrate smartphones into your communications network.
Our short-term roadmap is to take all of the Radio over IP devices we have today and make sure that they all talk seamlessly to each other, using satellite as needed. Regarding the future, multiple technologies are coming to market for satellite, Radio over IP, and push-to-talk. We want to make those systems fully interoperable as well so that we can provide flexible and reliable systems that transform our customer’s workflow and communications for improved efficiency and performance.