As an independent network, L-band ensures reliable communications when VSAT is out of action
VSAT services worldwide require a back-up solution in case of signal deterioration from environmental conditions and blockages between the satellite and vessel’s antenna.
Satellite owners have added more capacity to their networks, increasing reliability of connectivity and seamless transitions between beams.
But there are still instances when vessels are unable to access VSAT communications.
This is where L-band comes in as a reliable back-up service to guarantee ship data and voice communications get through unaffected by any breaks in connection.
Iridium Communications has traditionally supplied back-up to VSAT, particularly Ku-band with its OpenPort service. It introduced Iridium Certus in 2019 with bandwidth of 352 kbps. Early in 2020, this was increased to 704 kbps bandwidth on the downlink from the satellite to the ship. Iridium Communications vice president for maritime Wouter Deknopper says L-band is a vital companion to VSAT and rising bandwidth will minimise any gaps in service performance.
“While VSAT can come in many shapes and sizes, it is not a standardised package and can suffer from service degradation,” Mr Deknopper explains to Maritime Optimisation & Communications. “Iridium Certus VSAT companion is very much the opposite – it is a standardised service that works everywhere and is ultra-reliable.”
Shipowners and managers can opt for L-band to provide primary satellite communications as the bandwidth gap with VSAT is narrowing.
“The most modern L-band services are disrupting the status quo of connectivity available to the shipping industry,” says Mr Deknopper.
“With the upgraded Iridium Certus 700 service, our VSAT companion provides global connectivity with the highest speed L-band available, up to 704 kbps down and 352 kbps up.”
He says shipping companies should consider L-band as the main communications service on a vessel even if it is a back up to VSAT, because of rising demands for ship data and crew communications at higher bandwidths.
“When searching for a VSAT companion solution, knowing your service has the capability to provide primary ship communications offers a level of comfort to mariners,” says Mr Deknopper. Owners should look for a “gold standard for VSAT link recovery and out of band management”.
When vessel operators need communications to get vital information and voice calls through, having the highest bandwidth and voice channels is important.
This becomes even more important when ships are delivering vital supplies to nations affected by the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis. Maritime is the primary industry keeping the world’s supply chain moving.
“Keeping vessels connected during this period is critical,” says Mr Deknopper. “Combining a VSAT service with Iridium Certus VSAT companion provides reassurance for the vessel owner and manager that if a ship has a VSAT outage, the ship’s business will continue.
This service uses Iridium’s low Earth orbit satellite constellation with 66 operating satellites and several in-orbit spares. “There is low risk of blockage for vessels, especially in ports where cranes and buildings can obstruct the VSAT signal,” says Mr Deknopper.
Inmarsat offers another L-band back-up service. Its FleetBroadband includes terminals capable of 432 kbps bandwidth. These can be used for Ku-band VSAT companions, but increasingly as unlimited back-up to Ka-band as it is integral to Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service. Inmarsat’s L-band capacity will be increased in the next two years as the operator launches and commissions two new satellites as its sixth-generation constellation.
FleetBroadband can be used for operational communications such as email and phone, applications for plotting the most fuel-efficient route, to diagnosing mechanical faults remotely by video link.
There is access to up to nine telephone lines from a single terminal with FleetBroadband Multi-voice and 505 Emergency Calling puts vessels directly in contact with a maritime rescue co-ordination centre free of charge for distress calls.
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