Demand for connectivity has exploded driven by crew welfare, IoT and charterer communications
VSAT delivers more than just connectivity for vessel operators. It is also a pipe for advanced crew welfare, internet of things (IoT) data transmissions, video streaming and information exchange. All this adds to the growing bandwidth ships are ingesting each day, week and month for owners, operators, managers, seafarers and charterers’ requirements.
Bandwidth consumption grew 30% across all sectors in March to June 2020 because of the global coronavirus pandemic, said Inmarsat Maritime director for marketing and public relations Mark Warner, during Riviera’s ‘The future of offshore vessel connectivity is here’ webinar on 20 July, part of Riviera’s Maritime Communications Webinar Week.
“There has been a huge 60% increase in voice calls since Covid-19, as crew are keen to speak to home, while traffic is also driven by application usage for operations, such as telemedicine, video calling, remote monitoring and charterer use,” said Mr Warner.
There is increasing demand for video conferencing. “Operators are asking for bandwidth upgrades,” he continued. “We have seen more remote engine and automation systems monitoring.” This is enabled through IoT data streaming in connectivity pipes segregated from crew communications.
Charterers are calling for segregated pipes of their own, and original engine manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly considering these. “There is more use by charterers who want their own dedicated bandwidth on these vessels,” said Mr Warner.
“There has been a real shift in demand for digitalisation solutions for operational cost savings and using sensors for fuel consumption monitoring,” he continued. Covid-19 has “accelerated remote survey requirements” and crew welfare solutions.
Mr Warner said ship operators will increasingly use a hybrid connectivity ecosystem including Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) high throughput satellites and terrestrial 4G/long-term evolution (LTE) networks to meet bandwidth demand requirements. “The automated vessel is coming as is the need for lower latency,” he said. “There will be a need for terrestrial hybrid connectivity packages and an ecosystem of applications.” There are five GX satellites in operation and seven more are expected to be in service by 2024.
Inmarsat works with VSAT hardware suppliers to provide Fleet Xpress Ka/L-band connectivity to shipping worldwide. It also offers IoT connectivity through Fleet Data and communications for OEMs via the Fleet Connect service.
Telenor Satellite has worked with VSAT antenna manufacturers for its Ka-band ship communications. In May, it approved Intellian’s v85NX antenna over its Thor 7 satellite, following successful sea trials enabling vessel owners to install these antennas for communications using Telenor’s Anker Maritime Ka-band service.
This regional service delivers fast broadband communication using optimal high throughput Ka-band VSAT connectivity across Europe, covering the North, Norwegian, Barents, Baltic and Mediterranean seas, from 25 active spot beams.
v85NX is the first 85-cm diameter antenna to be certified on the Thor 7 network and will provide the same airtime pricing as 1-m antennas.
Telenor Satellite director of the data services division Jan Hetland welcomed Intellian’s v85NX antenna into the 1-m antenna class for Thor 7 connectivity.
“We are focused on quality and high performance for the maritime sector, so we have to be certain the hardware we choose matches our own high standards,” he said.
“Intellian’s NX series’ systems have a range of features and their innovative design reflects our forward-looking service provision. We will continue working with Intellian to deliver Ka-band connectivity to our Anker maritime customers,” said Mr Hetland.
Intellian v85NX antennas can be easily converted between Ku- and Ka-band by swapping out the centre-mounted radio frequency assembly and feed. There are block up-converter (BUC) options depending on power and bandwidth requirements, with 5-W or 10-W BUCs for Ka-band and between 8-25 W for Ku-band. These are interchangeable with no need to rebalance the system following installation. Other antennas from different providers can also be used for Thor 7 connectivity.
Intellian unveiled a new design for an antenna using two VSAT bands for maritime communications in July. The second-generation 2.4-m antenna will be used for satellite communications on cruise ships, offshore rigs and floating production systems.
Intellian’s v240M Gen-II dual-band antenna comes with an intelligent mediator that manages switching between C-band and Ku-band communications, facilitates auto-switching between geostationary and medium Earth orbit satellites and can manage up to eight antennas and modems on one vessel.
v240M Gen-II has a single reflector optimised for radio frequency performance in both C- and Ku-bands. Intellian said this antenna can be easily adapted to Ka-band for tri-band operation if required.
It can be fitted with a block up converter in power ranges 40-400 W to match high bandwidth demands from cruise ships and rigs. A single fibre cable link between the antenna and below-deck units minimises signal loss, while simplifying installation.
Ship operators can install networks of multi-band antenna and modems to maximise passenger and crew communications. This network can dynamically allocate any vendor’s modem to any connected antenna for seamless handovers between beams from satellites in multiple orbits, maximising bandwidth utilisation.
v240MT Gen-II is ready for integration with Intellian’s upcoming Mediation Edge Server (MES) and Orchestra advanced antenna management system, which will enable full asset management, configuration and automatic mediation between connected equipment.
This will allow smart blockage mitigation and failure prevention, enabling unmatched connection resiliency.
Intellian has streamlined the installation and commissioning of these antennas and mediators with its Aptus suite of software. This suite includes programs for remote accessible configuration and diagnostic tools, said Intellian general manager and vice president Jon Harrison. “This reduces complexity and commissioning costs while improving reliability and facilitating support,” he said
“Aptus embedded software enables access for remotely monitoring the antenna and fine tuning it remotely,” Mr Harrison said. “It enables health checks of stabilisers, motors, sensors and allows problem solving remotely.”
Passenger ship operators can provide their guests with more advanced communications after a deal between satellite owner Eutelsat Communications and service provider Telenor Maritime. This agreement involves Ku-band coverage for ships operating in Europe, the Caribbean, southeast Asia and during trans-Atlantic crossings.
Ferries and cruise ships using Telenor Maritime’s VSAT can then offer passengers Ku-band connectivity on their own devices for high-speed internet access. This extends global mobile phone (GSM) services to passengers over ship wifi networks.
Eutelsat will deliver targeted capacity with guaranteed levels of throughput to specific sailing areas under a managed services agreement.
Telenor Maritime will progressively transfer vessels onto this Ku-band network. In the longer term, some of these ships could be linked to Ka-band connectivity.
Eutelsat chief executive Rodolphe Belmer expects the company’s new satellite Konnect VHTS will provide Ka-band communications after it is launched, scheduled for 2021.
Telenor Maritime said it would migrate vessels onto Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS coverage in Europe when it is available.
Stolt Tankers invests in VSAT
Stolt Tankers is investing in advanced VSAT to enable greater digitalisation of its operations. It has renewed its satellite communications contract with Marlink and agreed to upgrade VSAT, IT and data networks on its 83 chemical and parcel tankers.
Marlink will provide end-to-end managed connectivity, reinforced cyber security and IT solutions. It will upgrade bandwidth and deploy version 5.0 of the XChange communications management system. Satellite communications will be delivered over Ku-band VSAT with an L-band back-up.
Stolt’s renewed contract combines intelligent, hybrid networks with smarter data handling to enable digitalisation and support critical communications. Marlink’s new 4G connectivity option will also be added to Stolt Tankers’ service package. This will enable communications to switch from VSAT to 4G mobile networks when these are in range near coasts and in ports, with cost-effective, low-latency and high-bandwidth communications.