Hybrid networks involving satellites and cellular coverage are becoming an increasingly important aspect to ship and offshore vessel connectivity.
Providers of satellite communications to maritime mobility markets are integrating their VSAT solutions with mobile phone networks to provide improved broadband connectivity from port to port.
The introduction of high-throughput satellites (HTS), such as Intelsat’s EpicNG series and three launched over the last two years by SES, are delivering higher bandwidth in spot beams that complement existing wide-beam Ku-band capacity.
Ka-band has also become an increasingly important element to maritime connectivity with Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service gaining traction.
These were some of the industry trends and technology enhancements discussed at the VSAT Global & Next Generation Satellite Applications conference in London.
All of this technology is deployed to enhance connectivity for shipowners, seafarers and ship passengers, said Speedcast vice president of global marketing Toni Lee Rudnicki.
She said overall solutions were needed to match growing customer expectations.
“We need to provide connectivity through our network of satellite and terrestrial infrastructure,” she said, explaining that this meant ground teleports and fibre networks. “Development of hybrid networks that include 3G and [long-term evolution] LTE, for when vessels are close to shore, enables real-time internet of things and data analytics,” Ms Rudnicki explained.
Some of the data analytics can be conducted on ships and the resultant information could be sent to shore over VSAT or over 3G when the vessel is in port.
Globecomm senior vice president of sales operations, engineering and marketing Paul Scardino explained that VSAT needs to be integrated with cellular networks and L-band for full redundancy in what he called “a network of networks”.
He explained that vessels need these networks and multiple terminals for resilience of communications.
“It is unique to maritime that there could be multiple situations of blockages of signal”
“It is unique to maritime that there could be multiple situations of blockages of signal,” he said. “So, we need redundancy of antennas and technology and perhaps in satellite constellations and orbits.”
Cruise ships and offshore rigs and vessels are leaders in the deployment of multiple antennas. This is because they are “cities on the ocean that need a huge pipe and levels of redundancy,” said Mr Scardino.
Globecomm and Speedcast are in the middle of a merger which means Mr Scardino and Ms Rudnicki could be colleagues by the end of this year.
Speedcast has provided a multi-band and multi-orbit VSAT service to Carnival Cruises’ Vista-class ships. It worked with Intelsat, SES and Telesat for the satellite coverage and Intellian for the VSAT hardware to deliver this super-fast broadband service that peaked at 3.1 Gbps while in New York, US.
Intellian vice president for global satellite communications Jon Harrison said VSAT antennas had to be designed for multiple frequencies in Ku- and C-bands and multiple orbits with coverage in these frequencies from geostationary satellites and Ka-band from SES’ medium Earth orbit (MEO) O3B satellite constellation.
“We have taken this experience into our NX range of antennas so they can leverage MEO and other constellations in the future,” said Mr Harrison.
Satellite service providers also work with modem providers, such as Comtech EF Data, Newtec and iDirect to develop technology that moulds waveforms to increase the amount of data that can be carried between satellites and ships.
Comtech EF Data senior vice president for satellite operators and mobility Andrew Lucas said HTS and hybrid networks has enabled major changes in the method of data connectivity at sea, which has changed seafarer, owner and passenger demands.
“Expectations are evolving and have been raised, so now it is all about service guarantees and performance”
“Expectations are evolving and have been raised, so now it is all about service guarantees, performance and giving people what they get at home, that same experience around the world,” said Mr Lucas.
“Wireless and cellular technology are available but only extend so far, and after that it is only satellite,” he explained, underlying the importance of satellite coverage to maritime and offshore connectivity.