Higher bandwidth will be delivered to vessels by optimised antennas from HTS satellite constellations in multiple orbits
VSAT antennas are being re-engineered with enhanced internal technology and performance and new terminals are being developed for different constellations and satellite orbits.
Services are being launched using newly commissioned satellites in geostationary, medium Earth orbit (MEO) and low Earth orbit (LEO), opening opportunities for terminal manufacturers to incorporate new devices in their antennas to enhance communications and increase connectivity speeds.
Cobham Satcom director of maritime broadband Jens Ewerling expects significant technical developments to come this year as antennas are prepared for new satellite constellations.
“We have strengthened our Ku-band business by developing, optimising and tuning Ku-band antennas,” says Mr Ewerling. “We have made the hardware more digital-stable for ship operations and service providers. We wanted to remove the science project attitude there was around VSAT installations,” he tells Maritime Optimisation & Communications.
Installation, commissioning, control and monitoring are simplified with just one cable for power and data transmission between the antenna and below-deck equipment, which includes a control unit, modem, firewalls and other servers.
More developments are coming in 2020 that will simplify this further. Antennas will be re-engineered for future Ka-band, Mr Ewerling explains. “Inmarsat is going with integrated transmit and receive as one transceiver for mass production of Global Xpress (GX) antennas with powerful 4.5-9-W transceivers.”
These antennas will work across the GX constellation and will be optimised for the powerful GX satellites. The first of these, (GX-5), is being commissioned and the rest (GX6 to GX10) are scheduled to launch during the next three years.
“This is integration at a high level and can be included in other products that need to be hardened for maritime,” says Mr Ewerling. Cobham Satcom provides Sailor 100 GX antennas, with 1-m diameter reflectors, and Sailor 60 GX, with a 60-cm diameter dish, for Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service for maritime.
GX is competing with other Ka-band regional services, such as Telenor Satellite’s Thor 7 over Europe and the northern seas and ViaSat’s satellites over the North Atlantic, Caribbean and North America.
Cobham Satcom’s antenna developments reflect shifts in technology to enable Ka-band services. It offers Sailor 900 Ka with a 90-cm reflector and Sailor 600 Ka (60-cm) antennas for Thor 7 services.
It has also developed maritime antennas to support ViaSat-2 coverage around the Americas and across the North Atlantic. These are the most integrated of all its range.
“We launched our antennas for ViaSat-2 in October 2019,” says Mr Ewerling, “with a fully integrated modem and radio device in the antenna, a receiver and transmitter in one rugged device.”
This removes the need for a block up converter (BUC) and a low-noise block (LNB) down-converter inside the radome. “There is no LNB or BUC and no expensive VSAT modem as it is all in one device,” explains Mr Ewerling. “There is no need for L-band communications between the antenna and the below-deck equipment. It is all within multimedia-over-coax (MoCA).”
ViaSat developed the integrated modem-transceiver and supplied this to Cobham Satcom to install in its Sailor platform, Sailor 900 Viasat Ka, with a 1-m dish and 60-cm Sailor 600 Viasat Ka.
“Our antenna automatically powers up communications links to the satellite for crew to have immediate internet on the vessel,” says Mr Ewerling.
ViaSat-2 is one satellite providing high-speed Ka-band coverage over US and Canadian coasts up to Greenland and into the Caribbean and across the Atlantic Ocean to the UK.
“Our Sailor 900 Viasat Ka antenna has been tested on a 55-m charter yacht voyage across the Atlantic,” says Mr Ewerling. “The crew clocked up to 100 Mbps on our 1-m antenna, which is remarkable with maritime VSAT.”
Up to 50 Mbps connectivity is available to purchase from ViaSat. “There is much less below-deck equipment, which makes the system more competitive compared to other VSAT systems,” says Mr Ewerling. These developments are scheduled to be commercially available later this year.
Over the past years, Cobham Satcom optimised its Sailor Ku-band antenna range, with 60-cm, 80-cm or 90-cm diameter reflectors. In 2019, Cobham Satcom introduced high-power versions of its VSAT technology. Its Sailor 900 VSAT high power has a 20-W BUC to improve RF performance and reliability of operations in humid climates without the need for air conditioning systems in the antenna.
Cobham Satcom updated the electronics and precision of the reflector dish, while the radome was tuned for optimum performance on Ku-band frequencies. All Sailor 900 VSAT are delivered factory-tested, balanced and ready-to-go requiring only one cable between the antenna and below-deck equipment.
Approval and partnership
Intellian has gained approval for two of its new-generation antennas for both Ku-band and Ka-band VSAT. Inmarsat approved Intellian’s GX100NX antenna, with a 1-m diameter dish, for GX Ka-band communications following testing at its facilities in Ålesund, Norway, and successful sea trials.
GX100NX supports 2.5-GHz Ka wideband networks and is supplied with a 5-W BUC as standard. Vessel owners have options to upgrade to a high-power 10-W BUC for higher capacity and faster communications with Inmarsat’s GX constellation.
Intellian’s 1-m GX antenna has a modular design and comes with a single cable to transfer power and signal to the below-deck equipment and new AptusNX software to enable fast commissioning and maintenance.
A below-deck unit integrates the antenna control unit, GX modem and mediator function for dual-antenna configuration in a single unit.
Extensive sea trials demonstrated GX100NX has significant advances over previous GX100 antenna models, including faster satellite acquisition and a 1-dB (25%) signal increase.
Intellian chief executive Eric Sung said these advantages using NX technology include improved bandwidth and network efficiency for ships.
In addition, Intellian gained certification from satellite operator Intelsat for its NX-series antennas. Intelsat has endorsed using marine antennas v85NX and v100NX over its IntelsatOne Flex service that provides connectivity through the EpicNG and existing fleet of satellites. v85NX has an 80-m antenna and v100NX a 1-m diameter antenna. There is a single cable for power and signal to terminal equipment. Intellian added a process wizard in the antenna’s AptusNX operating software for commissioning and remote maintenance.
“Our NX antennas have been designed to support next-generation satellite services,” says Mr Sung. “Our focus is on easy installation and adaptability to different bands and orbits, which we believe is essential to facilitate global connectivity.”
In Q1 2020, Intellian signed a strategic partnership with Japan Radio Co (JRC) for maritime antenna technology. Under this deal, Intellian will supply terminal and antenna technology to JRC’s satellite communications business. They will consider joint technical developments in future.
JRC executive officer of marine systems Takayuki Komiya says this partnership will improve ship-shore communications for smart navigation and operations. “The maritime industry is moving toward the era of smart shipping, and ship operators are looking for more insight into their operations to increase efficiency, productivity and to comply with regulations.”
“What is critical is a reliable, high-speed connection between the ships and land.” He claims JRC equipment is installed on a third of the world’s commercial vessels.
South Korean terminal manufacturer KNS secured approvals for its new antennas from Telenor Satellite and Intelsat following testing in 2019. Telenor Satellite approved KNS’ C5-Ka stabilised maritime antenna based on this complying with VSAT type-approval procedures for Earth Station on vessels accessing Telenor’s space segment.
The antenna’s capability to track the Thor 7 satellite in specified ship motion limits during tests at Satellite Applications Catapult in the UK were confirmed in October 2019.
These trials demonstrated C5-Ka can maintain root mean square (RMS) pointing accuracy towards the satellite within +/- 0.2° with ship motion limits of 10° in 8-12 seconds, pitch of 10° in 6-12 seconds and yaw of 8° in 15-20 seconds.
Any ship remaining in these motion limits can use this three-axis antenna for Ka-band communications over Thor 7.
If the ship motion in terms of vibration and shock exceeds the specified limits, an additional safety mechanism is built in to protect neighbouring satellite systems. This will disable signal transmission if the pointing error towards the satellite exceeds +/- 0.5°, via control signals to the BUC.
If KNS makes any major changes to the antenna or RF system, revision testing may be required and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
C5 is a 55-cm stabilised maritime Ka-band antenna with circular polarisation, transmit frequency of 29.5-30.0 GHz and receive frequency of 19.2-20.2 GHz. It has a maximum equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) of 33 dBW at 40 kHz.
KNS said its C-series stabilised antennas “will enhance the connectivity and eliminate the keyhole effect even when a ship is cruising the Equator region”.
In January 2020, Intelsat provided KNS with certification qualifying the VSAT C4 terminal for its IntelsatOne Flex network of Ku-band wide and spot beams. This verified a KNS compact antenna can operate over Intelsat’s HTS network.
KNS director Dave Kim says VSAT hardware will increasingly be used with high-power geostationary satellites. “As a realistic alternative of conventional GEO satellite communications, HTS has become the main trend flow,” he says.
“With this moving forward, we are sure our compact VSAT can be used where customers want to have the network and VSAT package at their convenience,” Mr Kim adds.
C4 has four axes of stabilisation for azimuth, elevation and tilt, with a skew unit. It is a 45-cm antenna, weighing 27 kg with a 4-W or 6-W BUC.
“We will introduce our package product to small vessel communications worldwide,” says Mr Kim. “Our terminal will contribute to enhanced crew welfare and communications capabilities from ship to groundstation and vice versa.”
This C-series is an expansion from KNS’ Supertrack terminals and below-deck equipment including Z-series Mk2, Mk3 and Mk4 antennas and A-series terminals of A6, A9, A10 and A12.
KNS also supplies TVRO antennas for television services with S-series and K-series terminals. In October 2019, KNS stopped producing the old K-series TVRO antennas and introduced a new K-series with fewer operational issues and difficulties.
Integrated VSAT packages
KVH Industries supplies its own antennas and integrated commbox modem (ICM) below-deck equipment as part of its VSAT packages, AgilePlans Global and Regional. Its latest TracPhone antennas connect to both widebeam Ku-band and spot beams from HTS constellations.
Its range includes TracPhone V3 HTS VSAT, a 37-cm diameter antenna and TracPhone V7 HTS unit with a 60-cm diameter reflector. There is also a TracPhone V11 HTS antenna with 1.1-m diameter antenna for higher broadband capacity.
Ships can receive downlink bandwidth of 10 Mbps and uplink speeds of 3 Mbps using TracPhone V7-HTS. They can obtain 5 Mbps down and 2 Mbps on the uplink using a TracPhone V3-HTS. This goes up to 20 Mbps downlink using a TracPhone V11-HTS which can automatically and seamlessly switch between C-band and Ku-band radio frequencies.
Germany-based EPAK has introduced an advanced version of its Evolution series of maritime VSAT. Its DSi9 Ku-Pro has a 90-cm diameter reflector and radome of 111 cm diameter and 114 cm high. It weighs 75 kg and has an unlimited azimuth range.
DSi9 Ku-Pro has an elevation range from -15° to +120° and skew range of -120° to +120°.
Also in the Evolution series is DSi9 Ku-band, with a 90-cm dish, DSi6 with a 60-cm antenna for Ku-band and DSi13 Ku-band with 130-cm diameter reflector.
In 2018, EPAK gained approval from Telenor Satellite that its DSi9 Ka terminal transmits to and receives from the Thor 7 satellite. It demonstrated around 6 Mbps of bandwidth can be achieved through its 58-kg antenna and more bandwidth would be possible, up to 15 Mbps, depending on the configuration and power of the BUC.
Tri-band antennas enable cruise ship high bandwidths
Cruise ships operators are installing tri-band VSAT on newbuildings to boost passenger connectivity using C-, Ku- and Ka-bands of frequency. Intellian and Cobham Satcom are the main suppliers of these tri-band antennas.
In Q1 2020, Intellian introduced its second generation of tri-band marine terminals, v240MT Gen-II antenna. It said this is the first multi-orbit, multi-frequency and auto-switching antenna, meaning it automatically transfers between three bands and satellites in geostationary, MEO and LEO orbits.
v240MT Gen-II is engineered to operate over HTS networks such as Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat, and Ka-band on SES’ O3b MEO satellites and upcoming O3b mPower constellations.
There is an option to select BUCs from 40 W up to 400 W and to install an intelligent mediator. This facilitates seamless switching between frequency bands by providing an interface between multiple modems and/or multiple antennas.
Intellian said this has simplified installation and commissioning and “allows best use of the diversity of a tri-band antenna by managing modems for all three bands”.
If cruise ships have two tri-band antennas, this intelligent mediator ensures seamless connection as it will switch automatically between antennas if one becomes blocked.
Cobham Satcom’s Sea Tel 2400 triple-band antennas have apertures for all three bands, says director of maritime broadband Jens Ewerling. “It means we do not need to compromise on the dish area, and therefore switching between bands,” he says.
This is a 2.4-m antenna for cruise ships and offshore production infrastructure. These are smaller than high-capacity TVRO antennas that could be up to 3.6 m in diameter. Mr Ewerling says antennas on cruise ships will be smaller in future as TV is replaced by streaming services and higher power satellites are commissioned.
“As better and more powerful satellites become available, we will see more cruise lines taking a bet on newer constellations, such as SES O3b mPower,” he explains. “They will enable online video streaming services instead of needing TVRO. For O3b mPower, we are looking at 1.5 m to 2.4 m Ku/Ka band antennas.”
Antenna technology unraveled