Hardware and satellite IT enable advances in VSAT connectivity for IoT platforms hosting ship optimisation applications
Platforms operating with VSAT can be virtual and hardware-based with a growing number of companies offering different connectivity and cloud applications.
On the hardware side, IT platforms include modems and routers on ships that enable multiple devices and bridge systems to connect to VSAT links. They include hardware in teleports and ground infrastructure to communicate with satellites.
Meanwhile, virtual platforms are growing in popularity. Innovators are building software package ecosystems for maritime applications such as cutting fuel consumption and emissions or managing maintenance, drydockings and crewing.
Modems and routers translate encrypted code from satellite communications into readable and useable data. They modulate signals, assist in traffic administration and enable access across different networks on ships. They help separate crew and passenger communications from operational connectivity. In teleports, this technology modulates, encrypts and manages signals to and from the satellites, connecting to ground networks for onward transmission.
There are two main types of IT platform technology depending on how operators share their allocated capacity. Time division multiple access (TDMA) enables multiple ships to share frequency on one package which optimises bandwidth use.
Alternatively, single channel per carrier (SCPC) enables one operator to dedicate capacity on the satellite beam to one specific site, such as an offshore drilling rig or floating production storage and offloading vessel.
ST Engineering iDirect remotes and software are the most popular for maritime VSAT. It has multiple series of modems, including the iQ Series, 9 Series and X Series remotes. These operate two main types of software.
Evolution is iDirect’s legacy software, currently on version 4.1.3, for IP-based satellite communications. iDirect’s product line consists of a universal hub and network management system and a series of line cards and operating software. Evolution supports digital video broadcast standard for second-generation satellites (DVB-S2) and new DVB-S2X for efficient communications over the latest high-throughput satellite (HTS) technology.
Evolution has adaptive coding and modulation (ACM) with adaptive TDMA that supports virtual local networks. It uses an advanced encryption standard and supports spread spectrum waveforms. Evolution also enables automatic beam switching and fast satellite re-acquisition after blockages. The latest software supports multicasting information from one location to a fleet of ships, and transmission over hybrid VSAT systems that also use available 4G mobile phone networks.
Velocity is iDirect’s latest software for remotes and supports IP-based satellite communications. It was specifically designed for HTS operators who deploy managed services on a massive scale. It enables integrated application programming interface (API) and advanced mobility for vessels switching rapidly between spot beams.
Velocity 2.0 is built on DVB-S2/S2X standard and provides ACM with adaptive TDMA. It automatically adjusts to dynamic traffic demands and changing network conditions. It enables automatic beam selection and switching, spread spectrum waveform and supports smaller (less than 1 m diameter) antennas in maritime.
Velocity also supports multicast overlay and multi-broadcast, fast re-acquisition after blockage and fast beam-switching.
According to iDirect, Velocity is the de facto standard for leading satellite operators – including Inmarsat, Intelsat, SES and Telenor – “serving over 400 beams of HTS coverage worldwide”.
There was consolidation in the modem and router sector in 2019 when ST Engineering acquired Newtec and its modem dynamic TDMA technology. ST Engineering iDirect chief commercial officer and executive strategic board president Thomas Van den Driessche says integrating iDirect and Newtec will ensure the group supports VSAT service providers to “stay ahead in this highly competitive and increasingly digitalised market.”
Newtec modem technology will enable these companies to “maintain their lead with a forward-thinking technology partner that will remain dedicated to protecting its investment across its entire VSAT network.”
This investment paid off this year when Speedcast agreed to deploy Newtec Dialog hardware for VSAT on cruise ships and superyachts. Dialog can be used as a single and multi-service VSAT platform enabling operators and service providers to build and adapt infrastructure and satellite networking according to their business or missions.
For vessel and rig owners requiring dynamic SCPC technology, Comtech EF Data supplies its Heights networking platform and associated radio frequency (RF) products. These include LPOD block up-converters (BUC) and MBT-4000 multi-band RF transceivers.
Heights point-to-multipoint satellite networking platform extends the life of the existing antennas and BUCs and low-noise block down-converters, says Comtech Telecommunications chief executive Fred Kornberg.
Heights combines efficient wave-forming with dynamic network access, bi-directional ACM and wide area network optimisation. It enables cruise ships and drilling rigs to migrate VSAT towards HTS networks using remote gateways and multi-channel receivers.
Comtech also provides multi-receiver routers, gateway receivers, network optimisers and remote routers, plus a series of satellite modems.
New data and communications platforms have been introduced as shipowners, operators and managers adopt more internet of things (IoT) technology for fleet management. These platforms provide a host for data storage and applications that shipping companies and vessel equipment manufacturers can use to optimise operations.
These platforms need connectivity, which is why there are growing links between VSAT providers and platform developers. For example, KVH Industries’ collaboration with Kongsberg’s Kognifai platform and Vessel Insight service.
The first sea trial of their combined integrated maritime IoT system started in Q4 2019 on Norwegian research vessel Simrad Echo. This bundles KVH Watch connectivity with Vessel Insight for IoT vessel-to-shore data transmissions over Ku-band and monitors critical operational systems.
Kognifai is also linked to class society DNV GL’s Veracity platform offering digital class and assurance services.
DNV GL chief executive for maritime Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen says Veracity exists “in an ecosystem of various platforms” enabling collaborative data sharing and optimisation applications. Wärtsilä and DNV GL will also explore the potential use of digital technologies, collaborative data sharing and standardisation for IoT applications.
DNV GL chief executive of digital solutions Kenneth Vareide says Veracity has 188,500 activated users in 17,700 registered companies. Of these around 20,000 are actively using the 184 services hosted on Veracity. “It is a development space and a marketplace for buying and delivering services,” says Mr Vareide.
“We are connecting stakeholders – manufacturers, owners and shipyards – who benefit from these applications,” he explains.
Inmarsat has an alternative IoT platform and connectivity package. It has signed up several partners to its Fleet Data IoT platform that enables data to be uploaded to a central cloud-based database and accessed through an application process interface. ABB Marine & Ports, Ascenz and Nautilus Labs became partners on Fleet Data in Q4 2019. Class society Bureau Veritas granted approval in principle for Fleet Data.
Marlink developed its BridgeLink IoT platform to securely connect onboard OT to sensor networks and satellite IP connectivity. Its subsidiary Telemar will use this application for performance analysis and data collection.
“BridgeLink will dramatically enhance our efficiency in bridge electronics maintenance,” says Telemar Italy general manager Giorgio Santantonio. “It allows our technical team, remotely and in real-time, to access the equipment on board the ship, run specific fault-finding diagnostics, update software and analyse working efficiency.”