How would you feel if your vital voice over IP or email could not get through because you were standing too close to a mountain of ice or a towering oil production plant?
I have never been close to an iceberg or ice cliff, but I worked close to some of the largest oil and gas production platforms in the North Sea.
During my time in the offshore oil industry, I did not have mobile phone communications and there was just one phone on the drilling rig for personal use.
But, we did have email and we were sending data over C-band from the remote west of Shetlands area to Aberdeen. This was in the mid-1990s, which would have been an early adoption of that VSAT technology.
Even then, I would have been unhappy with the connectivity if my phone call back home or those data packages did not go through because the production platform was blocking the satellite link.
Fast forward 20-odd years and this source of frustration is exacerbated because of the greater reliance maritime and offshore sectors have on satellite communications. This is particularly important in the offshore vessel and cruise ship sectors, where there is also the risk of business loss from connectivity blockages.
Which is why dual-antenna VSAT solutions are catching on in these sectors. These solutions involve two VSAT Ku-band and/or Ka-band antennas installed on each side of a vessel to ensure that if one’s link to a satellite is blocked, the other can be used instead with a seamless transfer of information.
In the offshore sector, this means vessel data, project information and critical voice services should get through to shore and management, regardless of where the vessel is operating.
In the cruise sector, a dual antenna solution means passengers on expedition ships can continue to send images and video to shore and access internet services when the ship is close to ice cliffs and bergs.
There is greater need for a dual-antenna communications system if the vessel is using Ka-band because there are fewer satellites using this band of frequencies than for Ku-band. However, there is still risk of blockages from natural or manmade structures for Ku-band if the ship is in remote locations where there are only a few satellites for coverage.
In response to these requirements, service providers have introduced two antenna VSAT solutions. Speedcast was the latest to unveil its dual-antenna option for Inmarsat’s Ka-band Fleet Xpress. Speedcast executive vice president for maritime Athina Vezyri said last week that there was strong interest from offshore support vessel owners to adopt this VSAT technology and a two-antenna option.
Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout explained to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications in September how dual-antenna options for Fleet Xpress would prevent the shadow of drilling rigs, platforms and the superstructure of vessels from blocking satellite signals. These services are available to other distribution partners.
It is becoming increasingly important for ship connectivity to have seamless transfer to back-up arrangements, without impacting bandwidth capabilities.
There is no doubt there should always be a fall-back to a global L-band or C-band service, but that involves reductions in connection speeds. One true method of ensuring connectivity is not impacted by structure blockages is to have two antennas operating on the same frequency band either side of the vessel, plus the fall-back service for when there is an issue with satellite connectivity.
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