Investing in GEO and MEO satellites will deliver improved broadband connectivity for cruise and commercial shipping to meet requirements from crew, passengers and operations
SES is launching new geostationary (GEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites to deliver faster throughput and bandwidth for cruise, offshore and maritime markets.
It operates a fleet of GEO satellites worldwide that provide connectivity to ships in C-band and Ku-band. SES also has 16 O3b MEO satellites that provide high-throughput broadband in Ka-band, with four new MEO satellites being launched in March 2019.
Investment in the GEO satellites has focused on building a high-throughput satellite (HTS) network to cover the main areas of activity in maritime and other sectors. SES maritime segment leader Greg Martin explains to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications that this has included launching three HTSs and investing in a fourth. “We have already placed SES-12, SES-14 and SES-15 into service and we are investing in SES-17,” he says.
“We have already placed SES-12, SES-14 and SES-15 into service and we are investing in SES-17”
SES-12 was launched in June 2018 to provide Ku-band spot beams in the Asia Pacific region. Others were launched out of sequence with SES-15 introduced in 2017 for high-throughput coverage over North America. SES-14 was launched in January 2018 to deliver Ku-band to Latin America. “These provide North and South America coverage, up to Alaska, and some over the North Atlantic,” says Mr Martin.
He explains that the coverage in Alaska will become more important as new expedition cruise ships head into those waters with passengers looking to upload holiday photos and video, and use social media. “This will expand the frontier of opportunity through satellite technology,” he explains.
SES-17 will be the next GEO satellite SES commissions. This will provide Ka-band spot beams over the Americas after its launch, expected in 2021.
This additional satellite capacity will be crucial for maritime as bandwidth demand is rising due to crew welfare, passenger and operational requirements and increasing use of internet of things (IoT) technology on ships.
“Ships are becoming online offices and with IoT, more systems will be connected for centralised monitoring for fuel management and condition monitoring,” says Mr Martin.
“Ships are becoming online offices and with IoT, more systems will be connected for centralised monitoring for fuel management and condition monitoring”
“Crew welfare will be a growth driver in VSAT for connecting seafarers to family, friends, their companies and online training, which is important for crew retention.”
He explains that SES is also investing in the O3b MEO network for current maritime and cruise market needs, and for the long-term future. “This is a period of tremendous growth, with demand rising very rapidly.”
There are 16 MEO satellites in orbit and the last four have arrived in Kourou, French Guiana, to be launched by Arianespace by the end of March. “It will take time to place these in their orbital position, we expect these to be online in H2 2019,” says Mr Martin.
“We have seen unprecedented demand for MEO; these will provide additional capacity in main demand areas.” For cruise lines this will provide additional capacity in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia Pacific.
MDC witnessed these four remaining O3b satellites being tested at Thales Alenia Space’s factory in Rome, Italy, in December 2018.
At that time, SES executive vice president for technology programs and innovation Stewart Sanders discussed how the GEO and MEO constellations complement each other for cruise ship connectivity.
“GEO has good geographic coverage, while MEO has low latency, reduced by two-thirds compared with GEO,” he told MDC. Both constellations deliver point-to-point linkage that cloud services, used for uploading and downloading media, require.
A downside to the O3b MEO constellation is its coverage, which is from the Equator to +/-50˚ latitude. which includes the main cruise ship hotspots, such as the Caribbean, Mediterranean and most of the Asia routes.
Mr Sanders said adding the final four satellites to the constellation should extend the coverage to higher latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres to around 55˚.
However, outside this coverage ships need to fall back to GEO constellations, which extend to +/-70˚ latitude.
Ships using both constellations will require multi-band and multi-orbit antennas. For example, Carnival Corp’s Princess Cruise line is currently deploying MedallionNet, an exclusive feature of Medallion-class ships, which uses SES’s O3b MEO and GEO satellite constellations and has installed tri-band antennas on its vessels. These are at least 2.4 m in diameter and operate in Ku-band and C-band for GEO coverage and Ka-band when ships are within the O3b MEO satellite service areas.
SES Networks pioneered Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Voom internet service and has recently announced MSC Cruises’ new mega-build ships will be powered by SES Networks Signature maritime solution, using the latest innovation in dual-band antennas on their ships for seamless connection between all satellite bands.
For the long term, SES investments will focus on the next generation of MEO satellites, O3b mPower. Boeing Satellite Systems has started engineering and fabricating seven MEO satellites to be launched in 2021.
These satellites will have phased-array and beam forming capabilities. This constellation will have over 30,000 fully shapeable and steerable beams that can be shifted and switched in real-time to align with shipping’s quickly changing growth opportunities.
O3b mPower will provide coverage to an area of nearly 400M km2, which represents four-fifths of the Earth’s surface.
“There will be 5,000 beams on each satellite,” Mr Sanders explained. “For O3b mPower there is clear evolution in satellite technology with digital payloads and electric forming beams, which gives us flexibility in their mission.”
The satellites will have dynamic beams that can have 5 Gbps and cover 150 km2 each, which will be optimal for producing Gbps of bandwidth to cruise ships. “We could have elliptical beams or non-symmetrical beams, which are generated by algorithms,” said Mr Sanders.
It means one beam could follow a cruise ship or a naval fleet if required by the client. This constellation is scheduled for launch in 2021 and will provide more capacity to cruise ships.
SES Networks used an O3b satellite to provide up to 1 Gbps of low-latency connectivity to support the christening launch of MSC Cruise’s new ship MSC Bellisisma in March.
Future satellite capacity and fleet update
|COMMITTED LAUNCH SCHEDULE|
|SES-12||Asia-Pacific||Video, fixed data, mobility||Jun-18|
|SES-14||Latin America||Video, fixed data, mobility||Jan-18|
|O3b (satellites 13-16)||Global||Fixed data, mobility, government||Mar-18|
|O3b (satellites 17-20)||Global||Fixed data, mobility, government||Mar-19|
|SES-17||Americas||Fixed data, mobility, government||2021|
|O3b mPower (satellites 1-7)||Global||Fixed data, mobility, government||2021|
Snapshot CV: Greg Martin
Greg Martin is maritime segment leader for SES and has more than 20 years of experience in information technology. He has previously worked with SES Networks and was director of IT operations for Royal Caribbean International, where he was instrumental in leveraging satellite connectivity for guest experience maximisation.