Iridium Communications has introduced its Certus commercial broadband service for maritime users after completing its second-generation global satellite constellation
Iridium Certus delivers L-band broadband at sea worldwide through a constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and new vessel terminals developed by Cobham Satcom and Thales.
This broadband can be deployed for two-way remote communications, voice services and internet connectivity for crew welfare and operational requirements, as a standalone service or as a back-up for VSAT.
Iridium Certus can also be used for internet of things applications and critical communications for first responders and search and rescue organisations.
“Adoption of this new service by our partners has already begun,” Iridium chief executive Matt Desch said after its official launch. This was announced following beta testing of the L-band service on ships during 2018.
German shipping group Briese Schiffahrts was the first to use the commercial service with a terminal on board Petkum, said IT manager Holger Börchers.
"Shipboard communications, vessel performance systems and the crew themselves are never out of contact"
“Iridium Certus is delivering real-time connections everywhere our vessels go,” he said. “As a result, shipboard communications, vessel performance systems and the crew themselves are never out of contact.” Mr Börchers added that existing terminals on its ships will be upgraded with Certus terminals to increase throughput, which he said would be “a game-changer for us.”
Iridium invested US$3Bn in a new LEO satellite constellation, which included eight launches of satellite groups by SpaceX. The final 10 satellites were launched into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, US on 11 January.
In total, 75 Thales Alenia Space-designed and Northrop Grumman-built satellites have been deployed in less than two years. As of mid-January, there were 60 in operation, six more being activated for operation and nine kept as in-orbit spares.
Iridium Next comprises six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 cross-linked satellites. This creates a web of coverage around the Earth, including around the poles. Iridium has been undergoing a one-for-one replacement through slot swapping, which it said was a highly choreographed in-space manoeuvre. Six more satellites will remain in storage as ground spares.
L-band throughput over these satellites can deliver IP data speeds up to 352 kbps in both directions. Iridium is planning a firmware upgrade and its partners are developing faster terminals to increase throughput to 704 kbps.
Eventually, the IP connection speeds could be increased to 1.4 Mbps, supporting IP streaming and short bursts of data. Iridium is also planning to introduce safety services.
During 2018, Iridium and its terminal partners amassed a team of distribution partners for Certus and the affiliated Thales’ Vesselink service. Marlink and Speedcast International were the latest to be added to Thales’ reseller network in January. Other prominent resellers of Iridium Certus include ASL Group, NSSLGlobal and Satcom Global, while there are many other smaller companies.
Thales’ terminals include three dedicated channels for voice services, an embedded wifi access point and ports to allow up to 12 devices to be connected.
Cobham Satcom developed the Sailor 4300 terminal series for Iridium Certus in 2018. It integrated the Iridium broadband core transceiver module into the antenna of the terminal for more flexible placement, lower installation costs and optimised link performance.
Meanwhile, Speedcast has completed its US$134M acquisition of Globecomm Systems to increase its position in selling satellite communications in the maritime and offshore markets, after securing approvals from national regulatory authorities in December 2018. Speedcast chief executive Pierre-Jean Beylier said the addition of Globecomm would “strengthen our innovation capabilities with new solutions and strong engineering expertise in growth areas such as IoT, wireless and media services.”
Iridium Certus particulars
Constellation: 66 LEO satellites
Terminal suppliers: Cobham Satcom, Thales
Initial speeds: 352 kbps
Upgraded speeds: 704 kbps
Commercial launch: January 2019
First commercial user: Briese Schiffahrts