by Wouter Deknopper – vice president maritime, Iridium
In May 2018, the International Maritime Organisation recognised Iridium to become the second-ever provider of satellite-based global maritime distress and safety system (GMDSS) services. The recognition, part of a years-long quest, will for the first time extend the reach of satellite GMDSS to the harshest waterways of the world including the A4, or polar, regions.
It will also provide the maritime industry with a new choice in both equipment providers and service provider, ending a decades-long monopoly. These changes to the status-quo will become a reality on 1 January 2020 when amendments to the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention formally go in to effect, and Iridium can officially begin to provide GMDSS services.
While this historic recognition took place, just one day later, on the west coast of the United States, the sixth Iridium NEXT launch took flight. These two events, on back-to-back days and on opposite sides of the world, represented more than just a pair of milestones for the company. They were a sign of the future of maritime safety and communications with Iridium.
The Iridium NEXT satellite constellation is bringing to life what will be the fastest and only truly global L-band broadband service, Iridium Certus. The service, designed to serve as a primary solution or as a VSAT-companion, will provide multiple high-definition voice lines, alongside IP data speeds debuting at 352 Kbps, soon after upgraded to 704 Kbps through a firmware update.
Today, 65 Iridium NEXT satellites are in orbit, after a successful seventh launch in late July, leaving just a single launch of 10 satellites remaining before this historic constellation refresh is completed. However, new Iridium Certus terminals are already being tested at sea and fine-tuned in preparation for the commercial service launch. Important to note, even with the future launch of Iridium Certus commercial service, all Iridium terminals, antennas, transceivers and phones will continue to work. This means that if you’re happy with your existing services, you don’t need to change anything. However, if you want to take advantage of the higher speeds offered by Iridium Certus, one of the newly certified maritime terminals, either Cobham’s SAILOR 4300 or VesseLINK by Thales, is required.
With these industry-leading terminals featuring a small form factor, no moving parts and being rugged and cost-effective, Iridium Certus offers mariners a new and superior option for their L-band communications needs. And while those Iridium Certus terminals are already being built, Iridium will continue to work closely with our value-added manufacturers, like Lars Thrane, to gain the necessary certifications for our new GMDSS equipment, expected to be complete in 2019.
For decades, the maritime industry has waited for an alternative to the status-quo when it comes to L-band communications and the current GMDSS provider. Now, the combination of the fastest L-band broadband in the industry through Iridium Certus, and the recognition of Iridium as the second-ever satellite GMDSS provider, a new choice is arriving to port for the maritime industry.