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Container shipping will have a greater choice of communications technology with new constellations of satellites being launched and networks introduced Traditional L-band communications remain important to shipping for voice calls, messaging, email and internet access, with Ku-band and Ka-band VSAT enabling crew to access online applications, social media and digital content The launch of high throughput satellite (HTS) constellations in the past five years has lessened bandwidth shortages for shipping lines. These include Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) network, the basis of its Ka-band Fleet Xpress service to container ships, which includes FleetBroadband L-band back-up.

For Ku-band technology, Intelsat and SES have been the main investors in HTS, with Intelsat’s EpicNG constellation covering most coastal seas.
HTS delivers more capacity to vessels for crew welfare packages, says KVH Industries chief operating officer Brent Bruun, who has seen technology and crew welfare applications advance over the past decade. “It is now about smart phones and applications, social
media and entertainment media,” he explains. KVH provides Ku-band bandwidth to ships using Intelsat’s HTS network, FlexMaritime service and capacity from Sky Perfect JSAT. This is accessed through KVH’s own range of TracPhone VSAT antennas. “There will be a massive amount of bandwidth in the market,” says Mr Bruun. “We can take advantage of this technology to provide more robust services for crew welfare and operational requirements.” KVH provides Ku-band connectivity to container ships through its AgilePlans Global service. When paired with a TracPhone V11-HTS antenna with a 1-m diameter, ships can obtain data speeds as high as 20 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up to the satellite. If there is only space for a 60-cm diameter TracPhone V7-HTS antenna, data speeds of 10 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up can be acheived.KVH also supports crew wellbeing and charities that assist seafarers’ communications.

In March it introduced free voice over IP calls to International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN)’s SeafarerHelp Hotline. This provides confidential and multilingual communications to seafarers to support their mental wellbeing worldwide and is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Satellite operators are investing in geostationary satellites, with Inmarsat the most ambitious in its constellation building. It is expanding the GX constellation from four satellites to 12 by 2024. Its latest addition, GX5, was launched in November 2019 and positioned to cover Europe, Africa and the Middle East.This is due to be commissioned later this year to deliver twice the capacity of the entire existing GX fleet of four spacecraft combined. Other GX satellites will be installed into geostationary orbit to boost capacity in Asia/Pacific and the Americas, plus two payloads will be commissioned to provide Ka-band coverage over the Arctic Over the next three years more services with higher bandwidth and less delay in transmissions, known as latency, are coming to shipping. These will provide greater bandwidth for data transmissions, access to cloud services, internet of things (IoT) technology, real-time monitoring, tracking services and for streaming media content for crew. “There will be higher bandwidth with less latency,” says VSAT service provider Castor Marine director Mark Olthuis. This will be sourced from new constellations of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites being planned or launched this year.

“LEO-based VSAT has less latency than geostationary satellites,” Mr Olthuis tells Riviera Maritime Media. “Cloud applications depend on internet-smooth operations,” he says. With less latency in the signal from the shore to satellite and onwards to the ship, or the opposite direction, the less erratic online services will be.“There is investment and developments coming and many constellations are being planned. There are still technology developments and a lot of testing to come,” says Mr Olthuis. This is to verify existing antennas can track LEO satellites. One of the most progressive LEO constellations is being commissioned by OneWeb. It intends to launch more than 600 satellites in the next two years. OneWeb is investing up to US$3Bn in the world’s most populous satellite constellation to deliver broadband around the globe. It has worked with antenna manufacturer Intellian to test its services with Intellian hardware. They signed a contract in March 2020 resulting in Intellian starting commercial production of OneWeb user terminals. A wide range of dedicated terminals will be produced in various antenna sizes for merchant shipping, with the potential to upgrade existing VSAT for LEO satellites .

OneWeb head of global maritime sales Noémie de Rozieres says latency from its LEO constellation, orbiting at a height of 1,200 km, will be far less than geostationary satellites that are set at heights of about 36,000 km. “Our service will have latency of less than 50 milliseconds,” she tells Riviera Maritime Media. “This is 10 times less than VSAT over geostationary satellites.”LEO-based VSAT will enable owners to fully connect their fleets. “Merchant ships will become remote offices at sea with affordable and fibre-like connectivity,” says Ms de Rozieres. “This will enable cloud-based systems with low latency for all vessels. It will facilitate remote monitoring, crew welfare applications, plus seafarer training at sea, interactive video, 3D programs and real-time guidance for onboard maintenance from shore.”OneWeb’s low-latency Ku-band will also facilitate telemedicine, video surveillance and real-time machinery monitoring once it is fully operational. “We are planning to have global commercial services in Q4 2021,” says Ms de Rozieres.bLEO satellite communications are already available to shipping over Iridium’s L-band constellation. Iridium operates 66 crosslinked satellites, providing global connectivity, including over the polar regions. In February, it expanded vessel-to-satellite communications on its Iridium Certus service, and over these LEO satellites, from 352 kbps to 704 kbps by introducing a firmware upgrade for onboard terminals manufactured by Cobham Satcom and Thales.

Source:      Martyn Wingrove /