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Spot beam VSAT and flat panels will deliver performance improvements

Fri 17 Mar 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Spot beam VSAT and flat panels will deliver performance improvements
Simon Gatty Saunt (SES): "Maritime customers want solutions such as e-health and safety and e-training"

Executives from satellite operators SES and Intelsat expect the future of maritime communications to incorporate high throughput satellites and flat panel antennas. Both are investing heavily in constellations of these to deliver fast broadband to maritime sectors in spot beams of Ku-band.

Intelsat vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa sales Jean-Philippe Gillet told Marine Electronics & Communications that these current and future developments will open up fresh applications and broadband services to seafarers and passengers. Some of the technology already exists, such as the beginnings of a high throughput satellite network. However, there are new satellite technologies to come and flat panel antennas are being tested, he said.

In a video interview at Intelsat’s offices in west London, Mr Gillet forecast greater increases in performance for shipping from these technologies. “With high throughput satellites there is increased performance of up to 165 per cent compared with what ships had before,” he said. “But higher performance, of up to 330 per cent, can be achieved. Customers will have the ability to get better performance through satellites and ground equipment, to monetise the use of the capacity.”

Mr Gillet pointed to the development and testing of flat panel antennas by Kymeta Corp and Phasor as a way in which the maritime satellite communications industry is innovating. “Kymeta and Phasor are changing the size of antennas and enabling customers to use more broadband capacity,” he said.

These technologies should increase the amount of connectivity available to cruise ships, ferries, offshore vessels, leisure vessels and commercial shipping. Mr Gillet expects that this will enable the development of a maritime version of the Internet of Things, more cloud-based applications and video-style connectivity for passengers. “We need to provide this type of connectivity all the time for passengers and crew, as they expect the same kind of connection on ships as they get on shore.”

SES vice president for sales of data and mobility services in Europe and Russia Simon Gatty Saunt expects that flat panel antennas will open VSAT up to many more maritime sectors, such as fishing vessels, offshore renewables and yachts. He is expecting a doubling in the number of VSAT units in use within the next decade from around 20,000 terminals today. “There will be increasing bandwidth speeds for all maritime segments, and VSAT will have a major role in that,” he commented.

“Improvements in antenna technology over a number of years will enable this. Flat panel antennas and the mass production of these antennas ccould significantly lower the cost of entry for VSAT networks and open up new markets.” SES has run successful trials with Phasor and Kymeta flat panel antennas over its satellite links.

Mr Gatty Saunt said that high throughput satellites would also open new maritime markets to VSAT "The influx of these satellites could bring cost-per-bit down, which will open markets where cost is an important factor." He explained that vessel operators want to send huge amounts of data from ships to shore, which means increasing uplink capabilities in the future.

"Commercial shipowners are moving to paperless ships, electronic documents, ecdis, weather routeing to cut operating costs."

The future for crew welfare services will involve the streaming of content from online applications with seafarers expecting, and thus receiving, similar performance to what they have at home, said Mr Gatty Saunt.

He added that ship operators are increasingly asking for more connectivity for operational applications. He predicts that more of these will be developed as more vessels take advantage of the higher throughputs from satellites. “Maritime customers want solutions such as e-health and safety and e-training,” he said. “There is increasing demand for data transmissions to shore for container tracking, engineroom sensors and optimising fuel consumption. Much more data will be coming from the ships.”