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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Flat panel antennas and HTS solutions

Thu 07 Jul 2016

Flat panel antennas and HTS solutions
Joe Spytek (ITC): Technology drives VSAT prices down to L-band replacement levels

There are expected to be advances in conventional maritime VSAT hardware. However, the new technology of flat panel antennas may change the long-term future of VSAT, according to ITC Global chief executive Joe Spytek. He expects flat panel antennas, such as those being developed by Kymeta Corp, to become important elements of future VSAT installations. ITC Global was acquired last year by Panasonic Avionics, which has a strategic agreement with Kymeta.

He also thinks investment in high throughput satellite (HTS) solutions will intensify as bandwidth demand increases. Panasonic will offer HTS services through Ku-band satellite networks, with purpose-built remote terminals that use Kymeta’s mTenna antenna technology. Mr Spytek expects this technology to lower VSAT costs and will offer these services to a variety of vessels. “This will drive VSAT prices down to L-band replacement levels, and data traffic could be routed efficiently with low latency,” he said “We will have remotes that are developed for maritime and fishing fleets, so there is scope in developing L-band replacements using the Kymeta antennas that are self-deploying.”

He continued: “Larger vessels will need multiple antennas, and for vessels operating in high latitudes, antennas will need to be on gimbals. We are testing more realistic remotes, and we expect to bring this to market in 2017. There are a lot of innovations, but we are focusing on innovation on the remote to catch up with HTS technology on satellites.”

Mr Spytek acknowledged there were challenges with deploying HTS coverage, whether in Ku or Ka-band on ships. “For HTS services, the ground segment is the Achilles heel, as very few modems can cope with HTS,” he said. “The industry underestimated the technology needed and this will reduce the number of players that can offer HTS.” He added: “Dramatic amounts of money has been spent to provide HTS capacity. Although costs for delivering megabytes (MB) are going down, the percentage costs for delivering MB for the ground segment component is going up significantly ‒ because it has not been developed enough for HTS.”

Intelsat has invested in both a Ku-band HTS network, with three main EpicNG satellites (see page xx), and Kymeta’s mTenna technology. Intelsat’s senior principal product manager for maritime services, Chris Insall, thinks Kymeta antennas will enable VSAT to be deployed on a variety of different vessels. It should open maritime VSAT technology to different maritime markets.

“We have invested in Kymeta to design and produce innovative, flat, electronically steerable, Ku-band mTenna satellite antennas that are optimised for our EpicNG technology,” he said. “The new antennas will be easier to install on ships, require lower power and have an improved form factor, bringing the benefits of broadband connectivity to a wider range of vessels.”

Mr Insall also expects demand for Ku-band maritime VSAT connectivity to expand into polar regions, opening up fresh opportunities for satellite communications providers. It has invested in OneWeb, which will develop a low earth orbit (leo) satellite constellation for maritime and offshore users. This could seamlessly interact with Intelsat’s existing geostationary (geo) satellite constellation. “Our investment in OneWeb will create the world’s first interoperable leo/geo satellite network,” he said. “The partnership will enable Intelsat to offer the first pole-to-pole Ku-band global network – important for a sector that demands connectivity everywhere.”

Flat panel antennas may be used effectively on cruise ships for operators to meet the multiple passenger bandwidth requirements. Harris CapRock chief technology officer Rolf Berge expects flat panel antennas, such as those being developed by Phasor, to change the aesthetics and performance of VSAT terminals on cruise ships.

“Very low profile, electronically-steered flat panel phased array antennas will be ideal for high mobility and higher bandwidth applications, such as those found in the cruise market,” he said. Cruise ships have unique connectivity requirements. These combine multiple services such as passenger broadband access, retail, banking and hospitality. “This places big demands on their communications infrastructure,” said Mr Berge. “The ability to offer a high standard of connectivity to passengers on board is a differentiating factor. Add in the increased visual appeal of flat panel technology and it is easy to see the marketing possibilities.”

But Mr Berge thinks services will need to integrate satellite, wireless and terrestrial infrastructure into one platform, with multiband antennas. “The antenna will need to include technologies such as automatic beam and band switching,” he explained. “But the key to the success of the service is the brains behind the system. Although a pre-programmed route facilitates switching of these antennas in virtually all cases, a rules engine that makes the optimum connection decisions based on a variety of changing parameters is what is really needed.” These would include geographical awareness of connectivity options, technology type, network parameters and performance characteristics, and optimising for connectivity cost.

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