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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

High-power antennas open VSAT to new markets

Mon 07 Jan 2019 by Martyn Wingrove

High-power antennas open VSAT to new markets
TracPhone V3-HTS is a 37-cm diameter antenna that weighs just 11 kg

Increasing power and introducing dual-antenna solutions will facilitate VSAT deployment on workboats, offshore support vessels, fishing vessels and superyachts

Port service vessels, tugs, fishing vessels and yachts can connect to high-throughput satellite communications with a newly launched VSAT antenna.

KVH Industries unveiled a new TracPhone VSAT antenna that is less than 40 cm in diameter in November 2018, to deliver faster internet connectivity to smaller vessels without the space to accommodate larger antennas.

TracPhone V3-HTS antenna was designed to deliver bandwidth of 5 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload to vessels over satellites with spot beams of high intensity of Ku-band, which is 15 times greater than the upload and download capability of KVH’s previous TracPhone V3.

These antennas link with high-throughput satellite (HTS) networks, such as Intelsat’s EpicNG constellation, without the need for heavy-duty 60-cm or 1-m diameter antennas, said KVH chief operating officer Brent Bruun.

TracPhone V3-HTS weighs 11 kg and has a 37-cm diameter reflector, he explained to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications. “It is the smallest HTS [antenna] on the market and provides global coverage in key commercial areas,” he said.

These antennas deliver internet connectivity and high definition video streaming aboard powerboats, sailboats and commercial vessels. “We have streamlined the entire process of getting broadband on the boat by offering monthly airtime and value-added services to create an end-to-end solution,” Mr Bruun said.

TracPhone V3-HTS was engineered specifically for KVH’s mini-VSAT Broadband HTS network. This includes Intelsat’s EpicNG satellites with additional satellite capacity from Sky Perfect JSAT. These are fully integrated under the IntelsatOne Flex platform.

“TracPhone V3-HTS uses spot beams for high throughput and delivers limited internet that is good for workboats, fisheries and tugs,” Mr Bruun said. “It can be carried onto a boat and offers good coverage for vessels that traditionally have not looked at VSAT.”

This antenna has two axes of rotation that allows it to follow the trajectory of an HTS satellite although it is unable to be directed vertically from the vessel during satellite tracking. It has a 4-W block up converter (BUC), which is more powerful than the non-HTS version's 3-W BUC.

This is the second HTS antenna design from KVH, which introduced the 60-cm diameter Ku-band TracPhone V7-HTS at the end of 2017. KVH worked closely with Intelsat to develop these antennas, with Intelsat upgrading its IntelsatOne Flex platform this year to support smaller antennas.

TracPhone V3-HTS links to KVH’s integrated CommBox Modem, an all-in-one below-deck unit, with an iDirect high-throughput modem. “CommBox manages least-cost routeing, file compression, crew accounts and broadband allocation,” said Mr Bruun. It has a voice over IP adaptor, security firewall, versatile network management software, Ethernet and wifi switches.

He explained why it is important to include one of these smart devices on a ship. “On a vessel with perhaps 20-30 people on board, they will want to consume more data than the operator will want to pay for,” he said. “Broadband allocation management means the crew will use this in a sensible way.”

Vessel operators can use myKVH mini-VSAT manager to control data usage, allocate data packages and customise email alerts.

This antenna enables ship operators to have two pipes for broadband communications, with one allocated for operational requirements and the other for crew access.

KVH executive vice president of mobile connectivity Mark Woodhead said media and training content is distributed on top of this and in the background in a data-efficient method using IP MobileCast.

“We multicast the content to vessels turned on to this service, instead of using the data allocation,” he explained. “It is an important way to deliver the content, which is stored on board and available to access at any time.”

He said this content can include crew entertainment, software updates, weather information, electronic navigational chart updates and training programs from the Videotel library.

Dual-antenna solution

Inmarsat and its distribution partners have introduced a dual-antenna system for Ka-band satellite communications for offshore support vessels. This rectifies satellite connectivity obstruction issues that can occur when vessels only have one antenna.

In November, Speedcast International introduced a dual-antenna programme for Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service, which involves installing two Ka-band antennas to link with Global Xpress services and a FleetBroadband L-band back-up.

This combination will minimise the blockages to satellite communications when offshore supply vessels are working close to oil and gas production platforms and floating production platforms or when adventure cruise ships are operating close to icebergs, cliffs and glaciers. This dual-antenna solution is also suitable for commercial maritime vessels.

“This innovative dual-antenna system will have a dramatic impact on the Fleet Xpress user experience,” said Speedcast executive vice president for maritime Athina Vezyri.

“We are already seeing strong early take up on the dual-antenna promotion,” she said. “In addition to the demand in maritime, we are targeting the offshore supply vessel market at a time when we expect the energy market to grow.”

Speedcast has a backlog of orders for Fleet Xpress services with more than 600 vessels waiting for antennas and associated hardware to be installed.

It said the main advantage of dual-antenna Fleet Xpress is more time spent on higher throughput rates of Ka-band than working on slower L-band. With Fleet Xpress, if Ka-band services are unavailable, the vessel automatically switches to FleetBroadband, but this is required less with a dual-antenna service.

This hardware can be combined with flexible airtime packages from Speedcast to meet the demands for short-term, high-bandwidth options in the energy sector.

Speedcast’s dual-antenna promotions include a free Cobham 60-cm Sailor 60GX antenna with the lease of one primary 60-cm antenna on Fleet Xpress. Alternatively, vessel operators can choose to receive a 50% discount on a Cobham 1-m Sailor 100GX antenna when they rent or lease a primary 1-m antenna on Fleet Xpress.

Cobham Satcom introduced a higher power version of Sailor 100GX in Q4 2018. This is a tri-axis stabilised antenna for Fleet Xpress. It was introduced specifically for offshore support vessels, passenger ships and superyachts that need higher data rate plans.

Cobham Satcom said Sailor 100GX High Power can deliver double the radio frequency power as standard GX antennas. This higher power unit has a military-grade 10-W amplifier and can be used in a dual-antenna mode.

Workboats could install first-generation flat panel communications antennas during 2019 as part of trails for connectivity from low Earth orbit satellites. Phasor is preparing to start testing its antennas on maritime and land applications using the radio frequency from Kepler’s first widebeam Kipp satellites. Field trials will build on a successful land test in September 2018 when a Phasor antenna successfully auto-acquired, auto-tracked and communicated with Kipp.

Antenna particulars

Name: TracPhone V3-HTS

Manufacturer: KVH

Band: Ku-band

Service: mini-VSAT Broadband

Satellites: geostationary HTS

Weight: 11 kg

Diameter: 37 cm

Upload speeds: 2 Mbps

Download speeds: 5 Mbps

BUC: 4 W

Vessel market: workboat, yachts, fishing vessels

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