Modem technology is being developed by Newtec, iDirect and Comtech to keep up with the connectivity requirements of high-throughput satellites
Manufacturers of below-deck communications equipment, such as routers, modems and communications hubs for teleports, are developing new systems so that they are not restricting the bandwidth available to shipping and offshore users.
Over the past three years, modem technology has struggled to keep up with advances in satellite connectivity, but this is changing. Additional VSAT bandwidth has become available as high-throughput satellites (HTSs) have been launched into geostationary and medium Earth orbits since 2016.
In the same period, modem technology has not advanced rapidly enough, which can restrict connectivity on ships, offshore drilling rigs, floating production facilities and passenger ships.
Throughput through HTSs to cruise ships has been tested at more than 300 Mbps and, in one test, to more than 2 Gbps. But ship operators have only been able to provide these capabilities to crew and passengers for short periods – of hours or a day – and then only by stacking multiple modems.
This is not sustainable as a cost-effective solution, which is why IT platform providers, such as Newtec, Comtech EF Data and Vision Technologies Systems’ subsidiary VT iDirect have been developing technology for communications over HTS constellations.
Dialog platform testing
Newtec has worked with Panasonic Avionics and its maritime arm ITC Global to test a new generation of modems. ITC Global vice president for global engineering Sanjay Singam told Marine Electronics & Communications that these modems will be tested in a maritime environment this year. “We are restricted by the modem technology but with Newtec’s hub solution for maritime, this will not be the case,” he said.
Newtec’s latest modem is based on its Dialog platform that is in use on passenger ships for interaction with HTSs. This uses the latest transmission standard of digital video broadcasting over a second generation of satellites (DVB-S2X) on the forward channel to HTSs.
Dialog platform uses Newtec’s own dynamic bandwidth allocation technology, Mx-DMA, which is a hybrid mode of transmitting data on the return channel to satellites. This combines the efficiencies of single channel per carrier (SCPC) and with the bandwidth allocation capabilities of time division multiple access (TDMA).
Newtec’s modems will support higher data transmission applications for vessel operations and crew welfare over VSAT, such as video streaming, voice over IP (VoIP), real-time ship monitoring, security camera streaming and high definition television.
ITC Global currently uses iDirect’s modems for its VSAT services to offshore and maritime sectors. For oil and gas production installations and drilling rigs that remain on location for months or even years, ITC Global uses SCPC protocols because of their reliability and security, said Mr Singam.
“TDMA is more important for cargo ships” because this protocol caters for vessels that move between beams and need seamless switching between satellite coverage, he explained. “We have to understand what our customers need and how data traffic works to enable ships to become extension of company offices.”
“We have to understand how data traffic works to enable ships to become extension of company offices”
ITC Global intends to use Dialog modems with the VSAT network that Panasonic named in February this year as a “third generation communications network”, which includes HTSs operated by Eutelsat, Intelsat, Telesat and SES.
Newtec’s new modem is also being tested by VSAT service provider Eurona on Mediterranean cruise ferries, such as Balearia’s Abel Matutes. It enables passengers to use wifi hotspots on these ships to access high speed internet on their own devices for bandwidth-hungry services such as VoIP and video streaming.
Eurona was able to double the throughput to these ferries over the Ku-band capacity of Hispasat’s H30W4 satellite for reliable two-way IP connectivity for passengers and crew. Nexmachina was also involved in the project by providing dedicated wifi hotspots.
Modems for HTSs
iDirect’s technology platforms and modems that use TDMA protocols are the most common deployed on ships for VSAT connectivity. The latest version of its modems is the iQ series and for teleports it is Velocity. These are optimised for use with HTSs, such as Intelsat’s EpicNG constellation and Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellites.
In December 2017, satellite operator SES announced that iDirect Velocity would be deployed to support its HTS units – SES-12, SES-14 and SES-15. Velocity has been installed across HTS gateway locations around the world. SES said it would use Velocity to support VSAT services that its own SES Networks will offer to shipping through the SES Maritime+ service.
This will enable SES to provide high bandwidth allocation and increased flexibility to its distribution partners with variable pricing options, iDirect said. Velocity uses the DVB-S2X standard and TDMA protocol for transmissions between the teleport, satellite and ship.
The iQ modems are increasingly deployed on vessels that connect with HTS constellations. In March this year, iDirect announced it would be extending its iQ remote range with the iQ 200, iQ 800 and iQ 1000 modems. These use DVB-S2 for widebeam coverage and DVB-S2X for spot beam connectivity.
iQ 200 is designed for maritime applications, including uses on commercial ships, fishing vessels, workboats and offshore support vessels, where owners are looking to upgrade their L-band services to VSAT. It has a range of bandwidth capabilities up to 200 Mbps.
iQ 800 remotes are designed for ships that require higher throughput capabilities up to 800 Mbps, such as on cruise ships and offshore production and drilling units. This series enables wideband satellite communications with seamless satellite beam switching and iDirect said it is the first modem to support multi-VSAT provider roaming.
iQ 1000 will serve the ultra high-end mobility and telecommunications markets where there are extreme throughput requirements of up to 1 Gbps, such as on cruise ships. iDirect said it intends to start delivering iQ 200 and iQ 800 this year and iQ 1000 in 2019.
iDirect chief executive officer Kevin Steen said these will be “intelligent terminals that roam across networks and multi-orbit constellations.” They will enable VSAT providers to offer seamless switching between geostationary, medium and low Earth orbit satellite constellations.
Comtech EF Data has expanded its Heights networking platform with three new remote gateways. These include an indoor H-Plus modem and router and two outdoor versions. They enable users to use SCPC and Comtech’s own Heights communications protocols for VSAT transmissions depending on the data flow requirements.
These networking platforms combine H-DNA dynamic network access with compression engines, wide area network and waveform optimisation. Comtech said Heights enables dynamic bandwidth and power management and bi-directional adaptive coding and modulation to “provide the highest user throughput, highest availability, and most optimal resource utilisation available.”
Heights has a user interface and a traffic analytics engine that enables users to design, implement, monitor, control and optimise a VSAT network. Heights has been deployed on cruise ships and offshore drilling rigs for delivering critical VSAT links to onboard IT systems and for delivering high bandwidth passenger and crew online connectivity. It can deliver the maximum bit rate for vessel operations and welfare services.