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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Platform technology amplifies benefits of LEO satellite growth

Tue 09 Apr 2019 by Ed Martin

Platform technology amplifies benefits of LEO satellite growth
Deployment of satcom-enabled 5G will expand coverage of high-bandwidth connectivity in remote regions

A new generation of IT platforms will facilitate development of LEO-based VSAT and broadband over high-throughput satellites

More than 5,000 low earth-orbit (LEO) satellites are due to be launched in the coming years, bringing about increased bandwidth capacity and reduced operating costs.

But to enable these improvements, the right IT platform needs to be in place. Advances in IT platforms will enable ship operators to get the most out of their VSAT services.

The satellite communications industry has a forecast 8% compound annual growth rate over the next 10 years, with demand set to rise as bandwidth opens up and costs drop, opening up new use cases and enhancing existing ones.

Belgium-based satellite communications equipment manufacturer Newtec has been a pioneer in this, providing ultra-high throughput capabilities through consumer satellite terminals and bandwidth efficiency technology.

Recognising this, Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engineering) is in the process of acquiring Newtec in a deal valued at €250M (US$280M).

Through this acquisition, ST Engineering seeks to accelerate deployment of satcom-enabled 5G, which will expand coverage of high-bandwidth connectivity in remote regions used by shipping, bringing benefits such as communications, crew welfare and telemedicine.

The size of this deal clearly shows the value of this enhanced coverage and capacity expansion, which will increase maritime uptake of digital technologies reliant on connectivity, such as internet of things enabled devices.

Newtec has been closely involved in demonstrating the capabilities of LEO satellites. In October 2018, Newtec’s modems were the first to be successfully tested over-the-air on Telesat’s inaugural LEO satellite.

Newtec’s technology was used to demonstrate different service scenarios on the Phase 1 LEO satellite, with the latest trials showing test user traffic successfully passed over the satellite using Newtec modems. This illustrates the possibility of flawless operations without packet loss on LEO constellations, says Newtec’s chief technology officer Frederik Simoens. “LEO is a technology we watch closely, and we are pleased that our modems have been able to support Telesat on this important technology proof,” he says.

“The testing process began with small-scale tests and we have been working our way up throughout the process, with these latest tests showing the potential of LEOs in efficiently and reliably delivering end-user traffic.”

With more than two terabytes per second of high-throughput satellite (HTS) capacity projected over the next 10 years, there are opportunities for shipowners and operators to dramatically improve operational efficiency and improve crew welfare through enhanced communications.

In the cruise and passenger sector, better customer satisfaction can be gained by improved access to connectivity for personal devices, too.

Platform migration

One such development is higher available capacity per vessel and improved coverage for users of the high-speed Ku-band service after migration of the Aura VSAT network to a new platform.

Satcom Global’s Aura VSAT portfolio has been successfully migrated to the iDirect Velocity platform, which comprises operating software, a hub patform, a network management system and remote portfolio. Velocity was designed to enable satellite operators to deploy managed HTS architectures, comprising more beams, frequencies and higher throughput.

Enabling higher-bandwidth applications can improve operations, productivity and crew welfare for commercial shipping, and for cruise vessels allows fulfilment of passengers’ demands for connectivity using personal wireless devices. In the offshore sector it streamlines applications such as sending large data files like seismic images, operating ROVs and greater use of video.

Velocity’s modular hub architecture supports satellite bands including Ka, Ku, C and X bands. It can manage a blended portfolio of frequencies and beam sizes and can support high-aggregate mega symbols per second. A centralised infrastructure provides total hub redundancy.

The platform also offers satellite remotes for distinct end-user requirements, available in multiple form factors such as desktops, rack-mounts and router boards for integration into portable and other specialised communications systems.

Aura’s global coverage spans the major shipping lanes in use today, and the recent upgrade to Velocity enhances coverage across the Indian Ocean region, in European waters and in the Americas, with a focus on the US west coast, Alaska, Panama and the Caribbean.

How IT platforms enable efficient management of vessel communications

Adventure cruise vessels offer unique challenges, being smaller vessels operating in often very remote destinations (credit: Marlink)

As owner of a fleet of tankers plying trade routes around the world, Transpetrol needs data and voice communications to be available at all times for operations and crew welfare purposes.

Transpetrol fleet manager Eirik Sanderlien says “With more digital applications becoming essential to the efficiency of our business, reliable connectivity at sea is more important now than it ever was.”

A key element of this is a centralised communications management platform capable of switching seamlessly between satellites, VSAT and L-band carriers.

Transpetrol looked to Marlink’s Xchange communications management platform to enable this. The platform can be managed from on board the vessel or remotely from shore. It permits multiple user groups to be defined, with connectivity access and communication prioritisation set by the owner, as well as access rules and usage limits.

The system also allows remote maintenance, updating configuration and onboard settings such as firewalls and network settings, and pushing through firmware updates in the same way. This allows fleetwide policies to be applied without sending technicians on board.

Marlink’s system also allows IT systems to be automated, enabling them to communicate autonomously with shore, updating and sending status reports to headquarters.

Elsewhere, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) looked to Marlink to provide satellite voice and data connectivity services on five adventure cruise ships in its fleet.

Adventure cruise vessels offer unique challenges, being smaller vessels operating in often very remote destinations. Being able to sustain a robust communications link to fulfil the vessels’ operational requirements, as well as meet the needs of crew and passengers, in previously inaccessible regions was a key concern for OAT.

The vessels will have access to Marlink’s global C-band, Ku-band and L-band coverage, with operational capability in the Arctic and Antarctic. The five vessels will dynamically share bandwidth according to each vessel’s demand.

The first vessel to be connected was Corinthian, in January 2019. Sister vessels Clio, Athena, Arethusa and Artemis will follow later in the year.

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