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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Thales and Cobham unveil Iridium Certus terminals

Fri 16 Jun 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Thales and Cobham unveil Iridium Certus terminals
Robert Squire and Brian Aziz presented the VesseLink terminal to MEC (credit: Martyn Wingrove)

Cobham Satcom and Thales have introduced terminals for Iridium Certus L-band satellite communications services that should be available in 2018

Cobham Satcom and Thales revealed their advanced prototype terminals for Iridium Certus satellite communications services at the Nor-Shipping exhibition in Lillestrøm, Norway in May. These terminals will enable ships to use the Iridium Next satellite network for voice and data services and speeds of more than double those currently available over the Iridium OpenPort service.

The terminals, each with small antennas and ship-connection modules, will connect to a network of more than 65 operating L-band satellites once they are all commissioned, which is expected to be in the second half of 2018.

Iridium has already launched the first batch of its Next low earth orbit satellites and expects further launches later this year. This will enable terminal operators to fully test their equipment on land and at sea during the next six months. Both Cobham and Thales expect to have a fully tested commercial terminal available for all types of vessel within the first half of 2018.

Cobham Satcom introduced the Sailor 4300 terminal for the middle range of speeds that Iridium intends to offer vessels from the new satellite constellation. This is a broadband core transceiver type terminal that has an antenna weighing 7kg and a below-deck module.

The terminal will operate at data speeds of 352 kbps and will have three voice lines, said Cobham Satcom business manager for maritime L-band products Anders Olsen. It will be suitable for data-heavy applications, voice over IP, multi-user internet applications and virtual private networks, e-mail, electronic reporting and crew communications.

The terminal will be tested in the North Sea during the third quarter of this year before being rolled out to commercial shipping in 2018, Mr Olsen said. “It will be tested on a fishing vessel in rough sea conditions for vibration testing,” he said. “We expect to get the first contract in November, then the first shipment in December and the first commercial use in the first quarter of 2018.”

Thales unveiled its terminal and VesseLink service that will use Iridium Certus. It includes a high-gain electronic phased array antenna that weighs 3.2kg and a below-deck unit. It will enable data streaming up to 256 kbps and IP data sessions up to 700 kbps downlink and 352 kbps uplink.

Thales head of maritime Robert Squire said it will have 10 times the throughput of existing Iridium services. “It will be lightweight, easy to install and have only one cable between the antenna and the below-deck unit,” he added. Additional features include pairing to 4G services, embedded WiFi access, an optional handset, and Android and iOS support functionality.

Testing is about to begin at Thales’ Maryland, USA offices. The terminal will then be tested at sea during the rest of this year, said Thales director of sales for satellite communications solutions Brian Aziz. Initially VesseLink will operate at around 350 kbps, but Mr Aziz expects speeds of 700 kbps to be available early in 2019. “Our antenna is solid-state, electronically-steered and will constantly have a link to an overhead satellite. The terminal will have three Ethernet ports, dynamic switching and cellular connections.” It will have WiFi, public exchange for inter-vessel communications and an associated Android-enabled handset.


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