Satellite communication solutions that empower you

Satellite-based technologies and Copernicus (the European Earth Observation program) contribute to maritime security, safety, marine environmental protection. The present sophisticated technology was created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for the maritime community. The foundation was established by the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organization established in 1979 at the behest of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—the United Nations’ maritime body—and pursuant to the Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organization, signed by 28 countries in 1976.

The technology has provided global maritime distress and safety services (GMDSS) to ships and aircraft as a public service. Services include traditional voice calls, low-level data tracking systems, and high-speed Internet and other data services as well as distress and safety services. The most recent of these provides GPRS-type services at up to 492 kbit/s via the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) IP satellite modem the size of a notebook computer.[17] Other services provide mobile Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services used by the media for live reporting on world events via videophone.

In a later improvement, Inmarsat has developed a series of networks providing certain sets of services (most networks support multiple services). They are grouped into two sets, existing and evolved services, and advanced services. Existing and evolved services are offered through land earth stations which are not owned nor operated by Inmarsat, but through companies which have a commercial agreement with Inmarsat. Advanced services are provided via distribution partners but the satellite gateways are owned and operated by Inmarsat directly.

The “BGAN Family” is a set of IP-based shared-carrier services one of which is FleetBroadband, a maritime service.

The FleetBroadband network was developed by Inmarsat and is composed of three geosynchronous orbiting satellites called I-4 that allow contiguous global coverage, except for the poles. FleetBroadband systems installed on vessels may travel from ocean to ocean without human interaction. If there is line-of sight to one of the three I-4 satellites, then connectivity can be achieved, even in rough rolling seas. Since the FleetBroadband network uses the L band, rain fade is much less of an issue than the larger VSAT KU-band or C-Band systems.

The FleetBroadband service was modeled after terrestrial Internet services where IP-based traffic Internet Protocol dominated over ISDN and other earlier communication protocols. Many corporations and IT departments are standardizing around IP traffic for data, and voice and text communication, so it is assumed Inmarsat is filling that long-term communications requirement.

FleetBroadband service is available globally except for the poles. A coverage map is provided in this article.

In the intervening years, reliable communications have become even more critical for ships, as their operations increasingly depend on technology. The London-listed group has seen an acceleration of ships being added to its Fleet Xpress Ka-band communications services year-on-year.

Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce said more than 260 ships were added to Fleet Xpress per quarter this year, up from 135 VSAT ship additions per quarter in 2016. These ship deployments involve installing a Ka-band antenna, sometimes upgrading the L-band equipment, and replacing below-deck units and network management devices.

These ships will continue to use Inmarsat’s L-band FleetBroadband service, but as a back-up to the Ka-band service. Which is why Inmarsat continues to invest in the L-band and Ka-band satellites and ground infrastructure. Ships are migrating to VSAT to use more online applications to improve crew welfare and enhance vessel efficiency that the higher connectivity enables. Ship-owners have choice in the frequencies of VSAT they can use.

To meet the needs of ship-owners to enhance satellite communications on their vessels, the technology has boosted the number of ports where installation services are available from six to 33. This includes 12 ports in Asia Pacific, 11 in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa region, and 10 ports in the Americas. The installation work will be carried out by Inmarsat-certified engineers for a fixed fee.

Another striking feature of the “BGAN Family” (The Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN)) is its practical use: being portable it makes it practical almost anywhere on the globe.

BGAN is a global satellite network with telephony using portable terminals. The terminals are normally used to connect a laptop computer to broadband Internet in remote locations, although as long as line-of-sight to the satellite exists, the terminal can be used anywhere. The value of BGAN terminals is that, unlike other satellite Internet services which require bulky and heavy satellite dishes to connect, a BGAN terminal is about the size of a laptop and thus can be carried easily. The network is provided by Inmarsat and uses three geostationary satellites called I-4 to provide almost global coverage.

BGAN can be easily set up by anyone, and has excellent voice calling quality. It works on the L band, avoiding rain fade and other issues affecting satellite systems operating at higher frequency bands.

Researchers have been tracking the massive landslide which struck Xinmo Village, Maoxian County, Sichuan Province in China. They are using satellite data to accurately map the movement of the earth before a landslide in a bid to develop a life-saving early warning system.

The team from Newcastle University (UK), Chengdu University of Technology, Tongji University, China Academy of Space Technology and Wuhan University (China) have been tracking the devastating events of last month when a massive landslide struck Xinmo Village, Maoxian County, Sichuan Province in China.

Triggered by heavy rain, the Maoxian landslide swept away homes in Xinmo village, blocking a 2km section of river and burying 1,600 meters of road. The collapsed rubble was estimated to be about eight million cubic meters.

Three days later, a second landslide hit Xinmo Village and almost at the same time, a third landslide occurred in Shidaguan Town, 20km away from Xinmo Village.

Using ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite radar mission — which comprises a constellation of two polar-orbiting satellites, operating day and night in all-weather conditions — the research team were able to capture before and after images of the landslides.

This provides vital information about the extent of the disaster which can be used to assess the damage and future risk in the area.

Professor Zhenhong Li, Professor of Imaging Geodesy at Newcastle University, explains:

“It is still hard, if not impossible, to detect a landslide using traditional techniques, especially in mountain areas. Using the satellite radar data, we were able to efficiently detect and map the active landslide over a wide region, identifying the source of the landslide and also its boundaries.

“Going forward, we can use this information to set up real-time monitoring systems — such as GPS, Beidou and Galileo — for those sites and whenever we detect abnormal behaviour, the system can send out an early warning message.

“In fact, while we were monitoring the Maoxian landslides we managed to identify over 10 other active landslides in the same region and forwarded this information to the relevant agencies.”

Living with the Constant Threat of a Landslide

Sichuan province is prone to earthquakes, including the devastating Great Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008 when a 7.9 magnitude quake hit the area, killing over 70,000 people.

Professor Li says their data suggests the Maoxian (Shidaguan) landslide had been sliding for at least six months before it failed.

“When you consider this sort of timescale it suggests that a landslide Early Warning System is not only possible but would also be extremely effective,” says Professor Li.

“If we can detect movement at a very early stage then in many cases it is likely we would have time put systems in place to save lives.”

Professor Li and the team have been working on active faults and landslides in Southwest China for over ten years and have identified several active landslides in the area south to Maoxian County but this is the first time they have studied the Maoxian region.

Ultimately, the team hope to use the technology to detect and map active landslides in the whole region of SW China, and then build a landslide database.

The research findings were presented at the Dragon-4 symposium in Copenhagen on 27 June 2017.

Researchers at the University of Bath have gained new insights into the mechanisms of the Northern Lights, providing an opportunity to develop better satellite technology that can negate outages caused by this natural phenomenon.

Previous research has shown that the natural lights of the Northern Lights — also known as or Aurora Borealis — interfere with Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals which are heavily relied upon in the transport and civil aviation industries.

The presence of plasma turbulence within the Northern Lights was traditionally deemed responsible for causing GNSS inaccuracies. However, this latest research found that turbulence does not exist, suggesting new, unknown mechanisms are actually responsible for outages on GNSS signals.

This is the first time it has been shown that turbulence does not take place within the Northern Lights and this new knowledge will enable new technological solutions to overcome these outages.

The research team from the University of Bath’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering in collaboration with the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) observed the Northern Lights in Tromsø, northern Norway, where they observed and analysed the Northern Lights simultaneously using radar and a co-located GNSS receiver.

GNSS signals were used to identify how the Northern Lights interfere with GPS signals. Radar analysis provided a visual snap shot of the make-up of this famous and spectacular phenomenon.

A picture containing indoor, sitting Description generated with high confidence

GNSS is used to pinpoint the geographic location of a user’s receiver anywhere in the world. Numerous systems are in use across the world including the widely known United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS), the Russian Federation’s Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) and Europe’s Galileo.

Each of the GNSS systems employs a constellation of satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 20,000 km satellites, working in conjunction with a network of ground stations. Originally developed by the US government for military navigation, satellite navigation systems are now widely used by anyone with a GNSS device, such as an in-car SatNav, mobile phone or handheld navigation unit, which can receive the radio signals that the satellites broadcast.

The Northern Lights occur at North and South Magnetic Poles, and are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere.

The researchers believe this heightened understanding of the Northern Lights will inform the creation of new types of GNSS technology which are robust against the disturbances of the Northern Lights, and help influence GNSS regulations used in industries such as civil aviation, land management, drone technology, mobile communications, transport and autonomous vehicles.

Lead researcher and Lecturer in the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath, Dr. Biagio Forte, said: “With increasing dependency upon GNSS with the planned introduction of 5G networks and autonomous vehicles which rely heavily on GNSS, the need for accurate and reliable satellite navigation systems everywhere in the world has never been more critical.

“The potential impact of inaccurate GNSS signals could be severe. Whilst outages in mobile phones may not be life threatening, unreliability in satellite navigations systems in autonomous vehicles or drones delivering payloads could result in serious harm to both humans and the environment.

“This new understanding of the mechanisms which affect GNSS outages will lead to new technology that will enable safe and reliable satellite navigation.”

Nowadays people need to be connected to the internet anytime and anywhere, even on the world’s oceans and seas. Broadband is needed in vessels either for entertainment purposes or for business purposes. Internet connectivity is a vital requirement for crew retention and passenger satisfaction. This can be provided only by using satellite communications (VSAT) technology at sea, known as “Maritime VSAT.” There are various applications for Maritime VSAT which will be discussed in this blog. These applications require maintaining the connection between satellites and vessels during their movements at sea. This can be achieved by auto-acquisition and stabilized antenna systems, and the automatic switching technique that switches the traffic among VSAT beams. 

Maritime VSAT can support many types of services such as voice, video conferencing, fax, email as well as maritime surveillance and solution services, namely: 

  • Navigation 
  • Downloading electronic charts 
  • Monitoring of vessel location 
  • Transmitting information related to vessel operations 
  • Reporting finishing activities to comply with maritime and commercial regulations  

Maritime VSAT provides high speed connectivity to deliver these essential services to ships with excellent QoS. Three different frequency bands are currently used for maritime VSAT technology (Ku-Band, Ka-Band & C-Band). Each of these frequency bands has its suitable applications based on its own characteristics. The following comparison can illustrate the main differences among them:  

Item Ku-Band Ka-Band C-Band 
Frequency range 11 to 18 GHz 26 to 40 GHz 4 to 8 GHz 
Antenna Size (diameter) 0.9m to 1.8m 0.6m to 1.2m 1.8m to 3.7m 
Throughput ~10Mbps ~50Mbps ~10Mbps 
Suitable for  Small Vessels Cruise Ships Tankers or large vessels 

The question now is “Who will need such broadband services at the sea?” 

In fact, many maritime companies consider the use of broadband services at sea for their crew and passengers (such as tourists in cruise ships, fishers, sailors, engineers at oil rigs and personnel sailing tankers) as a critical component. Maritime VSAT technology can guarantee good Quality of Service (QoS) for all these applications during the vessel movement in almost any weather conditions.  

Maritime VSAT Components:

  1. Maritime VSAT components at the vessel: 

A stabilized VSAT antenna is installed on the vessel which is connected to a satellite router. This satellite router is responsible for routing the services to the LAN on the vessel, while the antenna is responsible for connecting the vessel to the global VSAT system using one of the VSAT frequency bands (C-band, Ku-band or Ka-band). 

2. Maritime VSAT components on land: 

The terrestrial landing point for maritime services is the Teleport. The teleport antenna receives the signals from the satellite. This antenna is connected to the hub system, which is subsequently connected to the internet. Due to the importance of this hub system it is usually monitored by NMS that is also responsible for controlling and configuring the maritime VSAT system. 

Maritime VSAT and Satellite Internet

Maritime VSAT Market: 

Maritime VSAT customer types vary based on the type of the reequired service. For example, government agencies need maritime VSAT to control navigation & fishing, while oil and gas companies need maritime VSAT to enhance their business by monitoring oil & gas rigs as oil and gas pipelines need to be monitored 24 hours per day and 7 days per week to guarantee the safe transmission of oil and gas through these pipelines.  

The number of ships navigating the world’s oceans is increasing rapidly due to the enhancement in world trade. This growing enhancement in trade increases maritime traffic in return. It is expected that maritime VSAT Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) will reach 13 to 14% before 2021. 

Link Communications Systems provides Maritime VSAT as a leading satellite Internet provider worldwide. LCS provides service to dozens of ships in the fishing, leisure, oil & gas, and freight shipping markets utilizing antenna systems from Intellian and Cobham and Inmarsat and providing services over KU, KA, and C band. The future of the maritime VSAT market is set to grow even further as is the future of broadband communications all over the world.