Satellite Technology for Maritime Security and Safety

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.

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