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Getting closer to 100 percent uptime by reducing hardware complexity of network diversity

Much of the talk at the most recent SMN conference was about how to build up a case that places network diversity as the solution for the fragmented maritime satcom landscape. Participants explored how to deploy a strategic and systematic approach to network diversity and make sense of a maritime satcom world with new levels of service choice.

Everyone recognizes the clear benefits of smart ships when leveraging connected digital applications to e.g., optimize operations, improve crew welfare, and reduce emissions. But these applications produce a lot of data. The satellite industry and maritime users are still struggling to learn how to cope with it.

The solution will come from a more operationally specific, granular approach. It’s important for vessel owners to understand the applications in use and assess the criticality of each. For example, how much risk would there be if these applications were down due to the vessel going dark or crew leaving and taking operational knowledge with them?

From here, it’s possible to build out the applications that drive connectivity requirements, and place an order on their criticality in terms of developing a strategic approach to connectivity:

  1. Safety & Security: GMDSS, medical applications, piracy alerts, citadel solutions
  2. Vessel Operations: Noon reports, port documentation, bill of lading, crew lists, vessel email, IP telephony
  3. Business Critical: ERP system
  4. Vessel Optimisation: IoT Data e.g., monitoring of shaft power, emissions and ballast water
  5. Crew Welfare: Internet access with own devices.

Once the above categories are understood, along with their data consumption and bandwidth requirements, the next step is to review the connectivity services available that best suit the needs of each category:

  1. Safety & Security: L-Band is the most reliable frequency range as it is resilient to weather and has the highest global availability. Future maritime safety terminals will incorporate voice & data as part of a GMDSS solution
  2. Vessel Operations: Primarily accommodated by VSAT solutions with L-Band as a back-up
  3. Business Critical: VSAT for higher data usage applications including Teams or procurement systems
  4. Vessel Optimization: ships use VSAT for connecting with cloud-based solutions with data loads impacting other applications, introducing the need for better data management
  5. Crew Welfare: The biggest driver of data consumption on-board, though new satellite services are helping to accommodate demand.

The use of LTE/in-port Wi-Fi and any of the above applications is also worth exploring, as high-performance local services can reduce the load on other services. With the right hardware, integrating multiple bearers is easy, driving optimized performance and ultimately more bandwidth.

If a vessel or fleet simply subscribes to multiple satellite services to cover all applications, the data needs can be met. Multiple antennas would be required of course. But there are several challenges to consider before looking at what connectivity to put on-board:

  • Coverage: Do the vessels or fleet operate globally or regional, will there be black spots?
  • Availability: Is there proven network reliability and resilience to weather conditions?
  • Congestion: Is there a lot of maritime traffic in the area of operations?
  • Latency: Is real-time data or communication without lag important?

Once all the above is understood, the suitable connectivity technology that meets the requirements of the specific customer vessel or fleet can be selected. There is clearly a need for service providers to offer network diversity to meet a well thought out multi-channel communications strategy based on the above criteria.

One subscription regardless of service type is likely to be the point of singularity within maritime satcoms. And while there is talk of this being possible from the service provider standpoint, the industry still needs diversity in the maritime antenna market to make the physical link to different satellites that could be operating in any established orbit or communications frequency band.

This was one of the drivers behind the development of the latest generation SAILOR XTR and Sea Tel VSAT antenna systems and is reflected in the depth of variants in the Cobham Satcom portfolio. Take the new SAILOR XTR technology platform as an example. While antennas of varied sizes operating on various frequency bands with satellites in LEO, MEO and GEO give service providers choice, it is also essential to work with satellite owners to ensure complete, and seamless compatibility with their networks.

Cobham Satcom continues to do just this as part of the ongoing development of a single technology platform for different frequency bands, orbits and satellite networks. The goal being to simplify the hardware strategy needed to get as close to 100% connectivity uptime as its possible to get from services available right now, and in the future.

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