Technology will enable real-time seismic surveys, greater redundancy and seamless communications from offshore vessels
Rising bandwidth capacity and falling prices will enable real-time seismic surveys and video applications. New high throughput satellites will deliver faster data transmissions from offshore vessels, says service provider Harris CapRock Communications. Its president, Tracey Haslam, said very small aperture terminal (VSAT) technology was improving to increase bandwidth in multiple frequency bands. More satellite capacity is coming over the next five years that will enable vessel operators to stream live data in real time and use more applications.
She expects the next generation of satellites will enable seismic vessel operators to offer better survey data services. “Imagine what we will be able to do with the bandwidth,” she said. “We could get to a point where real-time seismic surveys could be available. We can accelerate data transmissions, and there will be a price point where real-time seismic data transmissions work.”
In the meantime, Harris CapRock has built redundancy into its communications solutions. It offers C-band, Ku-band and Ka-band VSAT services to offshore vessel operators. This is now backed up with line-of-sight radio and mobile phone 3G and long-term evolution (LTE) 4G networks. It introduced OnePath wireless radio for high throughput and increased redundancy for offshore vessels. It enables secure, localised wireless data and voice networks with connections up to 160km, depending on the height of the antenna. It can deliver throughputs of up to 400 Mbps operating modes for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint applications.
Ms Haslam suggested a combination of LTE and OnePath Radio installed on a drilling rig, floating production facility, accommodation, construction vessel or pipelayer could provide rapid communications for surrounding OSVs. “We would then have an area of low cost mobile communications.” She continued, “Connectivity needs to be seamless and integrated. We can use LTE, and all satellite bands to build up a full network with a module to manage least-cost routeing and OnePath Radio for redundancy. Harris CapRock gained a contract extension from Oceaneering International for VSAT services on its fleet of multipurpose support vessels. This includes initiating services onboard Oceaneering’s new multiservice support vessel Ocean Evolution.
ITC Global also provides redundancy in its communications through dual VSAT antennas and LTE networks. Chief executive Joe Spytek explained how a high specification service can go even further. “The solution we can supply is highly redundant, with one active network, two antennas and two satellites in use, along with one backup network, antenna and satellite,” he said. The solution is configured to automatically switch between bands, network, antenna and satellite in order to retain connection.
VSAT connectivity is through C-band and Ku-band from satellite operators such as SES and Intelsat. “When switching to the backup network, there should be no packet loss and no dropped phone calls, even if there is a satellite or teleport failure,” said Mr Spytek. “There should be no degradation as the system can use a second satellite. This way, we have two available networks for true redundancy.”
In the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico, LTE technology is a viable backup. Outside these regions, Ku-band VSAT is the prime communications conduit. “We have seen OSV operators embrace Ku-band as a highly available solution using 1m antennas. Ku-band has flexibility, and with high throughput satellites coming, there will be incredible throughput figures,” said Mr Spytek. “Ku-band is being accepted offshore West Africa where there are rain fade difficulties because we can outfit vessels to cope with that. We expect to see different Ku-band antennas on vessels in the future,” he said.
Changes coming in VSAT antennas
Increasing volumes of data sent from vessels will mean owners will need to upgrade their Ku-band antennas with more uplink power. Current maritime VSAT antennas have low power block upconverters (BUCs) of around 8W or less in order to keep the weight of the unit down. This is adequate for VSAT connections designed for the majority of traffic coming on the downlink to vessels but not if there is a ramp-up in data transmissions from OSVs.
Antenna manufacturers can install higher power BUCs, but so far, this leads to more weight and larger radomes. However, Cobham Satcom has developed a 20W BUC that is of a similar size and weight as an 8W unit. This has been included in a high power version of its Sailor 900 VSAT.
“If vessel owners want higher internet uplinks, then they need higher power BUCs,” said Cobham Satcom director of maritime broadband business development Jens Ewerling. “We needed to find a way to develop a high power antenna with a 20W BUC on a Sailor 900 VSAT fully integrated unit,” he explained.
This was achieved in the second quarter of this year. The Sailor 900 VSAT High Power Ku-band antenna with a 20W BUC operates on all Ku-band satellite services and has been tested to work on Intelsat’s EpicNG high throughput service. It can also be converted for Ka-band to operate with Inmarsat Fleet Xpress and Telenor’s Thor 7 services.
Mr Ewerling expects that demand for higher power antennas will increase in the near future. “More owners are looking at this as more data is coming from their vessels,” he said. “We will offer an upgrade kit to a higher power version so owners can benefit from faster uplinks. The upgrade could be done by a Sailor-trained engineer and would involve replacing the RF pack and reconnecting the cables. There would be no need to replace the antenna.”
Intellian Technologies has unveiled the v65, a 60cm-class VSAT for Ku-band for vessels that have limited space and weight. According to Intellian president and chief executive Eric Sung, this has improved RF performance, enabling vessel operators to have a global service plan while using a smaller antenna. “The improved RF performance combines extremely well with the high throughput Ku-band capacity now coming online,” he said. The v65 incorporates updated motor technology with built-in encoders that improve tracing precision. The antenna can be installed and tested without the need for a crane or removing the radome. It can be commissioned and maintained remotely using Intellian’s Aptus system.
Mr Sung said there would be more investment in multiband antennas. Intellian already offers a 1m Ku-band that can be converted to Ka-band, as well as a 2.4m antenna that combines C-band and Ku-band. “These are installed on offshore vessels using Ku-band as the main service but with C-band as backup to get bandwidth up to 100 Mbps,” said Mr Sung.
“We are developing a C-Ku-Ka-band antenna that could get bandwidth up to 500 Mbps or perhaps even 1 Gbps. This would enable a huge change in lifestyles on accommodation vessels as passengers can share more bandwidth. This will mean future-proofing the hardware so there is no need to swap the antennas,” he explained.
KVH Industries has developed a multiband antenna for both C-band and Ku-band. The TracPhone V11-IP is a 1.1m antenna that delivers 4 Mbps on the downlink and 1 Mbps on the uplink using Ku-band and C-band as a backup. KVH also offers the 67cm TracPhone V7-IP and 30cm TracPhone V3-IP units
All the antennas come with an integrated CommBox modem and software and can be used for receiving content from KVH’s IP-MobileCast service. According to KVH chief operating officer Brent Bruun, these antennas will operate with the high throughput spot beams. “Our antennas are unique with modems based on ArcLight spread-spectrum and low power waveform technology, which means smaller antennas can be used,” he said. “We will continue to innovate and update our antennas. We are looking at more updates for the high throughput satellites,” he said.