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Offshore Support Journal

Offshore Support Journal

VSAT proves critical for offshore operations

Thu 09 May 2019 by Martyn Wingrove

VSAT proves critical for offshore operations
VSAT enables IoT applications and improved crew welfare services (image: Satcom Global)

OSV operating expenditures can be optimised by up to 30% using VSAT and by adopting digitalisation

Fast satellite communications and effective digitalisation are now a must have for OSV owners, managers and operators. If offshore oilfield operators are transforming their business through digitalisation, so should OSV owners.

Vessels represent an integral part of the operational chain and need to comply with energy companies’ requirements for connectivity and e-documentation. This is the view expressed by IEC Telecom vice president Nabil Ben Soussia talking at Riviera Maritime Media’s Middle East Offshore Support Journal Conference*.

“OSVs have no other option but to adopt new ways,” he told delegates. But these new ways should not be enforced on owners; rather the commercial value of adoption should drive the transition. OSV operating expenditures can be slashed up to 30% by adopting digitalisation through fast VSAT [very small aperture terminal] technology.

Mr Soussia said fuel costs, which represent 46% of a typical vessel’s operating expenditure, could be trimmed by 7%, while remote maintenance can reduce these costs by 20%. There are also savings to be made from retaining personnel through better crew welfare services.

“Connected ships offer more communication opportunities at lower cost for the company,” he said. IEC offers Ka-band VSAT connectivity through Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress and Telenor Satellite and Ku-band in partnership with Thuraya.

At the conference, Topaz Energy and Marine chief information officer Kris Vedat said VSAT enabled its fleet to be connected as remote offices at sea and for internet-of-things (IoT) adoption. For his company, VSAT enables e-commerce and e-documentation, voice and video over IP and IoT applications.

“Owners cannot afford to have communication breakdowns, so they should have dual-antenna solutions and L-band back-up”

Mr Vedat thinks OSV owners need to embrace the next wave of connectivity-enabled technologies, such as ecosystems driven by artificial intelligence and smart machines.

Topaz has connected more than 100 vessels to online applications through VSAT supplied by Orange Business Services. Topaz also introduced digitalisation for its vessel masters and crew. This has facilitated real-time data reporting, enhanced decision-making and greater accountability, said Mr Vedat. It also brought “greater transparency, better planning capabilities for maintenance and reduced downtime, plus improved compliance through automation, quality assessment and feedback,” he noted.

Other digital values included lower fuel and maintenance costs, higher employee satisfaction and higher productivity, improved asset uptime and lower procurement costs. Orange provides Topaz with its Maritime Connect VSAT and office-at-sea solution, said Orange business development manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa Sabah Zouaoucha. This includes voice and data services, internet access, onboard wifi, cyber security, digital reporting and onboard entertainment services. These services are delivered to OSVs using global Ku-band, backed up for slower, but more resilient, L-band.

Ka-band transition

Up to 2016, the vast majority of offshore vessel VSAT was over either legacy C-band or Ku-bands of radio frequencies. Now, owners are migrating vessels to Ka-band for faster connectivity. Ku-band still has the biggest slice of vessel VSAT, but the growth trend is in Ka-band, says IEC Telecom Norway managing director Alf Stian Mauritz: “Some of the main factors [for this transition] are improving crew welfare, engine performance, fuel consumption and the ability to analyse vessel performance.”

Alf Stian Mauritz (IEC): “OSVs can automatically switch between VSAT and LTE for the highest level of connectivity"

As owners also invest in Ka-band VSAT for secure virtual private networks (VPNs), telemedicine and video conferencing, “The connectivity needs to be stable and secure,” says Mr Mauritz.

Across the North Sea and Norwegian Sea, OSVs can link to 3G or 4G/LTE** mobile networks through transmitters on offshore oil and gas platforms. “OSVs can automatically switch between VSAT and LTE for the highest level of connectivity and data speeds over a secure fibre network,” says Mr Mauritz.

Marlink also enables OSVs to switch from its Sealink VSAT to LTE/4G networks run by Tampnet. Marlink president of maritime Tore Morten Olsen explains: “LTE provides higher speeds and lower latency when vessels are within range” than VSAT. “This is smart connectivity for optimising usage depending on speed availability,” he says.

Tore Morten Olsen (Marlink): “Smart connectivity optimises usage depending on speed availability”

OSV connectivity should include two VSAT antennas to prevent blockages between the satellite and the terminal impacting on operations. “Owners cannot afford to have communication breakdowns, so they should have dual-antenna solutions and L-band back-up,” Mr Olsen explains.

He thinks there will be demand for antennas that connect to both Ku- and Ka-band VSAT. “It will be important to have dual-band antennas that can switch between frequencies,” he says.

In reaction to rising demand, Telenor Satellite expects to treble connectivity speeds for offshore vessels over its regional Ka-band services after upgrading its IT delivery platform. It will boost data speeds from its Thor 7 satellite when vessels are migrated to the Newtec Dialog platform. Thor 7 covers Europe, the Mediterranean, Barents, Kara, Norwegian, North and Black seas and across the North Atlantic.

“Our highest profile on Ka-band is with 35 Mbps downlink and 6 Mbps uplink,” Telenor Satellite director of data services Jan Hetland says. “But, we are pushing the boundaries of the current platform. We launched the Newtec Dialog platform to keep up with rising requirements from offshore vessels.”

This new platform will be able to achieve more than 100 Mbps using selected beams on Thor 7, increasing capacity for voice, data, email and internet communications.

“If liferafts and buoys have not been deployed this could help demonstrate vessel safety records and lower insurance costs”

“Our current customers have a mix of requirements,” says Mr Hetland. “There is increasing demand on our network for social media applications such as Facebook and YouTube.” He added voice-over-IP, internet and video streaming were also important applications over Ka-band VSAT. “We are committed to meeting that demand and ensuring our service delivers the highest possible throughput. This Newtec Dialog platform will enable us to achieve that goal,” he says.

Satcom Global migrated vessels using its Aura VSAT network from the iDirect Evolution to the iDirect Velocity platform for higher speeds of Ku-band connectivity from primary network supplier, SES Networks.

Satcom Global chief operating officer Alex Stewart says this migration means his company can offer a mixture of high-throughput spot beams and wide beams of Ku-band for “seamless broadband connectivity that is both flexible and scalable.”

The Velocity platform should ensure vessels maintain an uninterrupted IP session while crossing multiple spot beams from SES satellites with more redundancy in connectivity in the network for IoT applications.

“We are seeing more data monitoring and real-time automatic transfers from vessels to shore,” Mr Stewart explains. Faster VSAT also enables remote administration of vessels’ computers, software updating and diagnostics of IT systems from shore.

“These cut requirements for onboard visits for systems maintenance, upgrades and troubleshooting,” says Mr Stewart.

Applied Satellite Technology (AST) Group is a distributor for Thor 7 and Inmarsat’s Global Xpress. It delivers this Ka-band with terminals supplied by Cobham Satcom and Intellian Technologies. AST is also a distributor of Iridium’s new Certus L-band service.

AST’s service is provided by the Integra Network, which is used for internet routeing, connectivity support and control and secure VPNs. “Integra network is made up of a Global IP VPN and three points of presence giving global, secure connectivity capability,” says AST global communications and marketing manager Tracey Harris.

It has multiple layers of cyber security: the first layer is an advanced firewall to control traffic and block abnormal connections; the second layer is web filtering with anti-malware and anti-virus protection, plus a default block on software updates; while the third layer is intrusion prevention. “Application layer visibility and control is also available via the Integra See and Control products,” says Ms Harris.

Satellite redundancy

AST is also a distributor of ITC Global, which uses a huge Ku-band network of 45 satellites and more than 300 beams for global vessel connectivity. ITC Global chief technology officer and vice president of global engineering Sanjay Singam says redundancy in satellite networks is becoming essential for vessel connectivity as more operators adopt IoT and cyber applications.

Sanjay Singam (ITC Global): "Information is critical for operations and reporting”

“We provide redundancy in the satellite capacity by investing in infrastructure to be more robust and reliable because information is critical for operations and reporting,” explains Mr Singam.

He thinks VSAT facilitates business-critical IoT applications for monitoring machinery and safety equipment. One such application involves the monitoring of lifebuoys and rafts, he explains: “Shore offices will be alerted if lifebuoys are deployed. They can start rescue operations quicker than having to wait for the captain to phone the office.”

This information could be used to reduce insurance premiums. “If liferafts and buoys have not been deployed this could help demonstrate vessel safety records and lower insurance costs,” says Mr Singam.

Remote ROV pilotage

Oceaneering International will use its VSAT connectivity for video streaming, real-time data transmissions and remote piloting of underwater survey and inspection vehicles. ROVs will be manoeuvred from Oceaneering’s onshore mission support centres in Stavanger, Norway, and Houston, US. The business intends to open more ROV control centres in the future.

In April, Oceaneering secured a contract to provide a combination of VSAT and 4G connectivity to Pacific Drilling’s fleet of drillships under five-year digital service packages. Pacific Drilling chief information officer Corey Thompson said this “strategic investment quadruples our bandwidth conduit, lowers latency in decision-making, and accelerates our technology road map,” adding that this will “bring about the digital transformation of our assets”.

Oceaneering said it would guarantee service-level availability for industrial and mission-critical data and will assume 100% accountability for network uptime and remote operations offshore.

*Middle East Offshore Support Journal Conference was held in Dubai, UAE, between 24-25 April, in association with the Dubai Maritime City Authority

**LTE is the long-term evolution technology between 3G and 4G wireless communications

Dual-band antennas deliver faster VSAT

VSAT manufacturers have introduced new dual-band terminals to improve connectivity and reduce hardware costs for owners.

KVH has Industries launched an antenna that automatically switches between high-intensity Ku-band from high throughput satellites (HTS) and widebeam C-band. TracPhone V11-HTS maritime antenna connects to geostationary satellites in both Ku-band and C-band with a 1-m diameter reflector.

KVH chief executive Martin Kits van Heyningen says vessels can access data speeds of up to 20 Mbps on the downlink and 3 Mbps on the uplink using this antenna.

TracPhone V11-HTS uses KVH’s mini-VSAT Broadband HTS network and connects to an Integrated CommBox Modem (ICM) to deliver connectivity on both bands. The ICM includes a high-throughput modem, voice-over-IP adapter, CommBox network management software, and built-in wifi and Ethernet connection.

There are two VSAT channels. A high-speed one that is suitable for video applications, telemedicine, web browsing, and allocated crew usage. The unlimited-use channel is suitable for data transfers, email, software updates, automated file transmission and weather updates. It has a maximum bandwidth of 8 Mbps downlink and 2 Mbps uplink.

KVH introduced HTS versions of its other antennas in 2018, including a 60-cm diameter, Ku-band TracPhone V7-HTS and 37-cm diameter, Ku-band TracPhone V3-HTS.

Elsewhere, Intellian Technologies launched a terminal with a 1.5-m diameter reflector that can be switched between Ku- and Ka-bands of frequencies in May. Its v150NX will be supplied as default for Ku-band, but can be converted to Ka-band by changing the radio frequency assembly and feed, while the reflector and radome are optimised for operation across both frequency bands. It supports VSAT from geostationary, medium- and low-Earth orbit constellations of satellites.

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