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VSAT service promises 350Mbps download speeds at sea

O3b Networks has launched its new O3bMaritime service, a Ka-band VSAT service capable of providing 350Mbps download and 150Mbps upload speeds for ships at sea.

The service is aimed at cruise ships and super yachts, with O3b Networks aiming to launch its initial constellation of eight satellites in early 2013, in two launches of four satellites, each using the Arianespace facility in French Guiana. The satellites will be designed, integrated and tested by Thales Alenia Space.

The company's Maritime service is scheduled to be operational in mid 2013.

The network will use Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites that will be situated approximately 8,000km away from Earth, as opposed to standard Geosynchronous (GEO) satellites which operate approximately 36,000 km away from Earth.

As a result, O3b says that round-trip data transmission times are reduced to approximately 100 milliseconds and that latency is greatly reduced.

Coverage from the satellites will be available between +/- 45 degrees of latitude.

One unusual aspect of the system in comparison with traditional VSAT services is that O3b Networks' satellites are equipped with steerable spot beams that are adjustable in space to track a ship.

This means that all of the power available in a beam can be directed to a specific target, in this case the vessel, to deliver extremely high data rates. Real-time tracking of the ship continues throughout its voyage to maintain the link.

O3b says that the system supports the handover of a ship from one beam to another, but in general this is not needed as it is envisioned as a regional service. For example, a cruise ship in the Caribbean can transit the whole region and never have to change beams.

The satellite network will offer 10 beams per region, across 7 regions, totalling 70 remote beams per 8 satellite constellation. Up to 1.2 Gbps will be available per beam (600 Mbps x 2), meaning 84 Gbps will be available per 8 satellite constellation.

Beam coverage areas will be 700km in diameter, with transponder bandwidth of 216 MHz; 2 x 216 MHz per beam.

Vessels using the service will be installed with two 1.2m or 2.2m stabilised antennas, with the dual antennas used to ensure a seamless handover at end of pass and in case of blockage.

A third hot-standby spare antenna and spare modem will also be available for redundancy.

With regard to the manufacturers of this hardware, O3b says it is “working with partners both on the integration and technology side (and) will be making further announcements in these important areas in due course.”

Obviously, having a dedicated beam for a single ship will mean that the costs associated with this type of service will exceed that of most current VSAT services.

Although O3b has not indicated a price range, it says it will target the cruise or super yacht market for the time being, where the “4,000-8,000 passengers and crew can easily support the somewhat increased cost of the service”, though in future the company may look broaden this to cover other sectors.

Currently the service is expected to be available under 5 to 10 year contracts.

“For cruise ship guests and crew, heading for the high seas has meant leaving high-speed broadband services behind,” said John Finney, chief commercial officer for O3b.

“It’s an ocean travel tradition that O3bMaritime will turn into a thing of the past, with fast, fibre-like connections that deliver the same high-quality internet access and broadband experience at sea as guests are used to at home.”

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Digital Ship magazine provides the latest information about maritime satellite communications technology, software systems, navigation technology, computer networks, data management and TMSA. It is published ten times a year.


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