Currently, virtually all data and voice communications to and from ships at sea is based on specialised narrow-band satellite communications. Ships have been unable to take advantage of broadband VPNs and low cost always-on Internet access, which have become the foundation of corporate networks and (increasingly) personal use on land. The intent of this programme is to establish, on a commercial basis, cost-effective broadband IP-based communications services to ships.
Key product issues include the cost and size of the terminal, especially stabilised Ku-band equipment, both receive-only and VSATs. Key service issues include the possibility of using VoIP as an acceptable solution for public telephony, the potential for pushed and multi-casted services to reduce return path costs in the hybrid solution, and the requirements of access to TV programming. The coverage of different satellites is an issue for ships travelling in a geographically broad area.
The main benefits for customers will be reduced cost and more attractive and desired services. We see the VSAT configuration as being a relatively more expensive solution for customers with a higher set of requirements, including significant operational requirements. We see the hybrid configuration as being a relatively low-priced option (especially if the customer already has a stabilised TV antenna on board for TV reception) that would potentially appeal to less commercial vessels, such as yachts, as well as smaller and more independent commercial vessels, such as fishing boats.
In this project, Actinus is testing two possible product/service configurations that would allow the use of higher frequency bands and their associated increased bandwidth (for at least the forward link) to enable broadband communications, as well as TV access and relatively cheap telephone service.
The objective of this project is to retire certain commercial and technical risks associated with the establishment of a new business delivering broadband services to the maritime community. The project will be carried out over the period ending autumn 2004, and is structured into three main phases:
- Establish customer service and equipment requirements and from these develop preferred system configurations and associated preferred suppliers for demonstration trials
- Carry out on-board trials of selected configurations, trying out various service concepts in real time. Assess the market potential for these services
- Confirm the product/service roadmap based on the trials, and develop a business plan as a basis for seeking funding to allow implementation of commercial service
The project was completed successfully in September 2004. The following results have been achieved:
- Land based testing of the VSAT configuration was completed with good results, but we decided not to proceed to sea based trials. Although the service shows technical promise we were unable to determine a path to commercial exploitation.
- The Hybrid configuration was extensively land tested then installed on a French Navy supply vessel and then on a 62 metre motor yacht. The yacht provided the most extensive test and during the trial travelled between France, Malta and Italy. Feedback from users on board was very positive - the service was ranked 3.75 on a 1 to 5 scale (5 best) over eight aspects.
- The project has demonstrated the commercial and technical feasibility of providing hybrid broadband service to the European maritime community. Next steps involve the development of an onboard Linux based server (already begun) to provide a stable platform to automate all processes to manage the ships communications sessions, followed by a suitable pilot programme.
"Before we tested Wired Ocean's service we didn't think we needed internet at sea now we think it's extremely important".