Wired Ocean's objective was to significantly improve the availability of internet access on ships at sea. Compared to commonly used existing systems the Wired Ocean system has the potential to increase internet access speeds by a factor of ten and to reduce costs by a factor of 70% to 90%.
Our chosen technology is a 'hybrid' of broadband Ku-band satellites for the downlink and narrowband mobile satellites (or cellular) for the uplink. We have already developed a specialised client server (the Wired Ocean Satellite Broadband Server) to manage the communications sessions at the ship end. The server interfaces to a tracking TV receive only (TVRO) antenna to receive the downlink and to a narrowband terminal for the uplink. As many ships already have either a TVRO antenna or narrowband terminal or both, internet access can be achieved with incremental equipment costs.
In this project we have implemented a DVB downlink service on Eurobird at 28.5ºE, integrated it with the client server, developed features to minimise the overall cost of use and implemented support functions. We have had to satisfy a number of requirements that are unique to the maritime industry including coverage of water rather than land, providing internet access at an orbital location that also has popular television programming, and providing service to remote locations that have minimal IT support.
Once operational the system was trialled by ten vessels over a six month period which enabled us to demonstrate the performance and stability of the system and well as to meet and resolve the issues that only become apparent in real world operation. On completion of the ten vessel trial we undertook two additional developments to enhance the service offering.
We saw four key issues:
- The ability of our client server to interface seamlessly with the wide variety of TVROs and return channel communications equipment that is on board ships today as well as to integrate with their IT systems. This issue has been overcome and many lessons learned.
- The ability of the client server to manage the communications sessions using return channel services provided by a diverse array of communications providers. For example GSM and GPRS in different countries of Europe and the different narrowband satellite service providers. This issue has been succcessfully overcome.
- The sourcing and integration of a variety of functionalities that will enable the service to be extremely cost effective compared to existing solutions. This issue has been overcome.
- Enabling the trial to fit in with the sometimes unscheduled travel patterns of ships. This has been a problem, particularly when one of the trial ships was unexpectedly sold and the crew made redundant!
Compared to commonly used existing systems the Wired Ocean system has the potential to increase internet access speeds by a factor of more than ten and to reduce costs by a factor of 70% to 90%. In a test using a 9.6kbps service, typical of narrowband maritime services, it took almost 14 minutes to download an 878Kbyte image. Using the same service as the uplink it took just 15 seconds to download the same image using the Wired Ocean downlink! The customer response to is to spend more time online and to demand and receive much more information than in the current, cost limited, situation.
Because the Wired Ocean Satellite Broadband Server is flexible enough to work with TVROs and communications already installed on ships, the incremental cost of the server is the lowest cost solution to broadband internet access.
The Wired Ocean service is consistent and stable. It provides users with internet access while simultaneously receiving television programming from the very popular 28º East satellite location. It incorporates a range of functions which allow users to manage their communications and control costs. It is able to provide the lowest overall cost of usage for most vessels.
Wired Ocean's service use a Ku-band DVB satellite multiplex for the downlink (to the ship) and a user-selectable choice of L-band satellite, cellular or landline (whilst in port) for the uplink. It is asymmetrical with downlink speeds (to the ship) of up to 500kBit/s which can be increased and depends upon the Ku band DVB multiplex bandwidth available while the uplink speeds will vary from 9.6kBit/s to 64kBit/s depending upon the uplink device selected. In reality the "system" is actually many systems brought together and managed by the Wired Ocean Satellite Broadband Server.
Computers on board a vessel are connected to the Wired Ocean Satellite Broadband Server using an Ethernet connection that is either directly or indirectly connected through a LAN (using a switch, router or hub). This Satellite Broadband Server acts as the gateway for all IP services and sends any internet request over the narrowband uplink service using a VPN tunnel between specialised client software (contained inside the server) and the proxy server located at the DVB satellite transmission site. This proxy server then directs the request to the necessary content provider and receives the response back from this same source. The proxy server now sends this response to the vessel by way of the Ku-band DVB satellite platform that is decoded on the receive card inside the SBS and subsequently passed to the user's computer.Additional innovations developed in both the client and hub servers have enabled Wired Ocean to offer the user TCP acceleration, substantial reductions in narrowband return channel usage, automatic software updating, automatic downloading of system parameters and remote diagnostics. In addition the user requires no specialist software or applications to be loaded
The project started in January 2005 with the Baseline Design Review (BDR) taking place in March 2005. After the BDR a two-month build followed leading to the Pilot Qualification Review (PQR) taking place in May 2005. After the PWR a one-month period for the initial fitting-out the pilot ships lead to the System Deployment Acceptance (SDA) in June 2005. This was followed by a six-month pilot utilisation phase ending in December.
Assessment of the pilot data and evaluation of the results has been undertaken leading to a Final Review early in 2006. An additional phase of work to develop DVB/IP roaming and push services was initiated in Q3 2006 and completed in Q3 2007.
The ten vessel trials were completed at the end of 2005. In parallel with undertaking the trials Wired Ocean developed and improved the infrastructure for commercial service operation. In January 2006 almost all the trial users were seamlessly transitioned to the commercial service. By Q2 2007 Wired Ocean had expanded the coverage with commercial services operating on Hotbird7 and Thor2 satellites and using the DVB/IP roaming implementation. The push services recently developed will be trialled over coming months and some will be bundled into the commercial service offering very quickly.
Wired Ocean has built up a European network of approved marine electronics dealers who install the satellite broadband server and connect ships to a service package.
Over 100 satellite broadband servers, that enable ships to receive Wired Ocean service, have been sold as of September 2007.
Our services are benefiting passenger and cargo ships, sailing yachts and superyachts, fishing, tug and government vessels.