Satcomms is one of the most competitive and challenging sectors in the superyacht industry. Mobile communications on shore are developing at a tremendous pace, with users now able to experience similar connection speeds when roaming as they do in the home or office, and these high expectations continue when an owner or their guests and crew board a yacht. Yet delivering seamless and efficient connectivity at sea is a demanding task: gaming, video streaming, 8K TV, onboard cinema, socialising and entertaining all require high bandwidths, and owners and guests may also need office facilities to maintain vital business communications. All this must be delivered – sometimes simultaneously – at speeds and service levels ideally equivalent to those on land.
The logistical challenges to delivering seamless connectivity to superyachts may be many, but the satcomms sector is going through a period of exciting and profound change, with a number of private enterprises in a space race of sorts to launch new low-earth orbit (LEO) and mid-earth orbit (MEO) satellite constellations. These services will virtually eliminate latency – the delay experienced between making a request and receiving a response, particularly noticeable in dynamic applications such as video calling and networked gaming – and bolster coverage for the maritime sector.
The new networks achieve these swift response times by the satellites being closer to Earth, but proximity poses its own problems for antenna designers. “Geostationary satellites that we work with now, and have done for the last 50 years, are always fixed in one place relative to the Earth’s rotation,” explains Matt Humphreys, Sales Director - EMEA at leading maritime connectivity solutions provider Intellian. “LEO satellites are constantly moving, so to maintain an uninterrupted connection we employ a dual antenna system that means, while one antenna is connected to a particular satellite, the other is connecting simultaneously to a different one – ensuring total and seamless coverage wherever you are.”
This solution is made possible through Intellian’s NX series of Ku-Ka Dual-band convertible GEO/MEO/LEO VSAT Terminals, designed and built to empower future-proof satellite communication. With the mediator – the hardware needed to automatically manage dual antennas – built into the Below Deck Unit (BDU), and the ability to track any satellite orbit, the NX series is that rare thing – an existing piece of technology that will future-proof a vessel for the forthcoming switch to LEO and MEO connectivity. Humphreys compares it, in layman’s terms, to televisions when the switch was made to HD; ahead of the switch, prudent consumers ensured they were future-proofed by purchasing HD-ready TVs, and the NX Series affords the same possibility for forward planning to satcomms customers.
“The advantage we have is that the NX series is ready for this new technology, so when it comes online users will just switch over to that network and it will work with very little effort from the user,” Humphreys explains.
A swift proliferation of LEO and MEO networks seems likely over the next few years, which will deliver two key benefits from a user perspective: a reduction in the residual cost of connectivity and a significant leap in performance while aboard. But disruptive technology in the sky is of no use without similarly innovative equipment on the ground. Through forward planning and smart design, Intellian are enabling users to plan for the future and to reap the benefits of the new networks as soon as they are available.
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