High-speed Internet services, video conferencing and large volumes of data transfer can now be accessible to all at sea, thanks to developments made by EUREKA project E!3194 FORCE8. Securely transferring information through high-speed satellite links and Internet connections, as well as image streaming and conferencing, could prove essential to naval ships or research and surveillance vessels, especially in times of conflict. However, ensuring secure and fast communication links to any sort of ship at sea has always been a challenging task. Up until now, accessing broadband satellite Internet links from the high seas has been faltering, with low connection speeds and the capacity for only small amounts of data transfer.
According to the FORCE8 project partners, there is a distinct lack in the provision of these services, which needs to be met. They say that, at the moment, only one communication solution at sea is available, “which is often expensive and of insufficient bandwidth”. There are only a small number of independent operators who offer some Internet Protocol (IP) based services
The three French partners involved in this project have developed a system of accessing Internet broadband services at sea, based on established telecommunications standards such as Internet Protocol, Digital Video Broadcasting, and mobile roaming, using a network of geostationary satellites managed by satellite operators.
"The project has brought together leaders in the field of marine research, satellite operators, telecom providers, high-specification motor yacht manufacturers and information technology companies."
C2 Innovativ'Systems, France
The development is a dedicated platform which joins these existing technologies together, to create a flow of information between a ship and land based services. The innovations are two fold – they lie in bringing together service providers, as well as using the advances in antenna technology, to provide this service.
Technologically, the system uses efficient parabolic antenna technologies, and combines them with the latest satellite terminal technologies such as modems and VSAT, to transmit data to and from the applications and operators connected to the platform. These allow Internet services which are fully compatible with terrestrial networks.
The antenna technologies chosen are capable of compensating for the movement of sea vessels and standing at 1.2 metres, are of a reduced size, especially in Ku-band, so that they can be installed in small units where there is limited space.
The system also uses encoding equipment and satellite terminals which can be adapted for specific environments, including those limited in size, or requiring high bandwidth, a high quality of service or security.
The second set of innovations comes with designing the management infrastructure. The satellite communication services are provided through a network of satellite operator infrastructures. These are GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) satellite systems and service platforms. Therefore, the service is national whilst having a potential worldwide coverage, through roaming.
The satellite coverage of European coastal areas for the project was provided in Ku-band by Eutelsat, a satellite operator which owns a fleet of satellites and offers broadcast and multimedia services. Global worldwide coverage was provided in C-band by MTN, another satellite operator.
The project has succeeded in making large bandwidths of between 1 and 2 Mbps possible, and available, off shore. Given this, the project partners envisage two main segments of users. Governmental agencies which want to equip their ships with high-speed interactive two way communication between ships and ground control to improve safety services at sea, or medical services, with tele-medical applications such as the transmission of images and data.
The second segment of users the project caters for are marine research organisations which want to test high-quality real-time video transmissions. Other examples of real-time data that can be supplied include weather forecasts and video conferencing.
Marie-Noël Convert, director general of main project partner C2 Innovativ’Systems, says “the system has already been installed on IFREMER’s ship the ‘Pourquoi pas’, the French research institute for the exploitation of the sea, located in Brest.”
"The EUREKA label has brought recognition of the technical quality of the project. This together with EUREKA's support to find funding, has allowed the development of a bigger market sector."
C2 Innovativ'Systems, France
The French research institute was also a partner in the project, supplying boats and a technical team for testing in real environments. Its rigorous testing has resulted in the high-speed, high-quality transfer of data.
The project has brought together leaders in the field of marine research, satellite operators, telecom providers, high-specification motor yacht manufacturers and information technology companies.
According to Marie-Noël Convert, "the EUREKA label has brought recognition of the technical quality of the project. This, together with EUREKA's support to find funding, has allowed the development of a bigger market sector".